Realistic Switching From a Windows Network Engineer's Point of View

Firstly, let me give a bit of background information on myself to help you put my views into context. My name is Jamie van Dyke, and I've been working with PCs since the early age of four. To fully define my 'geekness', I wrote my first BASIC program 6 months later. Obviously it was not the most elaborate of designs. It was an amalgamation of two source code released applications I had found in some programming books, which resulted in a small sprite gentleman who ran across the screen reacting to the cursor keys. Since that day, I've programmed in many languages, from Modern Visual Basic and Java, all the way down to Pascal and Logo (Remember the little turtle that you used at school?).

Last year, I was still among the hoards of uneducated PC users, who used the phrase "Macs suck". These comments were based on very little fact, and ridiculous amount of fiction. What I had seen of the Mac OS was quick screenshots on small television programs, and I very un-intelligently added two and two, coming up with a result of 22.

I have used different operating systems in my line of work, and dabbled with many flavors of Linux with the pretence of escaping the Microsoft net. Unimpressed with the look of these systems, but impressed with the versatility and power, I continued to study the workings, and to this day, I still have a Linux firewall that is the most stable of all my machines.

Right... now I will get to my point. I was handed an article in the MacWorld magazine by a colleague at work on the new Mac operating system that had been released. To my disbelief, their new system, Mac OS X , was everything I had been searching for in Linux, wrapped up into a ready-made, pre-configured operating system. Oh the joy! Being a spur of the moment kind of guy, I proceeded to hunt for my nearest Apple store (Not the easiest thing to find in the UK). So I settled with a local Dixons store, and purchased a stunning 15" PowerBook G4.

Over the next few days, I spent almost every single spare moment tinkering with the innards of my newfound friend, and became a technology hobbit. I could find no fault with the system, and fell deeply in love. However, I cannot say it was a smooth transition, and here I am to document a few pitfalls for Network Administrator's around the globe, hopefully to realistically portray the transition.

I use a multitude of systems for work in my average day, and having never used a Mac before, I stumbled many times, and no doubt made honorable booboo's that will amuse those in the know. My first issue was how to integrate my system with the setup we had at work, an NT 4 server cluster, running many hidden shares and standard services. Also note, I worked on a military site, and so we have a security clampdown in effect that restricts many of your normal workarounds. A small note on this clampdown... the Windows 2000 standard workstation install takes 112 pages of issues that must be resolved before accreditation by the military will be given. Shocking, I know, but this even takes away the ability to administer printers remotely! No, it isn't the most pleasant of environments to work in.

So, my daily tools consist of User Manager for Domains, Server Manager, and access to the hundreds of hidden shares on our servers. I shall start with the most obvious results of my battling. There is no replacement for User Manager, or Server Manager. The only solution I could find was to purchase Virtual PC for Mac, and to access the server this way. As for the hidden shares, well, this was another annoying factor. To avoid re-hashing material that is all over the internet, here is an article I found on the O'Reilly web site that helped. Mac OS X has the inability to save passwords for shares. Feel free to refute this matter in the comments, but if there is a way, I could find no solution or workaround, and this is annoying to this day. Every time you want to access a share on another machine, that isn't already mounted, you must enter the username and password. I can access hundreds of shares in a day, and to have to re-enter the password every time, is like stabbing a pin into my hand repeatedly.

Now, onto communication... The camp uses Exchange 5.5, hence my optimism in integrating Office X with it. If only life was as easy as I wished.

Entourage couldn't access Exchange, and my only alternative was to play around with IMAP for Exchange and Apple's Mail application. I battled for a good few days on this matter, and my conclusion was a miserable, feeble result. Using IMAP I could access my Exchange account at work, Hurrah! However, I still had to manually poll the server for results, and was reduced to setting Mail to get new mail every 1 minute. Not good when there are multiple engineers with Outlook and our workload was distributed through e-mails. Good news is there is now an Exchange update for Microsoft Entourage, and my efforts (Although necessary at the time) were wasted. Also, Mail can now easily access Exchange accounts, and so there is no need for the memory hungry Entourage. So, you get a multiple choice solution, and everybody's a happy bunny.

The simple fact here, is that to integrate a Mac into a work PC environment as a Network Engineer, is not practical. After a year of preaching the benefits of a Mac over a PC, my Manager bought himself a new 17" PowerBooks model, and uses it everyday with no hitches or emulation software. So, there is still hope for the integration of the good the bad and the ugly, but not for PC Network Engineers. Unless they have UNIX servers, and then there is no valid reason not to make the big leap, and upgrade your digital world.

I hope I've given a fair and useful repertoire of my findings. In following articles I shall report on other bumps and enlightening information that I have collected, and that I can help others to transition over to the Mac.

My next article will be on some of the reasons why I have come to love the Mac so much, and why I am now studying Objective-C to join in the future.