The age-old debate has been Mac versus PC but, increasingly, small business owners must think Mac and PC.
With Apple machines gaining ground on market-dominating PC business computers, more workplaces are powered by a combination of both platforms. That means business owners need to ensure that their software, documents and files can be used in-house and by clients -- no matter which operating system they are created on.
In our experience, we have found two main areas where small businesses may encounter problems between Macs and PCs: Microsoft Office programs not available on Macs and rich media files.
So what's the best way for businesses to get things done across both operating systems? While there is no easy answer, the good news is that if your business has made the jump to Apple, there are a variety of built-in and out-of-the-box software tools that can make your Mac more PC-compatible.
Here are several options to consider:
"Dual boot" your Mac.
Start by installing a copy of Microsoft's Windows 7 on your Intel-based Mac. That allows you to effectively turn your Mac into a PC whenever it suits you, using Apple's Boot Camp software that comes built into recent versions of Mac OS X starting with Snow Leopard (v 10.6). Windows XP and Vista are supported in Leopard OS (v 10.5).
On your login screen, choose between operating systems. Boot Camp will let you run Windows apps at roughly the same pace as Mac OS X tools.
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The downside is that you'll need to install the appropriate Boot Camp drivers and devote a sizable chunk of your hard drive to the Windows software. Apple recommends a minimum of 10 GB for Windows XP and 20 GB for the 64-bit version of Windows 7.
What's more, installing Windows is a fairly complex, time-consuming process that requires working through a lengthy instruction manual. In order to run Windows, you must to do a cold restart of your Mac, which can take several minutes per restart as programs shut down and then reboot. This can be especially frustrating when switching back and forth between Mac and Windows environments.
Advanced tactics: Install a virtual desktop.
There is a way around the dual boot hassle. Personal desktop virtualization software lets you run Mac and Windows programs side-by-side. We liked Parallels Desktop for Mac, an $80 downloadable application that lets you manage the Windows side of your Mac from a separate window.
Windows still needs to be installed on your Mac via Boot Camp, but Parallels tears down the computing wall that separates your hybrid system.
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We found that the variety of viewing modes within Parallels made the experience nearly seamless. For example, Parallel's Coherence mode hides the Windows desktop as it runs in the background, and the Windows apps appear in easy-to-access places on your Mac.
One caveat: Windows apps are significantly more sluggish when running on Parallels than when separately booted on your Mac. If speed is what you need, Parallels is not a good option.
For larger multi-platform businesses, create a network of virtual desktops.
While Boot Camp and Parallels offer solutions for individual users, they can't provide multi-platform computing for a group of workers. Instead, you'll need a group virtual desktop provider such as Redwood City, Calif.-based MokaFive. Such a vendor will replace individual PC-on-Mac installation with a series of virtual desktops that can be managed remotely via the local network.
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MokaFive offers a reasonable 30-day free trial but overall costs can vary depending on the number seats you need to provision, the amount of Macs you own or have to buy and the software to install.
But keep in mind that MokaFive involves a significant information technology investment over single computer installations and also a clear company-wide understanding of running complex software on multiple computers. Multiple virtual desktops are usually suited for larger companies.
Without question, these cross-platform tools can be useful for occasional use of PC-based programs on Apple equipment. But keep in mind that the cost in time, equipment, software and training won't be trivial. Unfortunately, the frustrating, bipolar Mac-PC relationship still remains somewhat polarized.