What do you, the passionate OS X user, do when faced with an IT environment that only caters to Windows computers? Apple promises compatibility with nearly every Microsoft technology, but the learning curve can be pretty steep. We're going to cover some common issues OS X users face in a Windows-only IT world, and offer some survival tips.
Asking your Windows compatriots for help does not usually and well, often because they don't know how something is actually working. In Windows, as with many things in OS X, things will "just work" and then people never think about it again. When Active Directory manages the Windows machines, the mysteries get even deeper as more things happen seamlessly for the users. In addition, since you, the OS X alien, do not get automagic things from the Windows domain, you must figure these things out.
You can do it. Do not let your IT guys tell you not to buy an Apple because they won't support it: You can support it.
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"Drive Map" Woes
Probably the most common issue is the drive dilemma. All of the Windows users likely have a few mapped drive letters set up, and they have no clue where they actually come from. They will tell you to access a file they have saved on the "K drive" for example. This, of course, does not mean anything at all.
If, perchance, you are on the same subnet as the file server, you can probably find it by just browsing around in Finder and connecting to all the Windows machines you find. That is time consuming though, so the preferred way is to ask your Windows friends to tell you what server their K drive is from. They can right-click the drive in My Computer and select properties. It should then tell you what server (and path) that drive is associated with.
Then in Finder you hit cmd-K to bring up the Connect to Server dialog. Enter smb://SERVER/SHARE and hit enter, and it should ask for your Windows domain password. Don't forget to click the "+" button and save that server name in the list, else you will need to ask a Windows person "what server is that on?" again.
Printing is much the same problem as accessing Windows network shares. Printers shared off a Windows server need to first be found, and then you get to figure out how to add the printer. This has admittedly gotten much better in Leopard. The Add Printer sequence used to make it very difficult to find "Windows Network Printer."
Hopefully, though, you can find the printer share (or the printer itself) automatically. New in Leopard, when you go to add a printer it will show you a list of available network printers. If the printer is on the same subnet, you can just connect directly to it and chances are very good that OS X will have the driver you need. Otherwise, you can hopefully just connect to the one shared via the Windows server. If all else fails, then just like the mapped drives issue, you will need to figure out from which server the printer shares are actually shared.
Last week we wrote about Shimo, and explained how it can simplify multiple VPN connections and replace the Cisco VPN client nightmare. Now with Shimo, you can connect to any VPN server known to man, and do so in a convenient way. We have no VPN complaints now, except for the fact that you have to buy Shimo because OS X VPN support is lacking.
Microsoft provides Office software for OS X a year behind the release schedule for regular Office. Office 2004 works well, and Office 2008 works if you don't use Spaces in OS X. With Spaces enabled, Word and Excel will constantly be confused about which window they belong to. You click on the Word document and the window changes, but the document was left behind. Microsoft claims that Spaces didn't exist when they started developing Office 2008, and that they are working on a fix.
Entourage is a mail client that's very much like Outlook, but it isn't really necessary. Apple Mail and iCal work well, and when you get a meeting notice via e-mail you can easily import it to iCal.
The best option is probably to get iWork. Pages, Number, and Keynote all come with iWork, and are much better than the alternatives from Microsoft. You presentations from your MacBook with Keynote will amaze your Windows-using friends.
Resort to a Virtual Machine?
What about that pesky application that just won't run in OS X? Well, these are getting less and less common, but you will still encounter them. This should also be part of the buying decision: does it support OS X or have a Web interface? But likely as not, you have a few of these programs lingering about the office already.
About the only time we'd recommend using a VM to run Windows is when you're in that situation. Most other problems can be worked around without resorting to using a Windows install. You may have to buy a piece of software or find an open source alternative, but you will be able to find something that accomplishes the task.
If you are stuck needing to work with proprietary file formats and strange client applications for connecting to archaic databases, then a VM is going to be the only option. Thankfully, there are quite a few options available now, including VMWare, and Parallels.
Charlie Schluting is the author of Network Ninja, a must-read for every network engineer.