IBM Offers Apple MacBooks to its Employees

When I came to the U.S. back in 1999, I got some ribbing about the “green screen” technology I was working on from others who, like me, had envisioned coming to America to work on cool, modern technologies (such as Java, HTML, JavaScript, etc.). I had taken the opening I got, working on the IBM AS400, the iSeries technology.

While it is a green screen technology, it was and still is amazingly stable, steadfastly reliable. When I mentioned my work, people would say that is 70s/80s technology. They predicted its demise—but it hasn't happened yet. I have been in meetings with vice presidents of IT who were looking for recommendations of to how optimally run their $5 billion plus worldwide supply chain business on these machines. They wanted to know the best strategy: a centralized architecture with mirroring or an iSeries box in every location, with a localized IT team in place.

I've also seen retailers who love the technology so much that they run $12 billion in business running on the boxes. Rule of thumb: if the CIO is over forty years old, he or she will lean toward the iSeries technology, while the under 40 CIO will lean toward open system technology.

My time working on IBM technology gave me great respect for the company. At the same time, I had moments when I felt like I was missing out on the information revolution going on around me. Then I saw a film called Pirates of Silicon Valley that shows how Steve Jobs and Bill Gates fought each other to dominate the PC market. I not only watched it, but also analyzed it, debated it, wondered if the future is going to change so fast, over and over again. (Pardon my slight digression, but  I didn't know India had so much impact on these folks even in the early days in Silicon Valley, in a scene where Steve Jobs's first wife calls to tell him that she is pregnant and Jobs suggests naming the new baby Ravishankar.)

I still remember the scene where Bill Gates sells IBM execs on the Operating System he hasn't invented yet and then the Microsoft team hustles to get the DOS operating system from another guy, which they later license to IBM. From there, I learnt about how the Internet is going to change everything.

 To this day, I retain my respect for IBM, and when the company takes a new direction, I pay attention. When I recently read that IBM is offering its employee Apple MacBooks, then, I was very interested.

CIOs need to take a special notice of this development and seriously consider deploying MacBooks in their Enterprises, including procurement and supply chain, for a number of reasons:

  1. The potential to keep employees at peak productivity and enhance employee expeirence
  2. The ability to attract the best talent
  3. The need to give the millennial work force familiar and favorite technology
  4. The chance to position the organization as a forward-looking innovative company with the latest technology
  5. The need to stay ahead of the competition

However, this can't be a wholesale move. In fact, there are at least a couple of areas where the MacBook isn't the best choice. For example:

  1. CAD design. There are several sophisticated drawing software applications available for Windows, but the Mac versions are not the latest. Further, there are significant differences in the renderings done in Windows versus renderings in Mac.
  2. Running legacy apps. There are several legacy applications that are still only Windows compatible. Until they are Mac compatible, they'll have to remain on Windows.

With the Windows 8 fiasco, the timing for MacBook to make a splash in the Enterprises seems right. However, Apple does need to work out some problems before there can be a smooth transition. For example, the Mac needs to support Microsoft Office smoothly. As it stands now, the Office version FOR Mac is old.  There may be some challenges when porting the documents created in Mac into different versions of Office—a reality that may or may not be a big hurdle.

Further, Apple has to focus on supporting all the enterprise apps that run Internet Explorer today. A lot of enterprises are running applications exclusively developed for Internet Explorer, and Microsoft stopped making IE for Mac in 1996. There is no browser that can replace IE in Mac (or iOS) seamlessly, but there are a few third party browsers that can be configured to mimic Chrome or IE or Safari. Unfortunately, they don't have all the features that IE has (especially ActiveX). That means that users not running IE can't access web sites that use ActiveX. It also means, though, that they aren't as prone to the security issues that, over time, make Windows PCs sluggish.

Taking all this into consideration, it's important that organizations step back and take a look at altering their technology course as IBM did. The deployment of Macbook in enterprises not only brings maintenance headaches but will also put pressure on the industry to address some of the limitations I listed above.

Apple might not let this happen, since they have a long history of creating a closed eco system and is not a big fan of encouraging 3rd party apps like these. Or perhaps under Tim Cook's leadership, things may be different. Potentially, there is this opportunity opening up for software vendors to make the windows compatible apps for Macbook and iOS, while this transition to Macbook is happening. It remains to be seen.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on how this might develop in your enterprise. Please post your comments below.

5 comments on “IBM Offers Apple MacBooks to its Employees

  1. J. Scott Elder
    July 21, 2015

    “Parallels”  — google it.

  2. angus
    July 23, 2015


    I enjoyed your article – at least the mac@IBM part of it, and I agree with your observations about that.

    However, your article references the AS/400 as something that is available today. In fact, it has not been sold by IBM in that form since 2000.

