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How Creative Professionals Struggle with Mac/SMB File Sharing

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This article outlines the struggles that Macs encounter in Windows-dominated workplace environments – and what Mac users can do to improve their network connectivity and remain productive.

The presence of Macs in the workplace is growing and IT administrators must take special steps to ensure that Mac users can effectively utilize basic services like network file access, searching, sharing, and printing.

These basic services become even more important when employees using Macs are highly collaborative creative professionals like designers, publishers and video editors. These employees spend much of their time working with larger, network-based files than the typical worker.

The unique IT requirements of creative professionals include:

  • Software (such as design application suites like Adobe Creative Cloud)
  • Hardware (such as Apple desktops and tablets and more scalable storage)
  • High-performance search capabilities through large-scale file libraries
  • The ability to easily share files with Windows servers and desktops.


Anyone who has worked in a mixed Mac/Windows shop knows the two environments have significant compatibility issues. Mac users often suffer server performance and usability handicaps that severely and adversely affect their productivity and satisfaction with their work environment.

Problem 1: Connecting Macs to file-sharing systems

A first-response reaction might be to use an Apple solution. The problem with this approach is that Apple servers have severe scaling limitations and struggle to accommodate businesses with anywhere near 100 employees. (A useful discussion of this topic can be found here: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5830716.) Worse, Apple discontinued the Xserve in 2011 and it is inevitable that Xserve product support will be discontinued eventually, too.

The only real solution to accommodate large heterogeneous Mac/Windows workloads is to use a Windows File Server in conjunction with network-attached storage (NAS) or a storage-area network (SAN). This requires the use of Microsoft’s file-sharing protocol, Server Message Block (SMB), which presents significant compatibility issues in mixed Mac/Windows environments.

Apple has its own protocol for network file sharing – Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) – but most NAS devices and Windows file servers natively communicate only via SMB. The vast majority of businesses rely on SMB, SAN, and NAS for file sharing and storage.

Problem 2: Editing files directly on file servers

Creative organizations and departments share a common need to edit files directly from a server. Adobe does not support direct volume mounting. “Adobe Technical Support only supports using Photoshop and Adobe Bridge on a local hard disk. It's difficult to re-create or accurately identify network and peripheral-configuration problems.”

This presents an obstacle for users of popular Adobe design applications, notably Photoshop. The alternative to pointing Photoshop at a mounted server volume (a controversial practice) is copying files directly to the Mac to edit. This turns out to be an untenable solution when dealing with many large files. Though not officially supported, many companies want Adobe’s software to point at mounted volumes as this approach streamlines work processes and enables multiple users to work from a centralized storage location.

Problem 3: Macs searching through file shares

Creative professionals rely heavily on Apple Spotlight and its ability to provide fast, sophisticated filename and content searches through multiple servers containing thousands or even millions of files. They expect and need this network-based file search function to work the same way it does on their local hard drives.

This is a big problem, however, as Spotlight’s search functionality is not supported when Macs connect to NAS devices or Windows servers through SMB. As a result, a content search on a Mac does not work on Windows servers and most NAS devices, and ordinary file searches can take minutes or hours instead of seconds. This greatly diminished search functionality significantly reduces a Mac user’s productivity.

How to solve these problems

Acronis Files Connect allows Macs to connect to Windows file shares using AFP, Apple’s native file sharing protocol, by acting as an AFP file server running directly on a Windows server.

With Acronis Files Connect, organizations can quickly install a simple solution that eliminates these stubborn incompatibility problems, enabling Mac users to exist harmoniously and work productively in a Windows-based environment. Apple Spotlight search works properly and problems with file naming, file access permissions, network printing, unreliable file transfers, and slow server performance disappear.

Consider the examples of two companies that overcame Mac/Windows compatibility issues by using Acronis Files Connect:

Quad/Graphics

Quad/Graphics’ Media division faced compatibility issues that impeded its ability to share files across the organization. It sought to integrate a mixed Mac/Windows environment of 600 Mac desktops and 50 Windows Servers, but the systems struggled to communicate. Quad/Graphics implemented Acronis Files Connect to give its Mac users fast and immediate access to Windows file servers. Acronis offered the only Windows-based AFP server solution to support all Mac versions.

The results were extremely positive, and later Quad/Graphics was able to expand its print operations to 30 sites worldwide. Their IT infrastructure was able to develop and expand, free of any Mac/Windows compatibility restrictions.

Phoenix Printing Plates Ltd.

Phoenix Printing Plates initially opted to create a Mac/Windows environment without Acronis Files Connect. It suffered from the common misconception that Apple/Microsoft compatibility issues had dwindled over time and that Apple’s official support of Microsoft SMB had eliminated the old incompatibility problems.

The company quickly discovered that this was not the case. Mac-to-Windows Server connections were possible, but they suffered from a range of stubborn problems: long delays, the inability to rename or move files, time-consuming and inaccurate searches, and overall slow performance. Phoenix Printing Plates had looked to a new Windows server infrastructure to improve productivity and enable its objectives, but it wasn’t until deploying Acronis Files Connect that it was truly able to do so. Restoration of full Spotlight search functionality and performance and fast, trouble-free file sharing with Windows servers made Phoenix Printing Plates’ Mac users productive and happy again.

Get started with Acronis Files Connect

Experience the benefits of Acronis Files Connect with a free trial, available at https://www.acronis.com/en-us/mobility/mac-windows-compatibility/. It takes less than 10 minutes to download and install the software on a Windows server. See the difference Acronis Files Connect makes to the lives of Mac users and admins today.

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