They said I was setting myself up for a fall, but I didn't listen to them. For years, I ignored warnings from friends that my computer of choice would put me in digital quarantine. I was a Mac user, and the Apple Macintosh, they said, not only lacked peripherals that were compatible with PCs but also failed to run key business applications.
It's a Windows world, my geek friends warned: 85% of computer users work in a Microsoft Windows environment. While Macs might be fine for designers, teachers, and kids, grownups who are serious about their work opt for a truly serious computer: the PC. Mac users think just a little too "different": If you can't easily share your work with PC-using clients and coworkers, you're not a daring iconoclast -- you're just an outcast.
Well, it may still be a Windows world, but Mac users are making room for themselves within it. In 1998, the Mac came back. Apple spiffed up its product designs, lowered its prices, and introduced the first desktop computer to become a fashion accessory: the iMac. Priced at around $1,200, the iMac was dubbed a "consumer" machine. But iMac buyers also included companies, and the translucent boxes started popping up on many an office desktop. Including sales of the PowerBook G3 and the Power Macintosh G3, Apple sold almost 1 million Macs in the first quarter of 1999 alone. Not surprisingly, software developers and hardware manufacturers ramped up releases of programs and peripherals for the growing Macintosh masses.
But much of the business world could not have cared less. Mac sales notwithstanding, the fact remains: 85% of businesses run on PCs. But what has changed is the Mac user's quality of work life: These days, it's possible for Macs to work seamlessly in a Windows world. Just consider the following stories about three iconoclasts who figured out how to avoid becoming outcasts. By taking advantage of a few tricks, a couple of new peripherals, and some software savvy, you too can thrive by using a Mac -- even if you're surrounded by PCs.
Leveraging a Mac in a PC World
How does a brand-new recruit at a blue-chip company convince her new employer that it should buy her a Mac -- when everyone else in her department uses a PC?
Bring up the M-word when you get the job offer, advises Stephanie Vardavas, 42, an attorney for Nike who specializes in endorsement and league affairs. While interviewing for her job at Nike, Vardavas could not help but notice that people were working on Compaq PCs. So, before accepting Nike's offer, she asked whether she could use a Mac on the job. After reviewing the network implications of her request, the company said yes.
Vardavas had explained to Nike's recruiters how the company would benefit from letting her use a Mac. "For me, it's a quality-of-life issue: I am far more productive on a Mac than I am on a PC," she says. "Mac users don't require much MIS help. We have great support people here, but most of the time, I don't need them."
Vardavas's Power Mac G3 resides on Nike's network, giving her the same access to files and programs as the company's PC users. She says that putting her Mac on the network was surprisingly simple -- thanks largely to Microsoft software. "Now that our department is using Microsoft Outlook [Microsoft's email and scheduling software], I can do pretty much anything that PC users can do. I can even dial into the network when I'm working at home."
While Vardavas's solution sounds ideal, it works best in offices that are equipped with Microsoft's server products, including the Windows NT operating system and Microsoft Exchange messaging-and-collaboration software. For those who lack that setup, Vardavas offers this fundamental rule for exchanging files between Macs and PCs: "Make sure that your Mac software is at least as up-to-date as the Windows software that you work with." In other words, don't expect Microsoft Word 5.1 for Macintosh to mix well with Word 6.0 for Windows.
"I always preferred Microsoft Word 5.1," sighs Vardavas. "But now that the rest of my office is using the latest version of Microsoft Office -- which includes Word -- I've switched over to Office 98."
Office 98 is the latest version of Microsoft's "productivity suite" for Macintosh computers, and it works almost seamlessly with Office 97, the version for Windows. Although Microsoft has always sold separate versions of its word processor (Microsoft Word), spreadsheet program (Excel), and presentation software (PowerPoint), it was not until the release of Office 98 that files created by a Mac could be read by a PC (and vice versa).
Now Mac users who get Office 98 can share, exchange, and collaborate on documents with PC-using friends and coworkers who run Office 97. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations can be opened on either platform, regardless of whether they were created on a Mac or a PC, and no conversion is necessary.
Mac and PC programs are almost perfectly compatible -- although there are a few exceptions. For example, Office 98 can't open files created on a PC using Corel's WordPerfect, a Word competitor. "Word 5.1 contains translation filters for WordPerfect files, but with Office 98, Microsoft left those filters off," Vardavas complains. "You have to buy them separately." Microsoft admits as much, and the company directs Office 98 users to MacLinkPlus, a collection of conversion utilities offered by DataViz.
Office 98 has a few other cross-platform glitches. For example, when you email a Mac-created document to a PC user through Microsoft Outlook, you usually have to remember to add a ".doc" extension to the file name; otherwise, the PC won't be able to read the file.
Vardavas reports that BBEdit, a text-, code-, and HTML-editing application made by Bare Bones Software Inc., has proved to be an invaluable tool. "I use BBEdit almost every day," she says. "It's particularly good at editing peculiar text files. It's also great for reformatting text -- like copy from a Web site -- so that I can send it as an email attachment."
