Using a Mac in a corporate environment: it’s possible

06Jun08

TB Tech Blog - MacBook

Using a Mac, when everybody around you is using a PC and the very institution your work for or learn from has little or no support for the operating system can be difficult. However, Apple’s advance to far more reliable hardware, the myriad of quality, often free learning software out there and a little passion from the user can make being the odd one out very tantalising indeed.

To put this post in context, my school has an entirely PC-centric network which uses hundreds of broadcasters to allow campus-wide wireless networking that allows access to the internet, internal servers, networked e-mail, and monitoring software, all wirelessly. The most common machines are Toshiba Portege and Satellite Pro notebooks and Portege tablets; I have found these devices to be utterly unreliable, to have exceptionally low battery lives, and, although it doesn’t matter so much, are actually quite ugly.

Not to mention, running a Mac system at home and managing a PC for school use is a real chore – all those Pages documents created on the Mac must either be exported to *.doc or *.pdf, put on a memory stick and transferred, as the two operating systems still pretty much refuse to talk to each other. Rather, Windows refuses to let Mac talk to it.

So, is it that difficult to break from the norm and use Mac hardware and software, without Boot Camp, or a virtual machine, within a network that, for the most part, doesn’t want to “talk” to Macs? In my case, yes, with a little help.

Hey! The network won’t let me access the ‘net!

This is a problem that Mac users encounter frequently. The first thing is to change your Mac’s computer name to the organisation’s standard (on your Windows machine, go to Control Panel > System and you’ll find your computer name. It’s usually long and complicated but you can usually just keep that for your Mac (go to System Preferences > Sharing to change) and you’ll be right.

In the instance that that doesn’t work, you’ll need to visit your IT department. Don’t be offended if you get a harsh treatment, I like to call most IT people ‘Macphobes’. However, show them your computer name and they’ll usually fix things up or simply allow you onto the network via some other means.

What about corporate/school email?

Apple’s own Mail.app works fine with Microsoft Outlook setups. Just look into your MS Outlook preferences and copy the setup for your corporate account and set up a new account in Mail.app with the same preferences. You should be good to go. If not, it’s another trip to I.T….

Okay, I’m on the ‘net, but what about that Excel spreadsheet my colleague sent me?

You’ve got two choices for managing Microsoft Office projects in a PC environment. Your IT people, and probably yourself as well, will like Microsoft Office for Mac Professional 2008. This program matches up with the Windows versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

The interface of MS Office for Mac is pretty similar to Office Windows 2007 however there are a few quirks that you’ll have to work with. For example, Excel for Mac doesn’t quite mesh with complicated macro-laden files that you may be working on, and that could be a problem.

If you really do hate everything Microsoft, then you should have a look at Apple iWork ’08. While this program will create far better looking documents, spreadsheets and presentations, you’ll need to have the passion to go an extra step for your PC-toting colleagues’ sakes. Instead of simply saving the project and emailing it off, you’ll have to open up Pages (equivalent of Word), Numbers (Excel) or Keynote (PowerPoint), open your project, hit File and Export and choose the right file format. Just choose the first option in most cases, which is the MS Office format.

Perhaps the most useful export feature in iWork is the ability to create PDFs without having to use Adobe Reader or anything like that.

Hmm… the office uses a VGA projector, and I can’t find a VGA outlet on my Mac.

That’s right. Apple moved away from VGA a few years ago and are now using the higher-quality DVI output. On a MacBook, that’s on the left, and is a Mini-DVI port. On a MacBook Pro, it’s the top port on the right side and is a full-DVI slot.

The MacBook Pro comes with a handy adapter for using the MacBook Pro’s DVI port with VGA. However, if you’re a MacBook owner, you’ll have to buy the adapter separately, which, if I recall, is US$29 or A$35.

My Mac is getting a bit knocked around on the train ride home – what should I do to protect it?

Invest in a case, of course! You can always buy a generic PC case (13″ for MacBooks, 15″ or 17″ for MacBook Pros), but if you can, find a Mac-specific case because they’ll often have handy slots that are the perfect size for the laptop and its accessories, like the power brick, remote, and display adapters, as well as other goodies like an iPod and pens.

Belkin makes some relatively stylish Neo cases that are popular among Mac users; these are good value too and they’ll last.

I favour Toffee Australian-leather Mac cases; they look fantastic and offer a decent level of protection. I use a Toffee sling every day and it hasn’t let me down. It’s also very, very comfortable across the shoulder and chest.

I hope you’ll find the inspiration here to switch away from your trouble-causing PC. I’m not saying that it’s necessary – no, many new PCs such as HP’s Pavilion 14″ line and Dell’s XPS series are great-quality models – but if you prefer Macs, they’re now pretty suitable for the working environment as well as at home.

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