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The march of Macs into the enterprise: Demand is on the increase

We talk to some players in the Apple device management game

MacAD No, it isn't an April Fool's joke we forgot to publish. The Register* actually made it to a recent in-person Apple event: the 2022 Mac Administrator and Developer conference, MacAD. Apple, it seems, may be getting ever more serious about the enterprise.

The theme of the event - with actual humans in the Brighton seafront venue on the south coast of England - was to highlight the creeping influx of Apple kit into enterprise spaces, and included research claiming that letting users pick their own gear made for, frankly, happier employees. Especially when that gear is emblazoned with an Apple logo.

Certainly, the last two years have seen more workers putting in the hours at home and wondering why their home hardware was frequently superior to what was foisted on them by employers. However, despite the many and varied benefits of Apple silicon, particularly in the security arena, that same security can cause headaches for the unwary.

A case in point is JumpCloud, a firm that specializes in patch management on Apple and other platforms (including Windows and Linux.)

Apple product manager at JumpCloud, Tom Bridge, explained the problem: "In some ways," he said, "the Apple Silicon experience is actually a lot better for us. In some ways it's slightly worse."

"The most important thing that you need to recognise with Apple Silicon," he added, "is that to change the security settings of the system you have to have a disk owner's permission."

The upshot is that on a JumpCloud-managed system, the user will be gently nudged (with a soon to be configurable message) that, maybe it's time to get those updates done? An improvement on a basic password prompt "which no one should trust.. ever," said Bridge, "because you don't know who's providing that."

Apple, of course, is very keen to keep users up to date. Although the firm is less than clear with regard to when its operating systems drop out of support, as demonstrated by Bridge during his talk at the conference.

As such, the preferred path is to keep up to date with the latest and greatest of whatever your hardware supports; this is a challenge for IT administrators for sure, certainly ones used to the clarity of the Microsoft approach and the company's update engine.

That said, the security enabled by Apple Silicon is enviable. "There's no question that that system is entirely secure," said Bridge.

"You can take this [an Apple Silicon device] home, pull off the bottom plate, take out the flash drive, and what you're going to see is a bunch of random bits because all of the storage controller stuff is in the M1."

Microsoft will point to its Pluton tech or its insistence on TPM for Windows 11, but the Apple approach is undoubtedly impressive, particularly considering its eventual application over the entire range as Intel-based Mac hardware falls by the wayside.

JumpCloud is not the only game in town as far as Apple device management is concerned.

The Register spoke to the newly minted Kandji EMEA general manager (and head of Sales) Richard Ainley, who told us "demand is definitely on the increase."

Kandji, an Apple-only device management platform, recently commissioned a study that showed a surge in requests for Apple products, although few workers actually had much in the way of choice with regard to what IT gave them.

According to Kandji's figures, the numbers are particularly high for workers between the ages of 18 and 24. Nearly a third of employees considered getting some Apple equipment as a factor in their acceptance of a job offer – which is something to consider as The Great Resignation rumbles on.

While Kandji is Apple-only, the approach taken by JumpCloud and its ilk straddles both worlds as Administrators deal with mixed fleets and the inherent challenges posed by the additional security measures lurking with Apple Silicon systems.

"We find that our customers do best when they've got multiple platforms on JumpCloud," said Bridge. "Corporate choice programmes are a big deal, in terms of employees getting to choose what they bring to the job."

"We see the research that comes out of all these things; not only are people 15 per cent less likely to leave their company when they get to choose what they work with, they were 15 per cent better on their performance reviews.

"For most of our people, if I can make them 15 per cent better by letting them choose what they brought to work every day? Whether that was one of these [a Mac] or a Windows machine or a Linux box? Hell yeah, I'll take that trade any day of the week."

We'd like to give you Apple's take on all this, but media were not permitted to be present when the company dispensed its pearls of wisdom.

And while none of the vendors sharing their thoughts on managing Apple devices in the enterprise said it, one can't help but wonder if the company's "walled garden" approach and secretive nature might also extend to its enterprise decision making.

No matter how much employees might clamor for tech gear covered with the company's famous branding. ®

* You can read about our prior attempts to attend consumer hardware launch events here.

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