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Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

IBM launches internal pilot program to test migration to Macs

Long-time Microsoft Windows supporter IBM has recently initiated an internal pilot program to study the possibility of moving a significant number of its employees to Apple's Mac platform, leaked company documents show.

The documents, obtained by Roughly Drafted, underscore the growing interest in Macs among enterprise customers and reveal IBM to among the high-tech firms actively working to reduce their dependence upon the Windows operating system.

The first phase of the pilot program is said to have run from October 2007 through January 2008, in which 24 MacBook Pros were distributed to researchers at different sites within the company's research division.

In the documents obtained by Roughly Drafted, the former PC-maker outlined a series of reasons for evaluating Apple notebooks as a replacement for the Windows-based ThinkPads currently used inside the company.

Specifically, it said Macs are less prone to security issues, are widely used in the academic world with which IBM Research has close ties, and that many new company hires have said they're more comfortable with Macs and would like to use them as opposed to their ThinkPads.

During the initial pilot, participants were allowed to keep their ThinkPads, but were asked to use them only in the event that they needed to use software that was not yet available on the Mac. After the four month test period, the 14 research scientists, 8 software engineers, a director, and a VP staff assistant participating in the pilot program were asked to provide feedback.

Of the 22 of 24 who responded, Roughly Drafted reported that 18 said that the Mac offered a "better or best experience" compared to their existing computer, one rated it "equal or good," and three said the Mac offered a "worse experience." Seven reported having no or marginal prior knowledge of using Macs, while 15 said they had moderate or expert knowledge of the platform.

While all of the participants reported that it was easy to install IBM’s internal software on the Macs, several noted weakness or drawbacks associated with applications that were not yet suited for the Apple platform, or faced support issues. Among these were Microsoft's Visio diagraming and NetMeeting software, and several of IBM's own applications, such as its DB2 database and Websphere application server.

However, when asked if they would rather keep their MacBook Pro or return to using their familiar ThinkPad, only three chose the ThinkPad; the rest decided to keep the Mac notebook and obtain VMWare Fusion licenses to run Windows when necessary.

"I commend IBM on taking this bold step in providing an alternative to Windows," one employee said following the initial evaluation period. "It will definitely allow us to think different."

Said another: "I have been a true PC stalwart for 2+ decades, but after trying Vista, I’m ready for a change."

Following the success of the initial pilot, IBM reportedly plans to proceed with a second phase of the program that will see 50 employees equipped with Apple notebooks during the first half of 2008. Pending feedback, the company will then add an additional 50 to 100 users in the second half of the year.

According to Roughly Drafted, IBM's internal "Mac@IBM" website references an official group for Mac users within the company's walls comprised of over 930 members in 26 countries. It's described as "one of the largest and fastest growing communities within IBM."