Taking A Leap: Moving My Business to Mac

I am a professional consultant and this is my professional website. Yet, somehow this post is almost personal. I have been a Laptop-PC-carrying consultant since 1997, traveling in and out of the world of Windows from client site to client site. I work on enterprise-scale packaged software applications that run on big HP / Sun / IBM servers (some Win-Tel machines too). I interact with these machines, and the networks that my clients use, with my laptop. I also have to ‘integrate’ with their email / shared drive / printer world and be able to manage as if I were an employee. This also means that I have to know something about networking, file management, security, etc.

I am also a small business owner, and I am ‘the’ IT guy. That is the key turning point in this equation – I have the power to make changes if I’m tired of doing all the dirty work.

My typical approach has been to do a full hardware replacement about every 2-3 years. I started almost exclusively using Toshiba Tecra’s, but quickly felt jaded after several HD burnouts and extreme performance hits over an 18 month period of time. Think: not a bell-curve, more like a spiral. So, I moved into Lenovo machine thinking this would give me extra space, performance, and longer lifespan. Plus, my anti-virus applications were massive hogs that provided little protection. I was also frustrated with annual renewals, Hijack-This logs, and application incompatibilities. I was spending every weekend trying to clean, repair, diagnose, research the myriad pc-related issues.

So, a little research on my ‘escape’ plan resulted in something possibly even more challenging: move to a Mac. I have always been impressed with the design (first) and the simplicity of use (second). The technology itself was never an issue – because what can you really do with a Mac at work? Macs are for games, kids, and teachers, right? Well, I learned that Macs could run Windows – which meant that my ‘design + ease-of-use’ idea could be supplemented with ‘cross-over’ ability.

A trip to the Apple Retail store was in order. So, I scheduled a business consultation with one of the Apple Geniuses that focus on professional users, and came equipped with a list of questions.

Can I run Windows (or Win-Doze as my colleague calls it) and my business applications?
Can I connect to remote databases, servers, etc. using commercial emulators, ODBC, etc?
Can I access my client’s networks, shared drives, print servers?
Can I control networking / IP config details manually?

The answers were always ‘Sure’ or ‘Absolutely’ – which means to me ‘most of the time’ or ‘if you give up X,Y,or Z.’ But, in this case, the Genius was nearly guaranteeing me interoperability using the virtualization method. It’s like living in two worlds at the same time, design+ease of use+business horsepower.

So – I walked away with a 15″ MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM, 300 GB disk, and a 2.53 GHz core duo chip. I chose Parallels over VM Ware (per the recommendation from the Genius) and picked up a copy of XP Pro. Installation and configuration were easy – almost fun to watch the process after years of Windows apps. I was done in about 6-8 hours worth of effort, and ready to head out to the client site on Monday. I decided to bring my PC with me just in case.

All my Win apps loaded flawlessly – FileZilla, Toad, Office, Putty. My Mac found the client networks easily, and finding the local printers was inspiring! This has always been my achilles heel with the PC – having to find printers & the right network on the PC was punitive. My Mac had no problem with this and I was happy.

The client PC Tech guys came down to install Lotus Notes, VPN, and check the AV security software. When they saw the Mac, they immediately said “we don’t support Macs – sorry.” But I assured them it was just another machine running XP & to install it anyway. They wrapped things up & went on their way.

I’ve been using the Mac for about 6 weeks now, with very good results. Probably the biggest disappointment is document compatibility between Mac and Windows. I want to use iWork as opposed to Office, but I find the exporting process to be cumbersome and the results don’t always look professional. Fonts are different, pictures and logos shift, and it’s another step for me to take when I’m preparing lots of documentation. Plus, my clients want Word docs that they can edit in the future and I feel better giving them Word-native documents as opposed to Pages or PDF’s.

It has also taken me some time to get used to the Mac Finder after years of Explorer. I got used to the rigid structure of Explorer, and miss some of that. But, the Finder is ultimately more flexible and robust. Plus, the Spotlight search feature beats the fur out of Fluffy the Retriever version in Explorer. It’s fast, comprehensive, and easy to use (think Google Desktop but faster).

Beyond that – I’m pleased. My virtual XP machine boots up in 20-30 seconds, my Mac just ‘wakes up’. I run the AV software that comes with Parallels (a Kaspersky product – very strong stuff) and nothing on the Mac. I feel I have the right balance of design and performance, and have really done nothing beyond what I did during the initial setup period.

So, if any other fellow road-warrior consultants out there are tired of Win-Doze – schedule some time with a Genius. There are alternatives.

About Brad Forester