Volume 19, Number 4
June 2002


Mac User

Surviving as a Macintosh User in a Windows World

By Ernest Schaal

As a Macintosh user in a Windows-dominated world, I reluctantly concede that Macintosh lawyers sometimes have to deal with people who use Windows-and, worse, sometimes have to use Windows ourselves. This article offers seven suggestions on how to cope with these unfair conditions.

1. Pick your battles wisely. My first suggestion may seem controversial, but demanding a Macintosh in an office that uses Windows is unlikely to work. Worse, you will be labeled as not a team player. The office has made a heavy investment in money, time, and effort to make those computers work together. That investment serves as a barrier to trying something else (even if that something else is better).

2. When you can, use your Mac. Even if your law office is Windows-only, occasionally use your personal computer instead. For example, you might have Mac software that you are more familiar with or that does things that Windows-based programs cannot do. The key to using a Macintosh in a Windows office is to be sure this won't negatively impact others, and to make this clearly known.
I once worked in a company that had strict rules about what could be directly attached to its computer network-not only particular computer models but also only certain software. Sympathizing with the overworked computer support staff, I abided by the rules. But when traveling, I took my PowerBook instead of a company laptop so I could use the Macintosh software that I found easier than the Windows version. Using Virtual PC, I could access network files and check my e-mail via a modem using the company-approved Windows-based remote access software. Their network could not tell the difference.

3. When you can, use Macintosh versions of software. Why buy a Macintosh if you're always going to operate in a Windows environment? Most major programs have Macintosh versions. Even Microsoft offers a Macintosh OS X version of its Office suite. Using the Macintosh version will probably increase processing speed, and the software can take advantage of the Mac operating system.

4. Whenever possible, use Virtual PC. Unfortunately, not all software has a Macintosh version. (But then, most viruses don't have a Macintosh version, either.) When you need to run a Windows program, use Virtual PC. It has been around long enough and made enough improvements that my old PowerBook was able to run Lotus Notes as fast as the company's Windows-based laptops.

5. Maximize the performance of Virtual PC. Certain adaptations improve the performance of Virtual PC.

o Use the latest version of Virtual PC on your fastest machine. As a general rule, as computers become more powerful, the software requirements expand to fully utilize that power. Using an older Macintosh with an early version of Virtual PC will produce the same type of problems as using an old Windows-based machine. You might not have sufficient power to run newer software. You can't have too much speed or too much memory.
o Assign Virtual PC plenty of memory, because it will be emulating a full operating system.
o Use only the extensions that Virtual PC needs for your machine, which will increase speed and reduce the chances of system crashes. The extensions can be set by your extensions manager control panel or by Conflicts Catcher (I learned this trick while editing videos on my old Performa).
o Reduce the number of programs running at the same time. Running multiple programs at the same time reduces the speed of Virtual PC and increases the chance of a system crash.

6. Pay attention to compatibility. The average PC user is convinced that files created on Macintosh computers are inherently incompatible with Windows, but Macintosh users know better. Still, compatibility problems can develop when sending files between different platforms, different software, or different versions of the same software. These problems exist whether the files are transferred on a disk or by e-mail.
For instance, although Macintosh machines can read media created using the DOS format, the reverse is not usually true. In some programs, an extra step is needed to make the document readable by all platforms (e.g., QuickTime often had to be flattened to be usable on a Windows machine). Microsoft Word sometimes has problems with other word processing formats. A document written by Microsoft Word is usually platform independent but may be unreadable by earlier versions of Word. Newer software can usually read files from older versions, but the opposite is rarely the case.
These problems can be overcome by considering compatibility when choosing the software or format of the file to be transferred. It is especially important to know what kind of software the recipient is using.
Save the file as a new file, with a valid DOS file name (no more than eight letters/numbers, followed by ".doc" for Word files). Although later versions of Windows are supposed to handle long names effectively, this is not always true. Saving the file as a new file stores it more compactly than if you send the file that has gone through multiple changes; it also reduces chances of corruptions.
Don't send Microsoft Word documents if it is possible the recipients can't read them, and even if they can, make sure they can read your version of Word. If they cannot read your file, send it as a text file, without formatting, with a .txt extension, or send it as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file with a .pdf extension.
If you use a floppy disk to share files, be sure that it is formatted in MS-DOS format. If you use a CD-ROM, be sure that it is formatted in ISO 9660 format.
With planning, you can avoid compatibility problems that the uninformed would attribute to your using a Macintosh.

7. Get a floppy disk drive: With the iMac and G4 computers, Apple stopped including floppy disk drives in their machines. External floppy disk drives are still available for these later machines and are worth the purchase price. Although floppies are a lousy storage medium because they are small and unreliable, they make it easy to transfer small files from one machine to another, especially when sharing files with older machines (Macintosh or Windows). It is still easier to use a floppy for transferring small files than to burn a new CD-ROM.


Ernest Schaal is a U.S. patent attorney in Gifu, Japan, and is a member of the Editorial Board of GPSolo's Technology & Practice Guide.

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