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Being a Mac User in a Windows World

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Scott Craig
Dynamic software developer offering over 10 years of experience managing multimillion-dollar, mission critical projects.
We could spend the next millennium discussing the differences of the Mac and Windows platforms. The next century will continue to have fanatics on both side of the equation and neither side will win the war. However, that’s not why we are here.

We’re here to discuss reality and the reality is that Macs exist not only in a little corner by themselves, but they are more frequently being used in organizations that are very Windows-centric. This can not only be frustrating for end users, who have problems using their Mac in a Windows environment, but also for system administrators who have to integrate these “foreign” devices into their networks. So let’s take a look at how these two adversarial systems can work together on one network, together in harmony.

One of the major problems is simply integrating the Mac into the network. A lot of system administrators don’t know that the Mac OSX has the ability to join the network. This should be one of your first tasks when you bring your Mac onto a Windows-based network. You can join your company’s Active Directory (AD) server by following these steps:
 

1.

Click on the Apple icon in your task bar and go to System Preferences.

2.

From there, you want to click on the Users and Groups icon.

3.

Once there, you will want to click on Login Options and click the lock at the bottom to allow changes.

4.

You will click on the “Join…” button that has lit up now and you will be able to enter your AD server and client computer name. Remember you will also have to have an AD administrator come and assist you as you will need their username and password to join the computer.Join ADThis is only just the beginning of your journey, but at least now your computer is connected to the network and you can join your company’s LDAP server and connect to network drives as well.

After you have connected your computer to the network and setup your drives, you are ready to go? Right? Well, not quite. Unfortunately now you have the problem of program compatibility. Let’s take a look at some of the most frequent categories of programs and what you can do about their equivalents on the Mac.
 

E-Mail

This is a category that is one of the easiest for Mac users. While not all features are in all clients, you can most likely find a client that will work for you and work with your company’s existing infrastructure.

The first and obvious choice is the pre-installed Mail software by Apple. It is quite a good option and can sometimes connect to servers easier than other software packages. While its server-specific features are limited, you can connect to Exchange, Google and POP/IMAP servers right out of the box. If you happen to use personal email for your business, it also has built-in options for Yahoo and AOL mail as well.

The downside to using the default Mail application is its capabilities that are baked into the servers. For example, you can do some tagging of emails like you do in the native Gmail/Google Apps servers, but not completely. You also cannot do public folders in Mail that are on your Exchange server.

If you need these more robust capabilities, I suggest you use the native clients for these servers. Gmail and Google apps can both be accessed from their web interface. While you can’t get notifications on your desktop out of the box, there are options to allow you to do this.

As far as Exchange goes, if your company supports the web interface, you can use that or you can purchase the Office for Mac suite which includes Outlook. While this client isn’t an exact replica of the Windows version, it does the job and allows you to use most of the features you will experience in the Windows client.
 

Instant Messaging

Messaging is another area in which servers vary greatly and thus do the clients. Once again, this comes down to what you need and whether you can do without some features.

Apple has created a great app for messaging called “Messages”. Some users think this is only for iMessage, but it can be used for a wide variety of protocols and thus may serve your needs when it comes to your enterprise messaging. Messages supports Google, Yahoo, AOL and Jabber (XMPP) messaging.

IMIf your company uses something different, like the ever-growing Lync server messaging, you will have to download the client to be able to communicate here.  Instructions on how to do that are here. Unfortunately, Apple does not integrate those services into their default applications. However, once again, Microsoft has done a good job giving you nearly the same functionality on their Mac clients as they do on their Windows clients.
 

Office Tools

This is one of the hardest categories to cover because unlike e-mail and messaging, the applications in this category never play nicely together. Unfortunately, this leaves the end user to conform to the suite that the company uses. Let’s take, as an example, Microsoft Office. If your company uses this (and chances are, they do), there’s not much compatible. While you can get very similar functionality out of the Apple suite of products or even Google Docs, you’re not going to get the same functionality. If you plan on going past simple formatting and equations, you’re not going to be happy.

Luckily, you’re not stuck with one product. If your company uses the Apple suite (Pages, Numbers, etc.), you can download these for free on new Macs. Even if you don’t have a new Mac, you can purchase the products you need instead of having to purchase the entire suite.

If your company uses Microsoft Office, once again, the Mac version of this suite performs quite well. Most of the functionality is the same (even though it may be in slightly different places) and the documents translate over exactly as the user intended.

Finally, if your company uses Google Docs, chances are you’re already using the web interface for this and you should continue. While you can open them in a desktop application, sometimes things get lost in translation and they will not appear the same once you put them back on the web app.
 

Position-Specific Tools

Whether you’re a developer, an accountant, or any other specialized position within your company, chances are you have a specific program you use to perform your job. Unfortunately, just like the office suite, chances are there are no equivalent apps for your current software, unless they make one for the Mac.

Let’s take for example Visual Studio. Visual Studio is a product that is put out by Microsoft to allow development in multiple languages. Some of them can be developed on the Mac, but the Microsoft-specific languages cannot be (they actually can be, but it’s not pretty).

So, what do you do in this case? Throw your Mac away and go back to the Windows-based system you used to be on? Absolutely not! You have two options at this point, but both require you loading Windows onto your Mac.

One option is to load Windows via a process that Apple calls Bootcamp. This is the best option for a lot of users. It loads Windows natively on the Mac and, for the most part, allows you to then load your applications and run them within Windows. However, this option has a few drawbacks:
 

1.

Sometimes hardware is not supported. For example, while I got everything running under Boot Camp on my Mac, because I didn't have a Thunderbolt display, my Macbook Pro did not recognize my second monitor. That means I only could work on my 13-inch Macbook Pro screen. This isn't an option I could do.

2.

You have to have space to partition your drive. Under this method, you have to reserve a set amount of space to load and run Windows under. It's harder to change this using this method as opposed to the next.

3.

Finally, if you want to run your Mac software, too bad. You're going to have to reboot your machine and boot into OSX for you to do this. There's no running your Mac applications while you're running under Windows. Your other option is to use an application like Oracle's VirtualBox or Parallels to virtualize a Windows machine. Under this option, you are able to run Windows on top of OSX and use both operating systems side-by-side.

Since you are virtualizing things, everything should run smoothly. However, this option has a downside as well. You are now running two operating systems at the same time. This can be very taxing on your memory and processing resources, depending on how much you have running all at once.
 

Is That It?

Are there other scenarios not covered here? Absolutely? Will you run into more problems using a Mac on a Windows-based network than you will a native Windows PC? Yes.

However, if you are committed to the OSX platform, there are ways around the problems you will face. Talk to your network group if they have the knowledge or do some research on your own. Chances are, someone has faced the exact same problem that you are facing now and chances are, someone else has fixed that problem for them.

Mac and Windows can play nicely together. It just takes some time, patience and probably some workarounds, but they can make it together.
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