One class of questions that I hear frequently from Mac users in firms is how they can be better, more capable citizens on their firm’s Windows networks and resources. This question is the topic of an upcoming webinar I am doing on June 16th at 1:00pm EDT; click here to register. I thought I’d give you four quick teasers in this month’s MacCorner as a prelude to the webinar:
1. Exchange (Your Windows friends call it Outlook)
The default desktop email environment for most businesspeople is Microsoft Outlook. A primary reason for this is that, on Windows, Outlook is the best way to interact with Microsoft’s Exchange protocol, which is server software that manages email traffic. Exchange has a number of well-known benefits, including “push” email, calendar, and contacts, so that any change made to data (i.e. read status of an email or time change on an appointment) is immediately sent out to all users without manually syncing your device. If your iPhone buzzes with new mail or calendar updates, that is likely Exchange at work behind the scenes.
Despite its Windows origins, and continuing requirement of a Windows server to host it, Exchange is a broadly-used protocol for email, calendar, and contacts. It is available from many “cloud-based” providers, so you need not worry about running a server yourself.
In years past, Mac users were second-class citizens in the Exchange world. Although it worked on iPhones nearly from the start, our only way to access Exchange on Macs used to be Outlook for Mac or, before it, Entourage. Outlook was always a pale imitation of its Windows namesake, although it has improved a good deal with Outlook 2015, currently available to Office365 subscribers, and to other customers by year’s end. Beginning with Mac OS X Lion, Apple licensed the Exchange code from Microsoft for integration into Mac OS X, meaning that Mac users may use the built-in Mail, Calendar, and Address Book apps, and all of their system-wide integrations, natively with Exchange. Setting that up is a fairly straight-forward task under System Preferences > Internet Accounts. In the webinar, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Outlook 2015 versus Apple’s built-in apps for Exchange, and how to set-up Exchange on your Mac.
2. Shared Folders
In an office environment, shared resources, like documents, can either be stored on a central computer, like a server, on a “cloud” provider, like Dropbox, or on a network-attached storage device (“NAS”). The second and third options listed above generally come with Mac-native software. If you follow the Macs in Law Office (MILO) listserv, you will see that Dropbox is particularly popular among solo and small firms as a way to collaborate and share files. NAS devices, like Western Digital’s My Cloud offer a subset of features similar to Dropbox but without relying on a “cloud” provider, and consequent ethics issues, because the equipment containing your data resides at your office or home.
Finally, the most traditional way to share files is with an on-premises server. Macs can connect to these servers with only a few setup changes under System Preferences > Users & Groups, and System Preferences > Sharing. The first option lets you login to a Windows’ network’s Active Directory service (check with your IT administrator to see if you use this) to access file shares and other network resources. The second option lets you share files out from your computer to others on the network. Here is a link to the basics of file sharing setup, which we will cover in greater detail in the webinar.
Thankfully, in the ten years that I have worked with Macs, the compatibility between printers, particularly large-scale, multifunction units, and Macs has improved greatly. When I attended law school, in order to printer in the library, I had to install a UNIX-derived CUPS driver to print to the Minolta machines that the library had for student use. Now, most machines come with Mac software for basic functions. The Mac-related limitations that you find generally don’t affect smaller firms; limitations like being unable to enter client/matter codes into the printer for cost-recovery itemization. In the webinar, we’ll discuss what Mac-related printer features are critical for office use and how to access them when the firm purchased printers with only Windows in mind.
4. Virtual Machines
Let’s face it. There is a fair bit of legal-specific software that is not available on the Mac. In recent years, the situation has improved as cloud-based practice management software, like Clio and Actionstep, absorb most of the functionality previously reserved for desktop apps. But particularly for smaller software packages, like practice-specific form sets and tools, there is no cloud option and one is forced to run Windows on a Mac. There are two possible ways to do this: virtual machine software like VMware Fusion or Parallels, or Apple’s native Bootcamp. On the webinar, we’ll discuss the differences between these two approaches as well as the movement of one branch of legal software, document assembly, to the cloud so that you can automate documents on your Mac.