    You mentioned “the IBM AS400, the iSeries technology”, yet this is a misrepresentation of the evolution of the AS/400.

    In 2000, just 1 year after you arrived back in the US, IBM renamed the AS/400 platform to iSeries. This was a rebranding of all IBM platforms, and included pSeries, xSeries, and zSeries. The iSeries platform (the successor to the AS/400) continued to run the OS/400 operating system.

    in 2006, IBM rebranded again, using the “Server” moniker for all their platforms. System x, System p, System i, System z were the brand names. And with that release, the operating system that ran on System i was renamed to i5/OS – a reference to the Power5 chip installed in the current-at-the-time System i servers.

    In 2008, IBM replace the System i and System p platforms with Power Systems (starting with Power6 chips) – which were made famous by Watson and Jeopardy, of course. The operating system evolved to support the new hardware infrastructure, and it was renamed to IBM i (hashtag #IBMi).

    Since this was a complete (r)evolution of the System i and System p platforms, it is considered a new platform. This also represented a separation of the operating system from the server hardware, moving on from the “system in a box” concept of an AS/400.

    Since IBM i was announced, the operating system has moved on in leaps and bounds. Live Partition Mobility was added to a Technology Refresh to the IBM i 7.1 OS, without requiring complete installation of a new OS stack. RPG has been modernized to completely free format, and is still the best business language available. Open source and modern languages now run native on IBM i, with direct connection to the modern DB2 for i SQL database. Those now include Python, PHP, node.js, and Ruby. These extend the native C++, COBOL, RPG, and Java support in the OS. 

    The IBM i operating system is actually more than an OS – it is referred to as an operating environment. It includes built-in and scalable native security, modern SQL database using single level storage – without the need for multiple DBAs, is reliable and has the ability to be one of the most secure OSs on the planet, and there has never been an IBM i virus.

    And, in those twice-yearly Technology Refreshes, IBM gives its customers some incredible features and functionality without having to rebuild their entire application suite, deal with hardware obsolescence and complex clustering solutions to handle an ever-increasing workload.

    The green screen to which you refer, is fast disappearing. It remains in many shops who still think they run an AS/400, no matter the hardware or OS they are actually using. Modernization, starting at the face of the application, is a thriving industry, and with the acceptance of modern languages and frameworks in the IBM i community, you will find more applications that are modern GUI or web applications – most users having no idea of which server is delivering those applications.

    While there are some naysayers who make money moving customers away from the platform, there is growth in IBM i around the world. And, it is remains one of the most cost-effective platforms for business – refer to the blog entry on the You and I blog at IBM Systems Magazine entitled “TCO, TCA and Reliability – the 2014 ITG IBM i Studies”.

    For more information, the IBM i home page can be accessed through the Power Systems page.

    The recent grassroots marketing campaign to celebrate the platform from its roots is on facebook – look for the IBMi25 page.

    And, you should always keep up to date with several IBMer blogs, especially the one from Steve Will, the IBM i Chief Architect – it is called You and I and is found on the IBM Systems Magazine site.

    IBM i is not “…a green screen technology” any more. You are right – AS/400 “was and ” IBM i “still is amazingly stable, steadfastly reliable”. It remains the core of many businesses you know well today, who won't mention they use it for fear of giving away their best kept trade secret.

    I encourage you to discover the IBM i of 2015 and the future.

    Trevor Perry

    IBM Power Champion

  3. puga2006
    July 24, 2015

    Hi Trevor,

    Great points, all these are well taken, completely agree on every one of them. In fact the most common complaint I hear from a fellow IBM i expert is that IBM doesn't market this platform enough. All these points are valid and very well articulated and all these points reinforce my comment that IBM i is a great platform and has created a cult following just for its steadfast reliability. 

    There are several leaders in the Distribution domain, both from IT and Operations just love the IBM i, in spite of the Green screen and in fact are more comfortable wth the green screen becuase that is all they need in the Distribution Centers. And in fact that is where we come in to not only modernize, but also provide several other capabilities leveraging the latest Apple iOS technology and make life easy for Distribution Center Operators. 

    Thanks for taking the time to coment, all these are valid arguments and are well taken. 

    Best Regards


  4. puga2006
    August 9, 2015 


    Mac At Work: IBM Launches Services to

    Deploy Macs at Scale to the Enterprise via



  5. puga2006
    August 22, 2015

    Yes saw Parallels working in my friend's Mac, it was really cool. Looks like Windows can be invoked from Mac as if it is an app, he explained, Windows runs like a Virtual Machine within Mac and can easily switch between Mac & Windows, get the best of both worlds, get the best Mac hardware and still have a Windows OS to support all the enterprise apps. Is there anyway to do this on iOS devices also? If there is one that will be really really cool. 

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