Windows

Three ways to better mix Windows and Mac in the same business

Erik Eckel suggests three easy methods for Windows and Mac users to be able to share email, calendars, and documents.

Some of the most frequent Mac questions my consultancy receives involve how best to integrate Macs and Windows machines within the same business. Often some staff are mobile, work remotely, yet still must access many of the same files and calendars used by coworkers.

Google Apps is one option, especially when combined with Gmail and Google Calendar. But many companies aren't entirely ready to abandon Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel and seek seamless email, contacts and calendar integration across a variety of devices (including Mac computers, Windows workstations, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerries and other systems). In such cases, the intelligent pairing of a few common services can meet many businesses' needs.

Start with Dropbox

Dropbox hasn't collected 25 million users by accident. The company has produced an excellent and reliable cloud-based service that provides the equivalent of backup storage, remote access and file sharing within a single service. Best of all, Dropbox supports Windows, Mac, and Linux users, as well as iPads, iPhones, Androids and BlackBerries.

Basic memberships include 2GB of online storage for free. A Pro 50 account increases storage to 50GB (for just $9.99 a month), while a Pro 100 account costs less than $20 a month.

Should mobile staff require, Dropbox also extends the ability to cache files locally on laptops and desktops. Users can continue working even when an Internet connection isn't available. Upon reconnecting to the Internet, Dropbox then synchronizes files associated with the Dropbox account.

Using Dropbox, Windows and Mac staff can easily share files, including with remote users. Better yet, backups are built in. Dropbox even offers the ability to recover changes or deletions for one month. Since all file transfers occur using SSL connections, and because file stores are encrypted using AES-256 encryption, the service proves secure, too.

Select Microsoft Exchange

Mixed environments can then leverage Microsoft Exchange to synchronize and share email, contacts, and calendar data. Because new versions of Exchange are so well supported by iPhones, iPads and Mac OS X Snow Leopard, it's easy to service email, calendaring and contacts across all those Apple devices while simultaneously supporting Windows users.

Organizations need not invest in building and maintaining their own Windows server infrastructure, either. Microsoft itself has jumped in to provide hosted Exchange services that begin at as little as $5 per user per month.

Go FAT32 on portable media

Last, many businesses believe they're unable to transfer data between users or even the same user's own Mac and Windows computers due to Windows' preference for NTFS and a Mac's preference for the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system. But formatting thumb drives, external hard disks and other portable media using FAT32 means documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, photos, videos and other frequently used files can easily be migrated between both platforms.

When businesses find it necessary to transfer files quickly without Internet access or wanting to mess with network share settings and user permissions, portable media formatted using FAT32 provides a simple solution. Just beware; user's can't create files larger than 4GB when using FAT32.

Summary

As with other problem-solving scenarios, sometimes the troubleshooters overthink a solution. In some simple business environments in which both Macs and Windows machines must live side by side, overcoming previously troublesome file and collaboration issues may prove as easy as adopting the low-cost steps described here.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

12 comments
eric.a.howard
eric.a.howard

It is free and your stuff isnt stored in the cloud. just the sync indexes are. Space restrictions aren't an issue either. If you need cloud storage, it can sync to skydive. It also syncs with other live users. So if you have a PC and a colegue has a Mac it solves that issue too.

derek
derek

I agree, get the open source NTFS update, or use virtual/cloud storage, regarding portable media, I hate fat32, constantly having to repair my flash drive (even though I ejected it safely) whereas none of these problems exist with NTFS formated portable media AND I get to use the WHOLE drive versus the Fat32 limitations.

brianmccready
brianmccready

Install the opensource ntfs-3g on the Macs and you give them full NTFS support. Its a short install. Remember Macs are running a flavor of Unix, anything you can make a Linux box do, you can get a Mac to do.

jfoury
jfoury

No, really, did you ever TRIED to use a Mac ? It is FAR easier to use than PCs. Windows is very, very complex to use, especially in an enterprise network. Macs discover all, and are really easy to use, patch, integrate. Exchange ? A painful choice. Better use an opensource server like dovecot, offering IMAPS mailboxes. If you're good just choose Zimbra. You won't matter what the OS is on the computers. (Macs are NOT expensive : you can use them at least 5 years. What 5-year PC is even USEABLE ?)

