Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Apple Time" Update

It has been almost two months since I "went Mac," and it is time for an update.

First, let me say that the Mac has won me over. As I stated in March, I am not going back. This MacBook Pro is truly the best laptop I have ever used, and it does things very well.

The goal was to be able to do all my work on this Mac without resorting to Windows, and I can say that for the most part, that goal has been reached.

Of all the applications I use, the ones that matter are:

  • Microsoft Office
  • MindJet MindManager
  • The BlackBerry
  • Keypass
  • Sony Digital Recorder software
  • Various utilities, such as Telnet and FTP
  • Text Editing/Programming software
  • Web Browsing
Of the above, the only one that does not support the Mac is the Sony digital recorder software. I was going to add the BlackBerry, but there is an application called "PocketMac" that RIM distributes free -- I have not tried it, but I will.

MS Office 2008 is good -- I installed it about two weeks ago, and it is different from MS Office 2007 for the PC, but compatible. It is certainly workable, and so far, I have had no serious issues. It is important to note that the Microsoft Mac development team is a whole 'nother bunch of people than the Office 2007 team -- but, hey, that is standard issue for Microsoft. I have not had the chance to really work Office 2008, but so far, it works fairly well.

MindJet MindManager's Mac version is not as feature-rich as the Windows version, which is unfortunate, because I really use this software more than any other. The files are all compatible, though, and it works very well -- it just lacks some features that I like.

Keypass is an application that I use to hold my passwords, and I was afraid when starting this experiment that I would have to forgo it -- but, there is KeypassX, which is a Mac version, and it works great! Keypass, by the way, is a requirement. It is the best way I have found to keep track of the myriad passwords that I have, and it is very secure. Security people say you should never write down passwords, and should have hard-to-guess passwords. Well, hard-to-guess passwords are also hard-to-remember passwords. So, people use their pet's or kid's name (hey, I did this too when I started out!). Also, many people use the same password for their work computer, their email apps, their banking apps, and their other web logons. Someone can guess it once, and get into all of it! Keypass makes it easy to manage all of this. I store all my confidential info in Keypass, including SSNs and other information, because it is so secure. Do it!

The utility and text programs are different in a Mac, but are excellent and professional. It is important to note that all the development pros I have seen lately are using Macs, including the guys at Google who released their Google App Engine a few weeks ago.

The goal of this experiment is to see if the Mac is a viable alternative for a PC in a business environment. So far, I have to say that it is not "seamless." There are issues surrounding Mac use in a Windows world. To a Windows-centric IT shop that does not want to work with it, the Mac will not work. This is mainly because hooking up a Mac to a Windows domain, using Windows (Active Directory, really) shares and printers, and authentication, is not the same with a Mac as it is with a PC, and the Mac does have limitations here. So, an IT shop has to look broader: Are there benefits to going Mac that outweigh the limitation of using a Mac with Active Directory? Smaller shops have an easier time, since the impact of architecture changes/accommodations are limited to a few people and locations, and the impact can be made less painful. Larger companies, with ossified IT groups with ossified "change control" protocols and five-year IT roadmaps will just plain not really accommodate a Mac, unless the shop adds it into their plan, which means politics.

On this last note, as I have been studying the Mac and getting it to work in my group, I have seen a lot of IT-avoidance strategies to getting the Mac to work -- some have been used by my own users over the years. Some of these strategies are "unapproved" but basically harmless, and others are "unapproved" and can cause security and other problems. OS X has lessened the second scenario considerably, but the scenarios still exist. So, what happens in a non-Mac environment is what happens to any IT environment where a determined user community loses patience and goes for it: work-arounds and self-support. This has resulted in some rather artistic people, who lean toward the Mac, grinning and bearing the technical aspects of getting these things to work outside the Mac world. The fact that they are succeeding shows the versatility of the Mac (this is not a slight -- I sure would not expect a Windows Active Directory-jockey to design web sites or put together ad layouts).

