The news that the next version of Microsoft Office for Macintosh is to pack Outlook serves to firm up the hunch that the Mac is back as a contender for business deployment.

Outlook will replace Entourage, the email application that never threatened to be as good as the TV series that shares it name, when Microsoft ships the next Office for Mac, due towards the end of next year. It's a little surprising that Microsoft will port Outlook given its bias to the PC and the role of Outlook as a staple of the modern, Windows-dominated business. And with Outlook strapped on, the Mac could come close to staging a Lazarus-like return to business relevance.

Ten years ago, the Mac was dead as a doorpost or dodo. Like Monty Python's parrot, the Mac wasn't pining for the fjords or stunned but deceased, passed on and gone to meet its maker. A conference for Mac-friendly businesses could have been held in a phone box. But since then, things have changed radically, not only within Apple but also in business computer usage patterns.

It helps that Apple is now in rude health with the Mac benefiting from the mega-success of the iPod and iPhone, and the Mac itself has benefited from the switch to Intel processors and a series of outstanding designs. But the main opportunity for a comeback has been granted by changing patterns of CPU consumption on behalf of business users. Where 10 years ago users were far more likely to be deskbound and dependent on proprietary applications accessed from the local hard drive or server, today's users are nomadic and web-centric. Where once the Windows profile was mandated by CIOs to enforce rigi provisioning and security systems, today the choice of desktop is now more likely to be democratic. The laptop has usurped the desktop PC and a sleeper trend of recent years has seen many users select their own devices.

Also, companies are realising that with work/life usage blurring, the business computer must also act as centre of entertainment. Increasingly, business users are choosing systems that are a pleasure to use -- and for many that means a Mac.