Ed19kings
Ed19kings

As an alternative for those who do not have access to Microsoft Exchange there is another alternative that we use which is proving very worthwhile. We have our own mail server but use MDaemon so we did not want to go the Micsrosoft Exchange Server route being a small company. Instead we added an Apple MobileMe subscription for AUD $119 pa and that allows us to synchronize our calendars across Outlook on the Windows office environment and the iPads and iPhones out in the field. We tried the Google applications but there were too many quirks and the Apple solution has worked just fine for us. I agree with the Dropbox solution and that works really well for file transfer etc. Another app that we use to great advantage is Evernote which also synchronizes across the whole array of devices.

cbader
cbader

Just ditch the Macs, then youll be fine. See, its easy.

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

...because then we'll know that the Tribulation has started and Armaggedon is not far behind, and porcine flocks are airborne

Ed19kings
Ed19kings

Wouldn't it be great if people actually looked at benefits or gave helpful comments when replying to these posts instead of knocking either Windows based PC's or Macs. Some of us see benefits in both systems and we are looking for further insight into what others have found that can make things work better instead of looking at inane comments that just slam either system. Instead of carrying a large briefcase with a paper notepad or a laptop case with a 17" inch display laptop I now carry one iPad and an 8Gb USB stick for my "office". The USB stick carries all the programs that I need to install at my client's premises and my iPad carries all my technical notes and any notes made while doing work for the client on site. In addition using LogMeIn on the iPad I can log in to the office computer or another client's computer and sort out any problems on the spot. Sure, you may argue that I could do this from a laptop using either Windows or Mac software, but the smaller size of the iPad is far more convenient for me. Why not use what is a very intuitive tool and make it work? And if it can be made to work more efficiently by reading articles as this one set out to do, then let the comments be positive and helpful rather than negative and totally unhelpful. If anyone has other suggestions to make the crossover of technology more efficient I would welcome your comments.

DSG7
DSG7

The three ways listed in the article involve: 1. Buying in cloud storage software, which can potentially improve any IT setup regardless (btw, DropBox has a free, 2-8GB option) 2. Getting MS Exchange, which is another cost if you don't have an MS server, and an unnecessary effort to set up on macs - PCs make the exchange accounts "just work" (ah, the heresy!) as part of an Outlook rollout last time I checked 3. A step backwards from NTFS to FAT32 All to make the more expensive macs work with PCs (or the cheaper PCs work with macs, if you prefer - but all the fixes appear more to appease Macs). Why not stop trying to make Macs and PCs work together, and just have one type of computer that works (my preference, PC)?

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

Limiting yourself to one computer platform generally means you can't use them for what they do best. When I started working with computers for a publishing business a quarter-century ago, Macs were the clear leaders for graphic design and publications production. But the best circulation and ad sales management software was available on PC/Windows platform. It took a fair amount of work to get them to play well with each other, sharing files and peripherals, but it was worth it to use each platform for what it did best and set them up to communicate between themselves as it was appropriate. Those skills have served me well since then. Today, in my shop, I have 5 WinTel PCs and 3 Mac systems that play well with each other and share peripherals through one gigabit router, a bridged gigabit switch and two USB hubs. Macs and PCs work great on peer-to-peer networks. Depending on administrator biases, both can work well or be problematic in a server-client environment. Again, that's based on decisions to force systems to unnaturally bridge divides rather than let each system work best in its own environment. Invariably, when I run into networking issues today it's because "the Mac guy" or "the PC guy" won some organizational turf battle and forced something into the mix that worked great on their platform at the expense of the other. My new challenges involve plugging iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) and BlackBerry phones into the network. Hint: Bluetooth and micro SDHC are your friends.

dennis
dennis

I work on Windows networks from a net book running ubuntu or my mac air. The times are changing where their really is a compatibility issue anymore between platforms. When I think I find one, I find a program that someone has written to fix the issue.