Can I make a Mac work on my office network?
December 29, 2005 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Another Mac/PC question. I want to switch back to Mac, but my office is all PC. Help me figure out if a Mac will be compatible, and if it's worth the trouble. (I know it's been asked before, but I have specific questions.)

I want to buy a mac powerbook and am concerned about it working on my office network of PCs. Here are the details:

In the office I use a docking station to connect to an existing monitor, keyboard and mouse. I connect to the office server and share hundreds of documents with my coworkers. All the documents are in Word and Excel, and we may each open and/or edit the same documents many times each day. I need to be sure that when I open and save documents, none of the formatting is going to be changed. I can't screw up the documents for everyone else in the office.

We use outlook in the office, but do not use any shared calendars, etc.

Out of the office, I connect to the company server using Citrix, which I don't know much about. I think there's a Citrix client application, but I don't know anything else about it.

If I could just buy Citrix and Office for Mac and be sure that everything else would work flawlessly, that would be great. But I'm worried that in reality, it will be a nightmare getting to everything to work.

I'm also concerned about the cost - is it really worth having to buy all this software just to make the switch? If I use a PC we already have the software and licenses in the office.

My only other hesistation about switching back to Mac is that TivoToGo does not allow transfer of TV shows to a mac, and this is something I use about once a month when I travel.

So - have you done this? Will the monitor, keyboard, server, network, printers, Word, Excel and Citrix work OK on the Mac? Advice?
posted by kdern to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
Will the monitor, keyboard, server, network, printers, Word, Excel and Citrix work OK on the Mac? Advice?

You'll need a Mac keyboard, other than that it will all work. I currently work in a mixed Mac/PC environment and we share docs and spreadsheets across platforms all the time. The Mac Cittrix client is a great thing.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:10 AM on December 29, 2005

Does your company's computer/internet policy allow using a non-company-owned computer? You might want to look into that before making any decisions.
posted by elisabeth r at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2005

It's doubtful that a PowerBook or iBook will fit into whatever "standardized" corporate docking station you have. But if it's just something that holds together the cables for ease of plugging & unplugging, it will work--so long as the keyboard and mouse are USB and the monitor uses a connection that's available on the Mac (you'll have to let us know what kind of cable you've got). You'll have to do some fiddling with a PC keyboard so you can have the very important Command key but it's no big deal.

My iBook-owning boyfriend used to use Citrix at his last job--there's a Mac client as well as a Mac-compatible Java client, but I'm not sure which one he used. He was able to get his work done, though, and didn't complain much.

You won't have any problems with Word & Excel, just stick to the "standard" PC fonts or get copies of the EXACT fonts you use at work and install 'em on the Mac (they will work just fine).

As for the Tivo thing, there are rumors abounding that Mac support is forthcoming this year--maybe they'll even announce concrete plans at MacWorld Expo on Jan 9?
posted by bcwinters at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2005

To clarify - I wouldn't expect the docking station to work with a Mac laptop. The company would not have a problem with me using my own computer as long as it doesn't cause any problems with files or the server. And they'd like me to use the current monitor, so that it matches the rest in the office.

I want the 12" laptop, so I can't imagine working on the small screen all day, every day. I'd want to set up some kind of docking situation.
posted by kdern at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2005

People use Outlook because it comes with Office, but nonetheless, Entourage and Mac Mail work with Exchange.
posted by _zed_ at 9:23 AM on December 29, 2005

Here's info about TiVo's Mac plans. I trade Office files back and forth with Windows people all the time with no problems.
posted by designbot at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2005

Entourage works with exchange if you have fairly recent versions of Exchange running with the right services enabled. Many companies won't have the latest versions though, so you shouldn't count on that. Outlook Classic works (though you need to jump through some crazy hoops like putting it on a disk image with the latest version of OS to get around some permissions issues).

Formatting shouldn't be a problem. If they or you are using non-standard fonts, you may have some issues there. If you use a lot of pivot tables, the Mac version of Excel blows at pivot formatting so you will certainly lose that if you move things around.