Another sine qua non for Vardavas is Netscape Navigator, which she uses not only as a Web browser but also as an offline graphics viewer. "Our department doesn't have a lot of graphics software on its computers, so when we need to review and approve, say, a logo that someone has emailed to us, we just use Netscape to open and view the artwork."
After two years at Nike, Vardavas remains the sole Mac user in her 30-person department. Company-wide, however, she has one notable fellow iconoclast: Nike cofounder, chairman, and CEO Phil Knight.
Coordinates: Stephanie Vardavas, email@example.com
Leveraging Macs and PCs
Why choose between a Mac and PC, when you can use both? So reasons Oliver Muoto, 29, cofounder and vice president of marketing for Epicentric Inc., an Internet startup based in San Francisco.
"I have a Mac and a PC on my desk at the office," says Muoto. "I have a Mac and a PC at home. This is the picture of the new world of work: People today work seamlessly across platforms." To Muoto, "cross-platform" means having a Bondi blue iMac that sits on his desk next to his Sony VAIO laptop PC. Why two machines?
"Like other startups, we are very hands-on. We produce all of our collateral materials and marketing brochures on a Mac," says Muoto. Even though most design software, such as Adobe Photoshop (for graphics) and QuarkXPress (for page layout), comes in both Mac and PC formats, Muoto sees no comparison: "The Macintosh user interface is more intuitive -- and I say that as an experienced Windows user! Windows machines are good for some things; Macs are good for others."
For example, when Muoto prepares presentations for clients and investors, he uses Microsoft PowerPoint on his iMac to make slides. Then he transfers the PowerPoint files to the VAIO -- a much lighter (and thus more mobile) alternative for displaying a presentation. Because PowerPoint files created on a Mac are essentially the same as those made on a PC, they transfer flawlessly from one machine to another: No conversion is required.
Epicentric's 18-employee computer network, says Muoto, would find it hard to support both Macs and PCs if not for the cross-platform features that are built into Microsoft NT.
"Microsoft has made life easy for Mac users," Muoto laughs. "Microsoft's NT server has excellent built-in support for Macintosh computers, including both AppleShare IP [the Mac OS networking program] and Apple printer support." All that Muoto needs to do is connect his computers via Ethernet -- the standard that's used in most local-area networks -- and his Macs and PCs can communicate with each other.
Like Vardavas, Muoto relies on the Microsoft Exchange mail-and-messaging server, which contains a feature that Mac users will find especially powerful: a Web interface. "When applications are Web-based," explains Muoto, "it doesn't matter what platform you are using." All you need is a Web browser and an Internet connection; the Web does not discriminate between Macs and PCs.
Along with providing a simple solution to PC-Mac incompatibility, the Web offers cross-platform storage. "I save files to our network," Muoto explains. "That way, I can access them from any computer on the network." To transfer work to the unwired, Muoto backs up files on Iomega USB Zip 100 disks, which are compatible with both Macs and PCs.
Although Epicentric is primarily a PC-based shop, Macs play a pivotal role at the company. "We needed a computer that could handle our basic in-house design work," he explains, "and the iMac gets the job done." Muoto also has a rather sentimental bias: "I love Macs," he confesses. "I can honestly say that the Mac has changed my life -- and that is something I've never heard a PC user say."
Coordinates: Oliver Muoto, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Mac-Only Shop
Can Macintoshes scale up and serve established businesses as well as startups? They certainly can, insists Harold Mann, 32, principal of Mann Consulting. He should know. His 24-person high-tech consulting firm, which has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, runs entirely on Macintoshes. And for many of Mann's clients -- which include DreamWorks SKG, Paramount Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox -- the Mac remains the computer of choice.
"We have a lot of clients in the entertainment and advertising industries, which have always been Mac-heavy," says Mann. "At first, Macs were the only platform that supplied the desktop-publishing tools that we needed. But now it's not just the tools that make a difference -- it's also the people who use those tools."
In other words, people who have grown accustomed to Macs want to stay with Macs; training them to work on PCs is expensive and often counterproductive. "If a neurosurgeon prefers to use a particular type of scalpel," says Mann, "you don't want to prevent her from using her tool of choice."
Mann installs the blue desktop Power Mac G3s for his design-heavy clients. Though similar in many ways to older Macs, the G3 is faster (with a processing speed of up to 400 MHz), more expandable (with three PCI slots and two USB ports), and more powerful (with 1 GB of SDRAM).
For networking Macs with PCs, Mann uses Thursby Software Systems Inc.'s utility, Dave, which enables Macs to operate on PC networks that run Microsoft NT. For Mac users who need to run business applications on cross-platform networks, Mann recommends the database software FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Pro Server.
