OS X in a Windows world

Your chances of running a Mac officially in the workplace, unless your job description warrants it, are pretty close to zero. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. A little sleuthing, a little know-how, and your colleagues will be asking why your computer is so much cooler and easier to use than theirs.

Click here for a screen shot.

A word or two of warning: security is important, and although OS X is inherently more secure than Windows, it’s not invulnerable. Install every single patch that Apple issues. Second, your IS manager will inevitably discover what you’re doing. They’re not stupid. Your chances of keeping your Mac rely on you not being stupid, playing nicely, and, more than anything, not asking them for help. You’re going to have to support yourself.

Finally, there are some things that your Mac is going to have trouble doing. Corporate applications written specifically for Windows may run under Virtual PC. Then again, they may not. It pays to keep a Windows computer handy because sooner or later you’re going to have to log in to it. So without further ado, let’s get down to making your Mac work at work.

Internet access

You may be lucky, in that your office system simply uses DHCP to assign an IP address, no authentication required. This isn’t so common in larger offices, but you’d be surprised what happens in smaller offices. All you need to do is plug the Ethernet cable into your Mac, and you’re away.

Chances are, there’s a proxy guarding your access to the Net. This is where some of your sleuthing comes in handy. On your Windows machine, check its networking config, making note of your user name, your Windows domains and — most importantly — the address and port of your Web proxy.

Go to System Preferences-Network-Proxies and enter the relevant numbers. This should get you underway. However, there is a problem. This isn’t OS X’s strongest area and, for some reason, the Web proxy simply won’t work. If that’s the case, it’s time to call in the big guns. Thursby’s DAVE application is pricey ($US119) but offers easier workgroup and printer integration than the native OS X features. Best, it allows workgroup access to Windows Server 2003 that doesn’t require that your IT manager lowers 2003’s security levels, as is the case with native OS X access.

Work groups

However, if you don’t want DAVE (or don’t need it), there’s a lot that OS X can do for your Windows interoperability. If you’ve been assigned an IP address via DHCP, simply fire up the Finder, click network and all the volumes available on your network will appear.

This is well and good, but how do you know which one is yours? Some basic sleuthing at your Windows machine should provide your work group name, giving access to your designated servers. Click the relevant server, enter your authentication information — domain, username and password — and you should get access to your network drives.

Printing

Printing isn’t as easy as it should be. Most corporate networks won’t have AppleTalk enabled. The simplest way to connect to your workgroup printer is to log into your trusty Windows machine, check the printer’s IP address and then add that IP as a printer. Selecting ‘generic’ as your printer type should resolve any problems you’re having.

The only downside to printing this way is that you’re not going to appear on your office’s print console. Whether this is a problem depends on how well you get along with your network administrator.

E-mail

Your company likely runs Exchange Server for its e-mail, address book and calendaring. Make sure you know your e-mail identity, and your IMAP and SMTP servers. Enter them into the appropriate dialogues while setting up your Exchange mail client, and you’re away.

Unfortunately, Exchange compatibility isn’t everything it could be. Entourage, the e-mail client that ships with Microsoft Office v.X, offers some Exchange compatibility. You can send and receive e-mail, but you’re locked out of shared calendaring and barred from the corporate address book. Entourage also struggles with large mail files, and sometimes forgets to delete mail from the deleted mail file. The only way to solve Entourage’s large mail file performance problem is to rebuild its database occasionally. You’ll need to quit ALL your Microsoft applications and then reboot Entourage while holding down the >Option< key. Select Typical from the rebuild menu and go away for a while. Rebuilding a 400MB mail file should take around 15 minutes.

You have two other Exchange options. For full Exchange compatibility, you’ll need to run Outlook 2001 under Classic. Performance is reasonably good and you’ve got full access to calendaring and address book. Unfortunately, look and feel is old-style Mac, and the reliability of Classic (which runs OS 9 under OS X) isn’t perfect. Otherwise, try Apple’s Mail.app. It offers similar capabilities to Entourage, but can handle larger mail files with greater reliability.

It is possible to live with OS X in a corporate, Windows-only world, but it’s not easy without some nous, or the co-operation of your IT department. Running OS X in Windows land, however, can be deeply satisfying.

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