Macs in the Enterprise

5 Business Essentials for 'The Switch'

- 2008.06.06 - Tip Jar

Many small businesses are interested in making "The Switch" - taking the plunge and investing in Apple hardware. If you find yourself in that situation, there are some simple tools that you can invest in (sometimes requiring nothing more than an investment of your time) that will help make that switch a successful one.

1. Microsoft Office 2008

You've decided to go Apple, so your gut is to go all the way and throw off the Microsoft shackles for good. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily the best way to make your transition go well. Even given the other alternatives, if you're in a business that requires 100% compatibility with people outside of your office, it's worth the investment to purchase the latest offering from Microsoft.

Yes, you can try to use OpenOffice.org or NeoOffice - or try to stay 100% Apple by investing in iWork '08 - but you're sacrificing the guarantee of 100% fidelity with Windows-only shops. In addition, while the program is different than the Windows equivalent, it is similar enough to smooth the transition for your employees with as little downtime for training as possible.

2. Mozilla Firefox

Chances are you're already using Firefox on your Windows machine. So, while Safari and Camino are excellent and very speedy browsers, why change again? If you fit this mold, you'll find even more savings in retraining time, and you'll be much more confident that every web-based application you had been using (other than badly designed IE/ActiveX only websites) will work as well.

Again, there is strength in the familiar.

3. A Generic PC Mouse

Some people absolutely adore the mouse that comes with the Mac. It's very stylish, I will grant you. But after years of using a mouse with a scroll wheel, the scroll ball will feel foreign and unpleasant to many.

As such, I would either repurpose the mice from the PCs that you're replacing (if they have USB, are new enough, and are in good condition) or invest a few bucks in a new USB mouse for your new computer. Between the presence of a second mouse button (yes, I know, there are ways to right-click with the Mighty Mouse) and the familiarity of the scroll wheel, you'll see a huge payoff.

That said, if you're giving out MacBooks, let them have some time with the trackpad as well. Once you've acclimatized yourself to two finger scrolling, horizontally and vertically, you'll wonder why it's not standard on all notebooks with touchpads.

4. Parallels/Fusion/VirtualBox

Some applications just don't exist for the Mac yet. And others do but are poor knockoffs of the Windows equivalent. They will very likely get better, now that Macs are surging into greater popularity, and if they don't (and maybe even if they do), someone will write something better eventually.

Until then, however, you can bring Windows apps into your new Mac office with virtualization. Some programs will even let you clone the entire hard drive from the PC that you're replacing, so it's like your employees never really have to let go. For some, this will be a welcome insurance program, a "just in case" fallback in times of emergency. For others, it may be too much of a crutch, requiring a slow weaning process.

Before you leap into virtualization, I recommend looking at what is available in terms of similar applications - you may be surprised to find that while there isn't a perfect clone of the Windows program you're using, there is a program that works better for your business flow.

5. The Apple Store

There are enough subtle differences between the Mac and Windows that, depending on the desires of your staff and their relative experience levels, your decision on whether or not to invest in some professional training might be make-or-break for your Mac experiment. Apple offers excellent training guides, online video courses, and even hands-on courses at their stores. Getting everyone off on the right foot, understanding the differences from Windows from the very beginning, will pay off immensely.

And your Apple Store either has someone on-site all the time who can help with the transition for small business or can put you in touch with an Apple professional. Having someone who has either done this sort of thing before - or at least can help to make you aware of some of the "gotchas" - can really ease your transition and maintain your peace of mind. And if you have investors who are leery of taking the plunge, these are exactly the folks you want to have, holding their hands. LEM

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