"With FileMaker running on one Mac server, a business can access and run all of its work-in-progress reports, take care of administrative tasks like storing files, forms, and records, and do a whole range of other back-end tasks," says Mann. "I have clients who are scrapping their large-scale, custom-programming projects in favor of FileMaker Pro."
But ultimately, it is the Web that will do the most to solve Mac users' woes. "If you can get fast Internet access on every computer in your office, you'll be poised to be extremely productive -- because all companies are moving their business models to the Web."
When that move is complete, Mac users will finally enjoy full citizenship in the world of work. In the meantime, they can still get pretty close.
Coordinates: Harold Mann, email@example.com
Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and for CBS Marketwatch. She writes, speaks, and consults widely on Internet and high-tech business issues.
Action Item: Buy Macs
Lust for a Mac, but can't decide which one to buy? Check out the spectrum of Mac products at Apple's Web site (www.apple.com), and then read the reviews at Macworld Online Buyer's Guide (www.macworld.com/buyers), which doles out advice and information for professional, casual, and mobile Mac users.
Once you've decided which flavor you prefer, head to CNet Shopper.com (www.shopper.com) to buy a new machine, or to AuctionMac.com (www.auction mac.com) to bid on a used Mac. And to keep up with the latest product releases, check out VersionTracker (www.versiontracker.com), which issues reviews of both hardware and software. (You can sign up to receive email whenever updates become available.)
Sidebar: Mac Apps
A computer is only as useful as the soft-ware that runs on it. These utilities and applications will help you arm your Mac to compete in a PC world.
Microsoft Office 98: Macintosh Edition is a must-have "productivity suite" for creating files and documents that are readable by both Macs and PCs.
Coordinates: $499 (upgrade: $299). Microsoft Corp., www.microsoft.com/mac
MacLinkPlus Deluxe: features all of the conversion utilities that Microsoft left out of Office 98.
Coordinates: $99. DataViz Inc., www.dataviz.com
BBEdit: can open text files that even Microsoft Office cannot identify.
Coordinates: $119. Bare Bones Software, Inc., www.barebones.com
Dave V2.:1 allows Macintosh computers to participate as full citizens on PC networks, even if other computers are running Windows NT.
Coordinates: $149. Thursby Software Systems Inc., www.thursby.com/dave2
RAM Doubler 8: is brain food for the Mac, enabling the machine to run up to three times as many applications as it normally does.
Coordinates: $59.95. Connectix Corp., www.connectix.com
FileMaker Pro 4.1: Mac and Windows versions blend seamlessly not only with each other but also with the Web. You can convert an Excel spreadsheet to FileMaker and then put it online. Pretty cool.
Coordinates: $199. FileMaker Inc., www.filemaker.com
Sidebar: Mac Accessories
3Com Palm V
Your PC-using pals might pack Windows CE handheld computers, but PalmPilots are pretty much the only game in town for Mac users. Fortunately, they're also the best game in town, no matter which platform you favor. And the Palm V is ultrathin, ultralight, and ultrasmart.
Coordinates: $449. 3Com Corp., www.palm.com
Logitech QuickCam Pro
It's hard to get enthusiastic about videoconferencing: Having a camera pointed at you only makes a long-winded teleconference that much worse. But the QuickCam videoconferencing camera is so weirdly good-looking that it's a must-have -- even if you never use it.
The eyeball-like camera, which connects to a USB port on either a Mac or a PC, comes with a set of applications that you can operate easily -- without reading a manual. However, while the image quality is impressive for a low-cost digital video camera, it will prove unsatisfying to the rare few who want to be seen clearly.
Coordinates: $149. Logitech Inc., www.logitech.com
USB Zip 100
Even entry-level computer users nowadays create and download multimedia files -- from PowerPoint slide presentations to digitized hip-hop audio recordings. At 100 MB apiece, Zip disks provide the storage space that users today need.
Iomega's USB Zip 100 comes in a cross-platform, hassle-free, translucent-blue package that's perfectly tailored for Mac users in a Windows world. And because a Zip drive can connect to either a Mac or a PC, you can plug it into your PC at work during the day and into your iMac at home each night.
Coordinates: $129.95. Iomega Corp., www.iomega.com
Logitech MouseMan Wheel
The company that brought you the iMac mouse, a hockey-puck-like device that you hate, will happily sell you its alter ego: a mouse you can love.
Coordinates: $49.95. Logitech Inc., www.logitech.com
Philips Brilliance 151AX Flat Panel Monitor
Taking up inches rather than feet of desk space, an LCD (liquid-crystal display) monitor is easier on the eyes than that bulky beige standard, the CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitor. Designed for Mac compatibility, the Philips Brilliance LCD monitor measures a slim three inches in depth (most CRT monitors are about 20 inches deep). The flat panel rests on a somewhat portly stand and includes built-in stereo speakers and a flexible mounting system that lets you swivel the screen in any direction.
Coordinates: $899. Philips Consumer Electronics Co., www.philipsmonitors.com