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Enterprise Moves to Macintosh – Ingenious or Exhausting?

As one of Thrive’s primary Macintosh resources, I’m beginning to see an increasing trend in companies moving to Mac.  Maybe it’s the allure of the “Macintosh Experience”, or the life expectancy of the hardware or even – and this is a stretch – that the average utilization time with a Mac running on batteries is close to four hours at full processor potential.

But moving your users to Mac, and maintaining a Windows Server infrastructure, isn’t without its caveats.  Let’s face it, the two are (and always will be) competitors.  Sure, Microsoft makes software to run on the Mac (Office 2010 and Remote Desktop Client are two), but they’re sketchy at best.  Often crashing themselves or not completely synchronizing with Microsoft based email systems.

For example – Outlook-esque products made by Microsoft to run on OSX will not work on Exchange versions prior to 2007, still use Activesync, and require that Directory Services be configured properly to pass information to the Mac client.  And even to that note, if your environment is running Exchange 2010, many capabilities of Outlook fail to synchronize because of (surprise) an internal bug that Microsoft is apparently working on.

And then there’s the Remote Desktop Client.  Works fantastically so long as the environment you’re connecting to is not Server 2008.  (Microsoft got rid of NT4 authentication in Server 2008.)  To connect, you either need to be on the LAN, connected via VPN, or convince your Administrators to allow for plain text authentication, which is an ENORMOUS security risk.  Do the Microsoft products designed for OSX work? Yes.  Do they work WELL? Not so much.  Did Microsoft do this on purpose to make this blog entry more difficult for me to write considering I am a Mac advocate? Quite possibly.

Mac’s are also at a disadvantage with companies running Active Directory.  Sure, the Mac CAN be associated with an AD server, but that becomes another hurdle depending on your network configuration (some of my clients have their forest built as a .local rather than a .com, negating the ability of OSX to properly bind.)  Printers shared on a network are also a hurdle, as they’re more difficult to find for the average user.  (Edit: This has apparently been addressed in OSX Lion.  My Mac Pro (now running Lion) is not bound to Active Directory, and I was able to map shared printers by name…)

In contrast, Apple has been doing their due diligence in attempting to keep up with the curveballs that Microsoft keeps pitching.  OSX Lion, as previously mentioned, had addressed several of these issues.  Correcting the built in “Mail” and “iCal” clients to properly integrate with Exchange out of the box (I do this here at Thrive).  They have adapted their ability to bind OSX to Active Directory under most configurations.  I still use Word and Excel for the sake of compatibility with my counterparts and clients, but for all intents and purposes, it’s all Mac.

What about non-Mac software? Many clients use versions of software (specifically accounting or data tracking software) that doesn’t offer up an OSX flavor.  Here too, Apple has done its homework and modified some of the core components of Lion from its predecessor, making Windows emulation software (Darwin, for example, which creates a Windows environment without actually installing Windows in a Virtual Machine or Boot camp partition) significantly more stable.  I was pretty happy when I discovered that my copy of Microsoft Money worked like a champ once I upgraded.  Granted this takes a little finesse to get working properly at the onset, but once it’s there, the world becomes your oyster.

So that leaves us with the question as companies look at their end users’ IT hardware and staring down the potentially high price tags of conversion to Mac.  I believe it all boils down to the overall benefit your users would receive from the transition, but augmented by the understanding that, at least at the onset, there will be some growing pains involved.

That being said, we at Thrive (especially yours truly) are equipped and more than happy to discuss the expectations and activities involved in moving your IT solution from Windows to Mac, integrating the two, or finding a middle of the road solution for your company!