Macs at work
- 23 March, 2010 23:00
More and more employees wish their companies would give them Macs. After all, Macs are powerful, sleek-looking machines that also run iTunes and Guitar Hero. Yet Macs at work have their own quirks. Just ask Tom Kelly of Healthcare IP Partners, a 60-employee technology service provider for hospitals. He led a sweeping effort to bring Macs into a Windows-only enterprise a couple of years ago.
Healthcare IP Partners began moving toward cloud services like NetSuite, which made the company less dependent on a single desktop operating system. Kelly, who wears two hats - CFO and CIO - at the company, saw the potential for Macs to relieve desktop-support management headaches and cut support costs.
Kelly contracted with a nearby Apple reseller and Apple support outsourcer. He adopted Fusion, a desktop virtualization machine, to let Mac users run Windows. Then he gave employees the option to work on a Mac or a PC.
Mac adoption in the enterprise skyrocketed. In only two years, eight out of 10 Healthcare IP Partners employees moved to a Mac. Kelly figures all of his company's employees will be on Macs this year, and he'll be able to dramatically reduce internal desktop support.
Kelly says the Mac experience has gone exceptionally smooth. However, there were a few surprises. Here are his top five:
1. A Mac delayed
When employees learn they're getting a Mac, they often become giddy and want it right now. New employees are especially anxious. Yet too often a new Mac doesn't arrive in time for the new employee's first day, Kelly says. "It's probably the biggest gotcha."
Kelly orders a Mac from a reseller five miles away from Healthcare IP Partners' headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn. The order specifies Mac hardware configurations, while Kelly's team loads software. Many times, though, the reseller doesn't have the right equipment in stock.
The delay may just be a couple of days, Kelly says, which isn't a big deal. For new employees excited on their first day, however, "it's just a bad start," he says.
2. Remember the apps
Mac users tend to use Firefox for most of their browsing, but they can also fire up Internet Explorer on Windows via Fusion. The browser options can confuse end-users, however. They forget which cloud-based apps work better on one browser vs. another.
"Not all of these cloud apps will even run on Chrome or Firefox, only Internet Explorer," Kelly says. "On the other hand, NetSuite works a little faster on the Mac."
Another problem is that Mac and Windows versions of critical worker-productivity software, namely Microsoft Office, aren't exactly the same. Features work slightly differently. Keystrokes might not be the same. Until Outlook for Mac arrives later this year, Mac users will have to get used to Entourage.
It's a serious gotcha: Four of the last five new employees at Healthcare IP Partners chose a Mac, but none was a heavy Mac user; they were all used to PCs. "There's a little bit of a learning curve going from Office for Windows to Office for the Mac," Kelly says. "Power users may get a little frustrated at first."
Why not run Office for Windows over Fusion? "That would defeat the purpose of using a Mac as the key tool," Kelly says. "It's a money thing, too. I personally don't want to buy two versions of Office."
When PCs go haywire, users immediately call the helpdesk, which is usually on speed dial. But Mac users are being asked to weigh a few options.
At Healthcare IP Partners, Mac users can call up the company's third-party support outsourcer, which may decide to dispatch an expert to fix the ailing machine. Or Mac users can head to one of three Apple Stores in the Minneapolis area. Mac users can even call Apple's help line.
Another option: turn to Mac user groups for answers and troubleshoot the problem yourself.
Healthcare IP Partners, of course, would like to wean Mac users off of internal support. On the other hand, Kelly believes Mac users will eventually prefer having these options - that is, they give users some control. "When you hand over your computer to IT, then you wait," he says.
4. Careful out there
Healthcare IP Partners deploys security measures on all its computers in case they're lost or stolen. With Macs and iPhones (Healthcare IP Partners also issues iPhones), the odds of a theft increase. Kelly says he makes sure new Mac users are aware of this heightened risk.
It's not just lip service, either. San Francisco police, for instance, issued a public warning this week about a rash of daytime iPhone robberies. In one case, three teens saw a man talking on his iPhone, held him up at gunpoint and stole his phone.
5. Some apps just don't work
A CIO of a Silicon Valley law firm, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CIO.com that some Windows apps run faster over a virtual machine on a Mac than on a PC. On the other hand, says Kelly, some Windows apps with Mac versions don't run well on a Mac.
Kelly is talking about WebEx, a web conferencing tool acquired by Cisco. Kelly had been using GoToMeeting, a rival product, when WebEx came out with a great deal. And so Healthcare IP Partners began using WebEx - and it would regularly hang up on the Mac when hosting a conference.
"It was amazing to me how screwed up WebEx was on a Mac," Kelly says. "We went back to GoToMeeting."
For employees, moving to the Mac also may mean certain apps are no longer available.