The Mac should be able to access your windows network without any issue. Your windows co-workers may complain about all the invisible (to you but not them) system files you're dropping in every directory though.
posted by willnot at 9:38 AM on December 29, 2005

It is being said in every other "I want to buy a mac" thread, but keep in mind that new Intel based macs are expected in mid january. You may want to wait a few weeks before you buy anything.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2005

I have no personal experience using macs in an office, but our remote office is home to three people who do use macs and they are constantly having problems.

The biggest? File sharing and Exchange mishaps.

I'd say it's not worth it, but YMMV
posted by FlamingBore at 9:59 AM on December 29, 2005

I don't understand what some of you are saying about Exchange. If I get Office for Mac, doesn't that include Outlook? Will I be able to use it on my office network without problems?

Will I be able to use Mac Mail software on my office system?

What is Exchange?
posted by kdern at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2005

Exchange is the email/calendar backend. Outlook is the client for Windows. Exchange is the Mac version of Outlook.

If your employer is running Exchange Server 2003 and you use MS Office 2004 you'll be alright.

The only problem I've had using my Mac in an Windows environment is with OLAP "cube" files that Excel for Windows can deal with but Excel for Mac doesn't undertand.

Attaching to Windows printers and file servers is pretty simple. You will leave invisible files on the servers that your windows coworkers will see [and you'll see their invisible files they leave].
posted by birdherder at 10:47 AM on December 29, 2005

Exchange Entourage is the Mac version of Outlook.
posted by alms at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2005

kdern - This Page outlines some of the outlook related e-mail choices for you if you move to a Mac. Where I am, they don't want to enable LDAP on the Exchange server because they view it as a security problem, so we're stuck with Classic. Entourage won't work for us. You should talk to your tech people to get the specifics of your set-up if you want to understand what will and won't work.
posted by willnot at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2005

Thanks for noticing my mistake alms. I get my Microsoft products starting with an E confused.

I should also note, if your employer offers web-based access to your email/calendar you can use that with/instead of Entourage or Apple Mail. You can't use the fancy version of the Outlook web client with Safari or Firefox, but it is a quick way to check your mail. This is also a good way to determine if a connection problem is on your end with Entourage or on the server side.
posted by birdherder at 11:38 AM on December 29, 2005

You'll need a Mac keyboard, other than that it will all work.

You should be able to any USB keyboard. Not sure what doctor_negative is talking about.
posted by qwip at 11:46 AM on December 29, 2005

Your only danger regarding Office is if your co-workers use any of the advanced annotation/collaboration tools in the latest Windows version of Office, which are not supported on the Mac. Neither are some of PPT's more advanced things, but other than that, it's pretty smooth.

Where I am, they don't want to enable LDAP on the Exchange server because they view it as a security problem

God, that's so ignorant and asinine. (them, not you)
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2005

Entourage SUCKS with Exchange, in my opinion. If your mailbox is bigger than a gig, it'll crash all the time.

Tasks don't work.

Calendar works, but sometimes causes repeats.

Do you guys use OWA? It sucks on a Mac.

Also, make sure that your company is running Exchange 2003 to make it work with your Entourage.

I would also, obvs, check with your IT department to see if they'll allow non-business owned computers on its network. My last job sure didn't.

And, don't expect help from your IT department.
posted by k8t at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2005

PS, I say this after having been "the Mac person" at a 75% PC corporation.
posted by k8t at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2005

I'm a freelance editor who's now doing some on-site work with a financial services company. I have to use their Windows machine at the office, but sometimes I work at home on my Mac and I haven't had any trouble with Office compatibility.

I should mention, though, that you'll probably have to be your own IT department. I've often found that IT people will claim that x, y, or z is not available for a Mac or won't work for Macs, when I already know otherwise. I guess they don't want to go to the trouble of learning a new OS when only a few people in their company use it.
posted by lackutrol at 2:16 PM on December 29, 2005

k8t brings up some good points- I was in a similar situation. Granted, this was in the late 90's, and Mac/Win interoperability was much rockier, but expect to learn about infrastructure upgrades when your networking/email suddenly stops working, and expect to fix it yourself.
posted by mkultra at 7:00 AM on December 30, 2005

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