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TechNewsWorld.com

Migrating to the Mac Infrastructure

By Jack M. Germain MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 9, 2007 4:00 AM PT

In a perfect business world, computer users would have a hardware system that worked out of the box. That computer would enhance productivity without posing critical security risks to company data. The ideal business computer would not be one of hundreds of variants supported by a litany of development communities.

Migrating to the Mac Infrastructure

However, the business world is far from perfect when it comes to computer technology. Today's small business owners are faced with usability, interoperability and cost issues when selecting a computer system. Often, business owners favor Microsoft Windows over Apple's Macintosh or the various Linux platforms to be in step with the vast installed user base that Windows has accumulated.

Small-business owners also may be influenced by past notions about file incompatibility issues with their customers and partners. Apple's history of charging more for its proprietary hardware line might also deter small-business owners from using the Mac infrastructure.

Advancements in the Mac operating system, however, along with software and hardware compatibility are changing the computing landscape. Small-business owners especially can opt to invest in the Mac infrastructure without leaving must-have Windows access on the same machines behind.

Less Disrupting Than Imagined

Many SMB entrepreneurs have discovered that switching to Apple from Microsoft incurs far less hidden costs than anticipated and brings productivity and cost savings despite slightly higher purchase price on Mac computer tags.

"In short, switching to a Mac infrastructure has been far less disruption than I imagined, with far greater usability and far smoother operation," Stever Robbins, CEO of the Stever Robbins Company, told MacNewsWorld. He runs a Massachusetts-based business skills consulting firm.

Robbins, who founded or was an early team member of nine startup companies over 25 years, switched his company to the Mac side of computing around the end of last year. He has not regretted the decision. He was toying with the idea since Apple released Macs capable of running both the MacOS and Windows XP operating systems.

"I kept waiting and putting it off. Then my Windows computer kept crashing. I lost three-and-a-half days of my billable time as a consultant in getting my PC working again," he explained. "The Mac changed my life, truly. I can't imagine voluntarily switching back to Windows."

After days of fighting to salvage his misbehaving Windows installation, Robbins decided that as long as he was going to have to do a complete Windows reinstallation to solve the problem, he might as well do it on a dual Mac. In the last three months he hasn't spent any time dealing with crashes.

Adopting Mac Infrastructure

Businesses that do not require specialized software from an existing Windows PC configuration will not find hidden costs in adopting the Mac infrastructure, noted David Griswold, president and founder of Oregon-based Sustainable Harvest Coffee. He crossed over to Macs three years ago after being hammered with too many PC viruses.

"I yanked all the PCs from all of our branch offices in Europe and Asia. The hardware costs in switching weren't substantial," Griswold said. "Of course, Macs always cost a bit more than the cheapest PC."

The cost of fully changing over his company's computer system were not excessive. Any increase in purchasing dozens of Apple computers was more than balanced out by the savings he realized in other aspects of the migration. For instance, his company's communication costs to its European and Asian offices dropped considerably.

"All the new hardware paid for itself in two years. Also, we didn't have to pay for annual support fees to clean out adware-ladden hard drives. That was a savings of several thousand dollars for each PC," explained Griswold.

Productivity Soars

Both Griswold and Robbins said that the staff retraining costs on using the Mac computers were not a significant factor. The MacOS and Windows interfaces are similar enough for users not to need major training.

With the Macs, Griswold's IT staff didn't have to deal constantly with broken computers. All of his workers now have iMacs on their desks and MacBooks to use for remote access.

"I also bought the Apple ProCare service and got 25 staff trained on the Macs. The training costs are very minimal, (US)$100 per year," Griswold offered.

Some business users in the past were critical of switching to Macs for their lack of software. That is no longer the case, according to Griswold and Robbins. Prebundled software gave Robbins an integrated address book, calendar, e-mail and other business applications that synchronize with his PDA and with the Internet.

"What cost me hundreds of dollars to cobble together poorly on a PC comes built-in with the Mac, all working smoothly," said Robbins. "Overall, the total cost of software and hardware is not any more costly [on a Mac] than it is on Windows."

The three biggest productivity boosts for Robbins are the drag-to-trash icon feature to completely uninstall a program, the real security provided with a Mac, and not having a problem with viruses. He spent less time managing and fixing his Mac equipment than ever before on his Windows box.

"I figure I've saved at least five days so far in administrative time, which more than makes up for the price of the new computers," he boasted.

One big confusion that most people have about not switching to a Mac infrastructure is that basic software does not work well on the Mac, suggested Griswold. His company does much of its business using Web-based word processing.

"Macs are fine with that. As a small-business owner all I need is available in the Mac world," he said.

Paralleling Windows

The combination of Intel-based processors in Macs and an innovative software application by Parallels may have removed the last real barriers to making a cost-effective switch to the Macintosh infrastructure. For many small business users and individual consumers, fears of leaving favorite Windows-based programs behind should no longer deter them from switching.

"Parallels keeps the cost down as low as possible. It lessens the pace of the learning curve. Parallels lets you use existing Windows programs on a Mac," explained Benjamin H. Rudolph, director of corporate communication for Parallels.

The biggest barrier to using Mac applications is finding how to do familiar tasks already mastered in Windows, he said. Parallels is contributing to a huge pickup in Mac conversions, according to Rudolph, who added that now the cost of switching to the Mac infrastructure is fairly close to staying with Windows.

"The only real cost is the price of Windows to run under Parallels [which costs $79]. To run Windows you must have a site license, but that cost is less," he said. "It is hard to leave Windows behind completely. It is a world standard. So it becomes a question of do I buy two computers or buy Parallels."

Open Source Alternatives

The issue in migrating platforms is getting better time use on a Mac and better office space. Operational cost savings come with the Mac architecture, Rudolph insists. However, Mac users have an alternative to running Windows on Parallels within the Mac platform.

Robbins solved the software interoperability issues with a combination of strategies. He migrated his Adobe applications for free with a cross-platform license exchange. Microsoft Office Suite's Mac version is available along with open source business suites from OpenOffice.org.

"Interoperability is fine. Adobe PDF and Microsoft Office files transfer between Mac and PC seamlessly. Mac Mail has a checkbox to send Windows-compatible attachments, which seems to solve attachment problems," Robbins said, adding that he also uses Gmail, which is platform-independent.

In addition, there are huge libraries of open source programs that work on a Mac.


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