Recently I was in the mood for a new laptop, but have been underwhelmed with the selection of wintel machines available and overwhelmed with the number of security patches for XP. I just needed a small, reliable system that worked.
Making the purchase
Being an ubergeek I have always admired Apple’s physical design, but have avoided Macs in the past due to the operating system. Since I run linux (SuSE 9.0 AMD64) at home I was interested in OSX because of it’s BSD roots. I have tried linux on laptops in the past, but have never been happy with the stability of the hardware support. I know I am going to get flamed for this last line, but when you have 5 minutes to logon to a wifi hotspot to get your mail in between flights you don’t want to have to troubleshoot iwconfig or your VPN.
When it comes to being a geek, I am completely a hardware guy. I want all of the latest toys, but have been disappointed in the past with equipment that does not meet my expectations. Currently my complaints surround Bluetooth hardware and support in Windows. I have a Sony T616, a PALM T3 and a Logitech Bluetooth headset that I really wanted to be able to use with my system, but have always had difficulty with my company issued wintel laptop (a Sony SRX99P).
My other requirement was size. While it is nice to have a 15” display and a full-sized keyboard, I did not want to have to carry a bulky machine in my travels.
Being a design nut I have always been magnetically drawn to the Apple store in the local mall. It was nice to be able to walk in and actually allow the salesperson help me make a decision, as the staff in this store are always eager to educate the uninitiated on the Apple product line.
Because of my size requirements I was specifically interested in the new 12” aluminum Powerbook. A beautiful specimen of industrial design. After allowing the salesperson to do his thing, I inquired about Bluetooth device support. The new Powerbooks already have the transceiver installed, but did it work? He promptly picked up a PALM T3 and demonstrated iSync. When I asked about my phone he immediately asked for it and within 5 minutes had it paired with the machine, setup iSync to sync the address book
phone numbers, iCal to sync the appointments and configured it to be a modem for the machine (GPRS is available through modem scripts that can be found on the web – they DO work). My only disappointment was that my Logitech headset could not be used for voice recognition (not that I would actually use it for that). It can be used for iChat, or my preferred ohphoneX (H.323 client).
The other gadgets I tend to always carry in my case are an iPod (no questions here) and a Canon S200, which works perfectly with iPhoto.
Needless to say I left the store that day with a shiny new Powerbook, an extra GB of RAM and the Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo running OSX 10.3.
Connecting in a Corporate environment:
My corporate environment is a standard Windows NT4 based PDC environment. I have never been a fan of roaming profiles, I typically take the responsibility of backing up my files on my own. My office is a remote location (the only US office of a European company), and I am the Director of IT, so I did not have any battles to fight with net admins.
Upon connecting to the network for the first time I immediately tried to browse the network. We have over a hundred different domains connected to our WAN, so it took a little time to load the list. I was able to view and connect to all that I have rights to. The only issue I had was connecting to Terminal Services servers that required the client to be run from
a machine that was part of the domain. There are quite a few commercial applications for sale that assist with this, but they are completely unnecessary for those willing to get their hands dirty. In order to accomplish this feat all I had to do was give my machine the same name as my old laptop (which already had an account on the domain) and adjust the systems hostname from localhost to the corporate domain name. This can be done through the terminal, making yourself root and using pico to edit the /etc/hostconfig file.
Here just edit the line “HOSTNAME=-AUTOMATIC-“ to “HOSTNAME=machinename.domain”. I would also suggest editing the SMB.CONF file so that the global setting “Server String = OSX” is changed to “Server String =
“. This string is what your sysadmins will see in the description of your machine if they browse servers on the network. If left blank….well what he does not know will not kill him.
I have several W2K fileservers that I connect to regularly and the Apple implementation of Samba works wonderfully. The only catch is when you go to connect to a server be sure to type the server name as “SMB://machinename”. If you do not you will still connect, but the performance will be horrible. Don’t include the share name because you will be presented
with a list of all shares on the target machine to choose from. The Keychain seems to have some issues remembering my user names and passwords here, but I think I
probably misconfigured it.
In order to connect to the corporate network while traveling I needed a working VPN client. Fortunately we use Cisco concentrators and Cisco has a nice OSX version of their client. The ability to configure L2TP and PPTP VPN connections is built into the network settings, so accessing my home network was nearly as simple. Standard dialup PPP connections
are easily configured as well.
Of course MS Office is a requirement in our current time, and MS Office X works nearly as well as Office XP. There are some strange quirks that you must get used to, like the fact that some toolbar buttons you take for granted are now separate floating toolbars. The most important button for most Office users is the Formatting Palette. This floating box contains all of the buttons one would use for font formatting (bold, underline) and for borders/alignments. This type of floating menu is very similar to what you would find in Photoshop or Gimp. The one piece I do not like is the fact that Fullscreen mode is not really full screen.
I have been a little paranoid about the formatting compatibility between the Mac and Windows versions of Office. Despite the fact that MS insists there are no problems, I cannot take a chance on sending an ugly document to my clients.
