GPSolo Magazine - December 2004
A Failure to Communicate? Not Between Mac and Windows
Because of the limited market share of Apple’s Macintosh operating system and the ubiquity of the Windows platform, lawyers with Macs have had to learn how to collaborate in a variety of environments. Fortunately, the beauty of the Mac is that, especially in the OS X world, Macs play well with Windows, as well as with other operating systems. In fact, Macs play so well with others that various enterprises, from law firms to large businesses, are looking at Apple’s OS X as a replacement platform and its Macintosh hardware as the machines of choice.
In the world of solos and small firms, how would collaboration work between operating systems? I honestly don’t have a lot of personal experience making Macs work with Windows, but I have done my research and asked others who can provide some guidance. Assuming a law office has several computers—perhaps a lawyer will have her own desktop machine at the office plus a spare laptop and the desktop model for her secretary or paralegal—there are a variety of ways in which a Macintosh computer can be integrated with the usual Windows-oriented business world.
Various businesses have added either the newer G5 Macintosh Power Macs or Apple’s Xserve as their main server for data. They’ve made the move because of the positive reviews of the hardware involved, and more importantly because of the relative imperviousness of OS X to viruses, spyware, and hackers. Because OS X is based on UNIX, ships with potentially vulnerable ports closed, has its own firewall, doesn’t automatically launch items received, and requires a password for each user account, penetrating its defenses isn’t as easy to do as with the Windows operating system. So, making an Apple computer or server the collection point for data and interchange is a pretty good decision.
You can have PCs and Macs together on the same network, and they can talk to each other and share documents and data even without the Macs running a Windows emulator (software that allows Macs to operate as if they were running on a Windows-based system). For instance, I have a G4 Cube, an iMac, and a PowerBook laptop in my law office (all running OS X, Panther); my son has an older HP computer that runs Windows ME (Millennium Edition). Even so, I can “see” his HP on the network. This has proven quite helpful. I’ve migrated to CD-only hardware and can’t insert floppies into my machines now, but his HP will accept floppies just fine. So, when a court reporter sends a floppy disk with a deposition on it, I just put it in my son’s HP, click and drag the deposition to the My Documents folder, then go to my G4 Cube, select and mount the HP as a “server,” and click and drag the deposition to my Mac’s desktop. Because it is an ASCII text file, I can just open it in Apple’s TextEdit software or convert it to Appleworks (which I use mainly) or Microsoft Word. Quick and easy. Another benefit of having a PC unit on your network is that you can attach PC-centric scanners or other hardware and run them quite easily from your Mac.
Networking is easy using Ethernet cabling or, better yet, going wireless. With the advent of wireless, not only on the Macintosh platform but on Windows and others as well, there are ample types of base stations designed for wireless communication among computers. Mac versions include the Airport Extreme Base Station and the more portable Airport Express with AirTunes. The Windows versions include wireless access points from manufacturers such as Linksys and NetGear, which can also be used in a Macintosh environment, although configuration may not be as easy as with the Airport version (which mainly is a plug-in-and-run piece of equipment, although adding a password is wise, for security reasons, whatever the platform and equipment).
Whether communicating via Ethernet, TCP/IP, or wireless, the next question in working well together is whether the flow of information will be smooth. Apple’s website ( www.apple.com/business/mac_pc) contains examples and descriptions of how the Apple OS cooperates with other operating systems. There you can also download the Compatibility Guide and other resources.
But will Macs read and work with documents created in Windows programs, and vice versa? Except for the occasional hiccup, there are very few problems in integrating Apple-created and Windows-created documents. First, there are a number of cross-platform or omni-platform software programs made for the Mac: FileMaker, Adobe’s Acrobat and its Reader, and Microsoft’s Office are three primary ones. Also, DataViz has created MacLinkPlus for the Mac, which acts as a translator for a plethora of items.
