Enterprise Software

Get IT Done: Integrate Macs into a PC environment with built-in OS X tools

Use Mac OS X tools to integrate Apple computers into a Windows environment

It was once an onerous task for IT professionals to integrate Apple Macintosh computers into their Microsoft Windows environments, but Mac OS X 10.2 makes it easier than ever. Thanks to several built-in tools, Mac OS X workstations can play in the Windows sandbox just like their Pentium-based brothers.

Reach out and touch someone
One of the most useful features of OS X is its ability to access Server Message Block (SMB) servers directly, like any Windows PC. Even better, it’s so simple. Under Mac OS X, SMB servers are easy both to find and to use.

Mac users can now select the Go menu from the Finder, choose Connect To Server, and their computers will present them with a listing of all Windows and Apple servers on their network. See Figure A.

Figure A
Mac OS X allows you to access SMB servers directly like any Windows PC.

Double-clicking on the appropriate server brings up a familiar login screen, shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Once you've selected an SMB server, you will be prompted to enter the appropriate Workgroup/Domain, Username, and Password.

Then, after authentication succeeds, you'll see a screen that contains a drop-down list of available shares, shown in Figure C. The selected share is then mounted to the OS X Desktop, ready for use. You can mount several shares at one time, from one or many servers. You can also have Windows and Mac servers mounted at the same time.

Figure C
Once logged in to an SMB server you can select a share to mount.

As an example of how this might work in the real world, I often use this function to move data from my writing partner’s OS 9-based Mac to our Windows 2000 notebook. Since the OS 9 machine cannot connect to the notebook directly (at least, not without additional software), I use my OS X machine to connect them together. First, I log into the Mac OS 9 machine and mount that disk on my desktop. Then, I do the same with the notebook. I am then free to copy files directly from one machine to the other. I am sure you can find similar uses in your own work environment.

Now serving
While SMB client services open a lot of integration doors, Mac OS X also has the ability to act as an SMB server, via its included Samba software. This turns the tables and allows any Windows machine to access files directly from an individual Mac. The Mac OS X Server software also supports this feature, allowing you to use a Mac-based server, like Apple’s Xserve, to meet all your data management needs, no matter how mixed your environment.

Figure D
The Sharing preference screen's Services tab allows you to configure several Windows/Mac integration settings such as Windows File Sharing, Personal Web Sharing, FTP Access, Printer Sharing, and more.

Setting up Windows File Sharing is as simple as opening the System Preferences application and choosing the Sharing preference screen, shown in Figure D. One click on the Start button initiates the server and makes the Mac visible to Windows clients on the network. You can then open the Accounts preference pane, select any of the available users (though most Macs only have one user account), click Edit User, and click the check box entitled Allow User To Login From Windows. You would then use this username and password to access the SMB share.

By default, the Mac publishes only each user's Home directory. If you want more control over the Samba server settings, you can download the free Samba Sharing Package (SSP) from the Xamba Network Integration Project. With this, you can have complete control over Samba configuration files in an easy-to-use interface. This control allows you to create additional shares of individual folders or even the entire hard disk.

I put this feature to frequent use. Using the Xamba tools, I created a share entitled All, which gives my notebook access to the entire Mac file structure. Because of OS X’s UNIX roots, this structure includes a directory called /Volumes, which contains references to all currently mounted disks on the Mac desktop. This directory allows me to access the internal Zip 100 drive on my Mac from Windows. I often use this method to quickly and easily back up my accounting files from Quickbooks directly to a Zip disk mounted on the Mac. This same method can be used to access digital data card readers and will even allow you to copy files to a CD-R image, which is then burned on the Mac-connected CD burner.

Above and beyond
While the two Windows features mentioned above are probably the most useful for integrating Macs into your environment, Apple has included several others that might meet some of your specific needs.

If you visited the Sharing preference screen mentioned earlier, you probably noticed a few other options available there. Personal Web Sharing is Apple’s terminology for turning your Mac into a full-blown Web server using Apache software. Just like the Windows File Sharing option, a single click is all it takes to get started. Once the Web server has loaded, you can place files in specific folders and have them served out to other users via their Web browser, regardless of the type of computer they are using.

This can be a great way to create a quick Intranet when a few people are maintaining specific information that many others need to access. There’s no need to open Word documents from the file server when the data is only a Web browser favorite away.

The FTP Access option turns any OS X Mac into a full-fledged FTP server, complete with both anonymous and authenticated access. This provides two-way data access, unlike the one-way model of Personal Web Sharing.

While, by default, both Personal Web Sharing and FTP access only share specific folders on the Mac hard disk, you can exercise complete control over these services by editing their configuration files.

These services can be used along with a static IP address to create temporary or permanent Internet servers. In some cases, this has allowed me to quickly facilitate the movement of large files between companies over the Internet when e-mail size restrictions and speed limitations got in my way.

Also, Printer Sharing makes local USB connected printers accessible to both Mac and Windows users on the network.

Finally, for those of you who love the command line, Remote Login allows you to access the Mac using standard Telnet and Secure Shell (SSH) tools.

Macs and PC can coexist
Mac OS X has made Windows/Mac integration much simpler for IT personnel and users alike. There is no reason Windows and Mac users can’t exist side-by-side, each making the best use of their individual PCs while easily sharing a network and the data it contains.


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