To increase my comfort level I just print any documents I send out into a PDF file, which works perfectly from all applications. Not to mention that this
adds to the document security and appears a little more professional.
Microsoft has graciously developed a Terminal Services Client, which can be downloaded for free, and works perfectly with properly licensed TSE servers.
Apple’s Safari webbrowser is very quick and has some nice features (pop up blocker), but seems to have some minor issues with sites created specifically for IE. On rare occasions (usually only on my intranet) formatting is a little screwy or functions do not work properly. IE is available as a free download, but I only use it when I am going to a site that
I know has problems.
Entourage is included with Office X, but I do not particularly like it’s interface, so I use the Apple Mail application. I have never been able to use Outlook in a Windows environment because my filed email is well over the 2GB limit for pst files. Apple Mail has never had any problems with this. To migrate from Mozilla mail I just had to move my profile directory
into the proper location in the OSX FS.
My company uses a handful of Windows only programs forthings like time reporting as well as the applications we sell. Virtual PC took care of that. The shared networking function resolves any network issues transparently. I am able to use Citrix GotoAssist and AVAYA’s IP Softphone through this setup without problems. Virtual PC emulates a 350MHZ Pentium 2, which is more than sufficient if you give it 512MB of RAM to work with. If you are switching between a wired Ethernet and wifi be sure to adjust the virtual
switch setting under Virtual PC, Preferences.
Unfortunately MS Office X does not include Access (or any database for that matter). For me Access has been a vital tool for reformatting large data files into formats that are compatible with my company’s EDI solution. To replace Access I have used a combination of MySQL, Premiumsoft’s Navicat and Datamorph by Qoppa. MySQL is considerably more powerful than Access but does not come with a GUI (it is free though). Sure I know the CLI, but when time is short sometimes a GUI is the quickest. For the GUI I chose Navicat. At $95USD this is a steal compared to the cost of Access for Windows. The one piece missing from Navicat is the ability to chop up files with no delineation
(is available in their Windows version), but this is easily accomplished with Datamorph. Because of the size of the files I work with I had some initial issues with Datamorph’s memory management. The support team at Qoppa were very sympathetic and within 24 hours had compiled a modified version of the software that would take advantage of the 1.25 GB of RAM in my system.
The only other app that I had to do some research on was the Webex client. For those of you who are not familiar with Webex, it is an online service that allows collaboration between users over the internet without firewalls or proxies getting into the way. The Webex website has a download for an OS9 version of their client, but on MacUpdate.com I was able to find an OSX version that works well.
There are some quirks in OSX that are throwbacks to the OS9 days. Once you are used to them they become second nature. The most noticeable differences for Windows users converting are:
Finder – When closing the main window of an application the top menu bar of the app usually stays open. It was explained to me that this is for faster loading the next time you load the app. So instead of clicking on the X to close an application, I suggest the zQ keystroke.
ALT-TAB application switching – OSX substitutes the z key for most Windows ALT functions. The z-Tab works for app switching, but for some reason it does not always bring the app’s main window to the foreground. No resolution at this point, just an annoyance.
Copy/Paste functions – Again substitute the z key. z+X, C or V gives the expected results for Windows users.
There is no image editor (e.g. MS Paint) included in the basic installation.
Office sometimes hangs when you are cutting and pasting or trying to Save As a document for no apparent reason. It does eventually recover.
If you have an external Apple keyboard, the location of the control and option keys versus the keys on the laptop itself is odd.
Right clicking – You hold down the Control key and click for contextual menus. There are some noticeably missing items in these menus (mail send), but they can be easily added through free downloads.
There are quite a few functions in OSX that allow you to do things that are unimaginable in Windows. For example if you want to grab a picture off of a website you just drag and drop it to your desktop. In officeyou can highlight a string and drag and drop it anywhere
in the document.
The same goes for application to application. If you want album art displayed in iTunes, find the album on Amazon or CDNow and drag the picture from Safari to the album art window in iTunes.
Of course there are always the Linux benefits too. These are almost too many to mention, but I highly suggest installing X for OSX. Again a free download. The Apple.com download section is filled with great free/shareware and if you are a developer the possibilities are endless. RealBasic (pro version) will allow you to convert your existing Visual Basic projects into OSX or Linux executables.
I know this article seems like a long advertisement for Apple, but now I understand why Mac users are such zealots. I am so amazed by the fact that everything just works that I feel the need to convert everyone I know.
If you work for a corporation that normally provides a laptop for use, be expected to be laughed at if you request to purchase an Apple. The Apple systems are considered by most IT managers as an incompatible
niche used only for graphics work and will probably deny your request, but it is certainly worth a try. The most obvious benefit is the lack of viruses and malware affecting OSX. I am not saying that OSX is bulletproof, but if you consider the downtime caused in the last six months by viruses and Trojans attacking Windows based machines it is a significant benefit. Now that the kinks are worked out on the networking side, and MS’s support for the Mac versions of the Office Suite
there are really no reasons not to convert.
About the author:
James Kahan is the IT Director for Cegedim USA, located in Philadelphia, a provider of sales force automation tools in the pharma vertical.
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