Best Tools for the Job

Mac Again, Thanks to Microsoft

- 2008.02.27 - Tip Jar

I'm not a Microsoft hater, an Apple fanboy, or a platform zealot. When one tool works better for my needs than another tool, I use the better one. If that tool no longer does what I need it to, I go back to the hardware store and find another.

So it is with Macs and PCs: I use what works for the task at hand and really don't care which I am using so long as it stays out of my way and lets me work (or play).

I own computers belonging to both platforms, use both each and every day at work, and (with a few exceptions) have the software I need for each platform. Where I run into difficulty isn't in choosing, but more specifically, in choosing which platform to use as my primary computer. Simply put, my primary computer is the one on which I have my email archive, all of my work, and, in the multimedia age, my full music collection.

My primary computer has alternated many times between a Mac and a PC, and as of the beginning of February, it is once again a Mac.

Strangely, it was a Microsoft application that made the switch back from Windows to Mac compelling.

Why I Switched to Windows

Exchange was and is a revelation, a product that so greatly enhanced my ability to do business that I cannot image how I ever lived without it.

Taking a quick step back, I last used a Mac as my primary computer a little less than two years ago, when I migrated my company's email and calendar system from Yahoo POP3 mail and Apple's .mac calendar to a Windows 2003 Small Business Server and Microsoft Exchange. Exchange was and is a revelation, a product that so greatly enhanced my ability to do business that I cannot image how I ever lived without it. In May of 2006 there were a few shared calendar alternatives, most of them web-based, and I tried a few.

.mac simply had too many outages, and once I moved from three Macs to four, I started running into sync failures and dropped appointments. In short, something as critical as my court calendar needed something more reliable, so .mac had to go.

I tried other web-based options ranging from free (Google, Microsoft) to ultra-pricey (LawLogix and INSZoom), but in the end I decided that I needed a local calendar server that would allow shared calendar access to all users along with offline access when I traveled with my laptop and had no Internet available (like in a courtroom).

Of course, there are more choices today. Leopard Server includes an iCal server that is every bit as capable as Exchange calendar (though I believe Exchange still has the edge on email). Leopard's iCal server can even be used by Windows clients, as iCal is standards-based, allowing applications from Mozilla, Microsoft, and others to work as well as Apple's own iCal client does.

Leopard Server did not exist in May 2006, and so it wasn't an option.

Back then I thought I would have no problem moving to Exchange, and on my PCs it was a revelation - but on my Macs it was a disaster. Sure, the email portion worked great in either Entourage 2004 or Apple Mail, but the calendar in Entourage was crippled, and Apple iCal is not Exchange-compliant. Entourage 2004 allowed each user to view his or her calendar just fine, but the shared calendars of other users were simply not available in Entourage 2004. Perhaps it's hidden somewhere, but even after two paid support calls to Microsoft I still couldn't find it.

My solution was moving to a Windows laptop for my primary computer and using Virtual PC on the Macs I owned (all PowerPC models at that time).

Office 2008 Changed Everything

Microsoft Office 2008 changed everything. Now I can finally view the shared calendars of other users, and, more importantly, my secretary can view and edit my calendar. I can't view two or more calendars side-by-side like I can in Windows Outlook, but I can open multiple calendars in multiple windows - even on multiple monitors - something I cannot do in Outlook.

Other than the lack of full Exchange support, I was a big fan of Office: Mac 2004 and preferred it over the Windows version. It's not that documents were easier or faster to produce, just that the application itself was friendlier, more pleasant in appearance. Office 2007 for Windows brought a new file format, and the much-criticized ribbon replaced the traditional menus. I like the ribbon, but I know the menus. Where I've learned to use the ribbon, it is faster and cleaner, but where I haven't I often reach for the menu that is no longer there.

Office: 2008 Mac has the ribbon too, but its also got the menus, and this alone makes it better. Being universal Intel/PowerPC and natively supporting both the new and old file formats cinches the deal, making the Mac the better platform for working with Word documents and dealing with email and calendars, which are my primary computer tasks.

The only other application that I use frequently for legal documents is Adobe Acrobat Professional, which fortunately includes both Mac and Windows versions on the disk. I own four Acrobat licenses and had it on four PCs last year. This year it is on two PCs and two Macs; it works great with Leopard (after solving an updater issue).

There are downsides to the new Mac Office, but they just don't apply to me. Visual Basic is no longer present, which will hurt users who have old documents with VBA macros. I never used VBA macros, and thus their omission doesn't affect me at all. Office 2008 is also slower on PowerPC machines, but not enough to really matter. I use it on a 1.0 GHz upgraded Sawtooth PowerMac G4 with 1.0 GB of RAM, and while it takes a good 15 seconds or so for Word to launch, once open it is responsive and stable. I will soon install it on my associate's PowerBook G4 and expect it to perform more than adequately.

I've always preferred Macs to PCs. I just like the elegance and the feeling that Apple's designers respect my intelligence. Windows never really got in my way, and I have no problem whatsoever being productive on a Windows machine. I don't get any more work done on a Mac than on a PC, and in the grand scheme of things, it makes almost no difference which I am using, but given the choice, I'll take a Mac.

In May 2006 I didn't have that choice, but in February 2008 I most certainly do.

Thanks, Microsoft! LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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