Windows-oriented lawyers will send me a document in Microsoft Office or Excel or WordPerfect, and just by clicking and dragging the item onto the alias for MacLinkPlus, it is translated into a form that can be used on my Macintosh computer. One downside is the loss of some formatting, but that usually doesn’t matter, and it is rare. When I do want the pristine character of a fully formatted document originating in Office for Windows, I use my copy of Microsoft Office X for Mac. But usually I open Microsoft Office documents using either the translators of MacLinkPlus or those integrated into Appleworks; it’s a rare event calling for me to run Office X for Mac.
Adobe’s Acrobat, which creates PDFs, is a cross-platform application as well. If a Windows-using attorney sends me a PDF, I can open it in Acrobat (which I have for my Mac), but it’s much easier and quicker to use Apple’s Preview application to open all the PDF documents when they come in. In fact, it’s been weeks since I’ve launched Acrobat, so useful is Preview.
Another example of the ease of interchange between Macintosh and Windows is in the use of PowerPoint presentations. If you have Microsoft Office on a computer, you can run PowerPoint just fine, on either your Mac or Windows machine. Or, if you have Keynote, an Apple application, you can create your presentation quickly and easily and export it to a PowerPoint presentation just fine. One caution, however: There can be issues with fonts, so be sure to use those common to both platforms (e.g., Arial, Times). Personally, I use Keynote for presentations and happily avoid exporting altogether.
As mentioned above, a whole other topic is that of Macintosh OS emulators. There was a stand-alone application—Virtual PC—that Mac users cursed but bought because it would allow their Macs to run the Windows OS in an emulated “window”; it would run at a slower speed, but with the same effectiveness. However, Microsoft bought its developer, Connectix, promising to keep Virtual PC running smoothly on the Mac platform (I always wondered about the antitrust effect of that, but evidently it was permissible). Well, it hasn’t been a smooth transition entirely, but the new VPC 7 was recently announced ( www.microsoft.com/mac/products/virtualpc/virtualpc.aspx?pid=virtualpc). Evidently, it works well on G5s (the fastest Apple processor available), but in fits and starts on slower machines. It’s probably not needed for most things, but if you’ve been using a highly proprietary application for years (as in tax, real estate, litigation management, or child support calculations), having VPC to emulate Windows and use the proprietary application on your Mac may be a good idea. To minimize the performance hit, I’d advise running VPC 7 on a G5 computer. One caution: Windows viruses, spyware, and the like can infect the fake-Windows VPC emulator. It is very unlikely that a Windows virus, once it comes into the VPC window, will cross over to infect the Mac OS, but the computer could be a carrier of the virus nevertheless. So, you might want to run VPC on a very secure machine with the latest and best anti-virus and security software.
Go On, Take a Bite
Collaboration between the Apple Mac world and the Windows world can be done in a law office—effectively and for good reason. As Walter Mossberg recently opined in the Wall Street Journal (September 16, 2004), the cure for all the viruses, spyware, adware, and other nefarious software attacks on computer operating systems may well not be in getting new virus protection software, but in getting a Mac with OS X on it and avoiding the hassle altogether. But, whether you have one Mac in a basic Windows law office or vice versa, the two platforms work fairly well together and play to each other’s strengths. No one should fear adding a Mac to a Windows-oriented law firm. In fact, you’ll find that the savings in IT support and staff training more than make up for the cost of your decision. (Of course, this might cause the IT people to deride the addition of a Mac to the office as a matter of self-preservation. . . .)
My advice? If you have a Windows-oriented office and believe it should stay that way, do not fear allowing some lawyers to bring in and use their Macs on your network. You’d be amazed at how easily the two platforms work with each other. If you have a Mac office or are thinking of moving to one, move ahead and don’t look back. You can then get VPC 7 or get a “cheap” Windows OS computer to run those proprietary programs, all the while making your office network run smoothly, without crashes and viruses, using the Mac operating system.
Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She can be reached at VLH@herringlaw.com.