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Is Mac Growth In Business World Next For High-Flying Apple?

While in the past few years Apple has gotten the most attention from iPods and iTunes, a financial report Wednesday shows it's selling more Macintosh computers than ever before. What's more, some see the company expanding beyond its niche status in the business world.

Apple sold 1.61 million Macs during its 2006 fourth fiscal quarter, breaking its previous quarterly record of 1.38 million Macs sold, in the first fiscal quarter of 2000. The company sold 8.72 million iPods during the fourth quarter. That represents 30% growth in Mac sales and 35% growth in iPod sales over the same period last year. (The company's fourth-quarter financial release could be restated, however, due to an internal investigation involving stock options grants).

Apple is also winning new users. In a Webcast detailing the quarter's financial results, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer noted that over 50% of customers buying Macs at Apple's retail stores were new to the platform.

Apple's only real strength in the business world is in graphics and publishing. But Robert Irlbeck, president of Evolution Networks, a systems integration and software development company based in Oakland, Calif., says he sees Apple making gains in other areas, particularly among "alpha geeks": Senior IT pros who have gravitated to the Mac because of its Unix foundation.

Irlbeck says he has seen several small companies move to the Mac platform, but notes that some barriers remain. While Apple's decision to move to Intel chips took some of the risk out of buying Macs, he says many businesses still have to run Windows for applications like Microsoft Project or Visio, or certain Web applications that depend on Internet Explorer.

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