With that in mind, I do want to point out some of the issues I have uncovered in my travels:

1. The integration to Active Directory was really cool until the security patch came out in March that took out printing to a Windows-based network. This is still an issue. The work-arounds are to either put your windows user name and password on the printer command line (really, really technical, and much deeper into the bowels of this thing than I thought I would ever have to go -- has to do with CUPS) which A. did not work for me, and B. is a security issue, or print directly to a network-attached printer to its IP address. What is its IP address? Exactly. More technical issues and sleuthing required. Sure, doable. But not as cool (or efficient) as choosing a printer from the available list and just printing.

2. Windows Active Directory and OS X's Directory Utility (DU) work well together, but their error checking and correction are not what I would like it to be. Therefore, it is possible to add a Mac to an Active Directory domain with the same name as another computer. This can cause really, really serious problems. I blame Microsoft (since it is its software that is failing, not the Mac), but it is still a problem. This little problem killed our network and brought down our Exchange server.

3. Office 2008's Entourage is pretty cool, but I noticed some definite differences with Outlook (actually, a lot of differences, but most seem to be benign). The main one is that Entourage does not seem to support distribution lists from Outlook in my personal contacts list. You can create a "group" in Entourage, but it does so in your local contact list, not the contacts in your Exchange contact folder. (Disclaimer -- I have not tried hard, but I shouldn't have to!). Again, I blame Microsoft. Entourage is theirs.

4. I was unable to easily open a Word document on a Windows "share" from within Word.

What does all this mean? That the Mac/Windows interface is a pain, and therefore, a problem.

There are three official actions I can take about this:

A. Tear out Windows and Active Directory, or at least build a parallel directory environment using Mac Server,
B. Be aware of the issues and have Mac users (including me) live with them until they eventually go away, or
C. Ban Macs as too much of a problem (while keeping mine, of course!).

Option C is too draconian and actually impossible in my environment. Option A may be the best long-term option, since Microsoft seems determined to fall on their sword with Vista and other super-kludgy software. In this scenario, we reduce Windows and Active Directory as much as possible, root out as much MS software as possible (Exchange? Gone! Office 2007? Gone!), and make the Windows PC's work with LDAP running on Apple servers (can we do this? I don't know. Theoretically, sure. Comments from those that have done it are welcome!).

Option B is the way are are going now, with an active eye on the incremental improvements as OS X gets better and better. Alas, we are not where I wanted to be: Root out PCs and add Macs and be in Nirvana. But, perhaps soon.

Oh, before I close, I did manage to lock up this baby a few times:

1. When I pulled the monitor cable from the laptop before shutting down. Perhaps it is best to do this when the machine is not on. Don't know.
2. When I had lots of apps opened all at once, including Windows on VMWare fusion. Something tweaked.
3. One other time that just seemed out of the blue. Might have been a problem with Firefox -- don't know.

So, they are not crash-proof. But it came back really well each time. Also, I have been just closing the lid and opening the lid, and it just sleeps and awakens like a little baby (only, without the crying part).

Finally, I put in place a local USB drive (a Passport from Western Digital) and set up (as if there is anything to really set up) "Time Machine." Really cool. For those of you old enough to have seen "Star Wars" when it first came out, remember when the Millennium Falcon went into Hyperspace? Well, like that: What a rush! And for backup software! Not only that, but it really works well, and saved me from some serious problems, and I don't have to think about it. The only problem is that I can't have a network drive be the backup drive. I don't know why they don't allow that.

So, bottom line, Vista is failing and people are buying Macs and getting serious about it. I am using one and will not go back. Macs are not quite ready for prime time in the pure Windows business environment, but are usable and worth the effort, and the tsunami is out there and mark my words, by this time next year, the wave will hit and Macs will rule.


James P said...

Ah yes. #$%! Sony. No music pro I know uses their little recorders. Because of Sony's stupid, proprietary, Windows-only software. Music professionals use Macs, and the iPod killed Sony in the portable music market. So Sony wants us to buy a Vaio to use their silly little products. No, thanks.

Yamaha makes better recorders, both portables for rehearsals (or business meetings) and consoles for the pros, and no Windows needed. Tascam makes better, multi-platform recorders, too.

I wouldn't hold Sony's ineptitude in recording against Apple - I'd hold it against Sony. And then I'd try a Yamaha Pocketrak - it craps all over Sony's Windows-only BS, and works with whatever you choose to plug it into.