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Will Macs replace PCs as the computer of choice at law firms?
By Luigi Benetton
Toronto
July 06 2007 issue


Joel Alleyne;  Photo by Paul Lawrence
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“Hi, I’m a Mac.”

“And I’m a PC.”

You’ve probably heard personifications of these two computer operating systems bantering on TV, where the young, hip Mac always comes out ahead of the buttoned-down PC. In law firms, like in most businesses, the reverse typically happens.

However, several lawyers who run their practices exclusively on Macs are spreading Apple gospel to other legal professionals. Rob Hyndman, principal of Hyndman Law, writes about his allegiance to Mac in his technology blog. Several months ago, Kansas attorney and fellow tech blogger Grant Griffiths co-founded the Google group Macs in the Law Office, or MILO. This group joins other online “Mac law” discussion spots like www.macattorney.com, www.maclaw.org, www.TheMacLawyer.com and www.MacLawStudents.com, as well as Apple’s own marketing to lawyers at www.apple.com.

And this year might not be business as usual for law IT departments. Many PC users must switch to a new computer operating system within the next two years. Unlike previous transition periods, there may be competition this time for Vista, the successor to Microsoft’s market-leading Windows XP operating system. And the most user-friendly challenge comes from Apple Inc.’s Macintosh line.

“The operating system is very stable,” said Joel Alleyne, Chief Information and Knowledge Officer for Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. “It sets graphical user interface (GUI) standards that Microsoft has had to catch up to.”

Also, technology pundits concur that upgrading from XP to Vista will, in many cases, require a brand new computer.

Elliot Katz, senior product manager, Windows Client for Microsoft Canada, called that a myth. He claimed that Vista will install properly on most computers sold in the last three years.

That three-year period was a deliberate message. Katz said that most corporations refresh computers every three years or less. He listed law-firm-friendly features, such as full-drive encryption that prevents thieves from reading stolen hard drives, better collaboration tools and better metadata handling, among the many business benefits of Microsoft’s 2007 offerings.

While Microsoft markets to business, Apple takes a different approach. “We’re a personal computer company first,” said William Powell, Strategic Development Manager for Apple Canada Inc. “We don’t market heavily to business users.”

Griffiths finds this maddening. “If I have one complaint about Apple, that would be it,” he said. “They focus on the consumer with movies, music and everything else but not on businesses, on professionals.”

Hyndman claims Apple markets to “influencers” – artists, musicians, and the like – and the strategy is working. He calls the market-dominant iPod the tech accessory of the new millennium. Under the iPod halo and that of the coming iPhone, Apple has sold more computers. “I haven’t seen Apple fever like this in at least 15 years,” he said.

These phenomena hint at Apple’s true long-term plan: to build market awareness and recruit “thought leaders” who then “sell” Apple to others in their fields. If Hyndman and Griffiths, both former long-time Windows users, are any indication, the strategy is taking hold in law.

However, even Mac faithful recognize the validity of the Microsoft position. “IT departments don’t want to support different operating systems,” Hyndman said. “That’s two sets of skills, more people and especially more testing when you roll out an application.”

“The hardware is the smallest piece of total cost of ownership,” said Katz. “You must be able to hire people who understand it, or you must be able to outsource support.”

Alleyne likens the Mac versus Windows battle to that of Beta versus VHS. “Beta was the superior product. VHS had market share. Look where we are today.”

Applications are the biggest barriers to Mac adoption in law firms which rely upon practice management, time, billing and document comparison tools, among others, that run only on Windows.

“Even if applications are web-based,” said Alleyne, “developers tend to make them compatible with the most popular browser on the market, Microsoft Internet Explorer. Using web-based apps on (Apple’s) Safari or Mozilla Firefox can cause compatibility issues. That means extra testing for us.”

Document compatibility also concerns potential “defectors” but Hyndman recalls only one Microsoft Office compatibility issue (since resolved) during hundreds of Office document exchanges with clients and colleagues. Griffiths claimed that many legal applications come in Mac versions and, if a specific legal application doesn’t exist for the Mac, substitutes are available.

Another point in Apple’s favour: Apple switched its computers to Intel processors. “With Intel,” Powell said, “users see Macs as more standards-oriented.” Mac owners can now use tools that run software made for Windows, as well as Microsoft Windows itself.

Hyndman gives Microsoft some credit. “The usability gap has closed over the years,” he said. The tech-savvy lawyer also recalled the week it took him to learn the Mac OS. “You have to change the way you think about using a computer,” he said.

In Hyndman’s view, time spent learning the Mac has paid off. “I’m much more productive on a Mac. I get things done much faster,” Hyndman claimed, then added: “but productivity is a hard thing to demonstrate.”

Both Hyndman and Griffith repeat “total cost of ownership” as a key benefit of switching to Mac. Neither sole practitioner maintains an IT department or infrastructure. Both claim the Mac calls for less debugging, fixing and support. “I used to pay $5,000 per year in support when I ran a Windows network,” Griffiths said. “That has dropped to zero.” Griffiths added that larger firms can easily find third-party Apple support.

Alleyne added the claim that Macs excel in peer-to-peer networks common to small offices.

Little of this applies to larger firms, where Microsoft platforms dominate. Temporary staff and IT professionals are more likely to understand Windows, so they fit in more quickly.

Alleyne indicates two possible Mac uses in large firms: business development and marketing. “Our partners in these areas are Mac shops,” he said.

Neither Hyndman nor Griffiths know of large law firms that run on Macs. However, Hyndman cited anecdotal evidence that some lawyers in major law firms are turning to turn to Macs for home computing. “This could be the canary in the coal mine,” he said.

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