IBM plays with Macs

New York (NY) – A recently published media report indicates that IBM’s could be moving at least some of its employees to the Mac platform. RoughlyDrafted says it got hold of an IBM document summarizing findings of a pilot program conducted internally by IBM’s Research Information Service: Initial findings of the (very limited pilot program between October 2007 and January 2008) suggest that IBM could be working towards a corporate cross-platform future that is based on Windows-PCs and Mac systems.

The pilot could be labeled as an almost “secret” project, as the company distributed MacBook Pro computers to only 24 researchers within its Research department, with most of them having prior “moderate” or “expert” experience with the platform. Participants kept their ThinkPads but were asked to use them as “a last resort”, if some applications simply won’t work on a Mac. After four months, 18 participants said that the Macs offered “better or best experience”, one said Mac was “equal or good”, while three participants thought that the Macs offered a “worse experience” (only 22 participants returned answers). Those three participants apparently chose to continue using their ThinkPads when the program ended, while the other 19 continued to use Macs.

While the feedback was favorable to Apple in general reported that it was easy to install IBM’s internal software on the Macs the users also had complaints. Certyain apllications simply weren’t available, there were “support issues with IBM’s Lotus Sametime instant messaging software and a lack of robustness or support for Microsoft applications,” RoughlyDrafted wrote.

The article claims that IBM plans to expand the program to 50 participants within the first half of this year and possibly to 100 in the second half. The company also runs an internal “Mac@IBM” site that provides support for Mac users within IBM. Considering the repercussions of the program, it’s worth noting that these participants weren’t your average users who organized photos, listened to music or created websites in iWeb. On the contrary, these were actually enterprise users with a whole different need (and yes, they perhaps also listened to music, but we don’t know for sure). The fact that the majority found the Mac platform better suited for their work is a bit surprising and is certainly some food for thought for PC vendors and Microsoft.

There is no clear announcement in this report, but IBM seems serious about taking Macs much more serious within its corporate structure and more complex web solutions and enterprise apps could be making their to the Mac platform as a result. For instance, IBM said it will bring the latest version of Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony (an office suite based on OpenOffice) to Macs later this year. The company also announced support for Notes email and calendar applications for the iPhone/iPod touch.