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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | MAC SMART / CHARLES PILLER

How to Survive--Smugness Hidden--in a Windows Office

June 17, 1996|CHARLES PILLER

As a minority group in most offices, Mac users have for years faced a constant stream of file-exchange problems, software incompatibilities and inferior technical assistance from DOS/Windows-oriented support staffs. The other problem has been psychological: Many a Mac bigot looks down at the unwashed masses who use Windows--hardly improving diplomatic relations.

Fortunately, even Apple has come to realize that its future depends on fitting in. That's good for you, because most problems relating to Windows are easily solvable today.

You can thrive as a Mac user in a Windows office by using the least/most formula: Start with the least effort for the most gain, moving to the next level of expense or complexity only when necessary. Today's network operating systems easily support print and file services for a mixed network, and using one is often the best way to transfer files between Macs and PCs.

If you're not already on such a network, make sure your company's computer manager knows it's your top priority.

And any Mac using System 7.5 can read and write to PC disks, which appear on your desktop just like a Mac disk. (If you're using earlier versions of the Mac OS or want more features, try Insignia Solutions' inexpensive AccessPC.) Translating Windows files once you've got them can be a little more challenging, but it rarely poses a big problem.

Nearly all the important productivity and graphics programs--including Adobe's PageMaker, Photoshop and Illustrator; Microsoft's Word, Excel and FoxPro; Corel's WordPerfect; Quark's QuarkXPress; and Claris' FileMaker Pro--can save files in either Mac or Windows format from a PC or Mac.

System 7.5 also automatically finds all the programs on your Mac that can open a document created in an application you don't have. And MacLinkPlus/Translators Pro, from DataViz, converts just about any business document easily and faithfully (including most style and formatting characteristics and embedded graphics) from Mac to PC and vice versa.

What about Windows software unavailable on the Mac, such as custom spreadsheets your company developed for record keeping and scheduling, Windows-only links to the corporate database or even Windows-only games?

Or do you merely want to dodge the inconvenience of translating files? Move to the next level: Insignia Solutions' $349 SoftWindows 95 does an amazing job of turning your Mac into a virtual PC--emulating a PC's central processor so that your Mac can run Windows and just about any Windows application.

Unfortunately, SoftWindows suffers from two flaws. First, it's a resource hog. Don't consider it unless you have a fast Power Macintosh with at least 24 megabytes of memory and loads of free storage space.

And although SoftWindows runs everything, it runs many things, well, let's say faster than a glacier. SoftWindows is fine for occasional use, but you don't want to feel this annoyed too often.

If you don't already have a top-of-the-line Mac, or if you need Windows regularly, the cost of upgrading to accommodate SoftWindows won't compete well against a hardware solution that actually runs Windows applications reasonably fast.

Apple and Orange Micro offer cards that provide either 486- or Pentium-class performance for a range of Macs. (Reply offers a more narrow range of DOS/Windows cards.)

If you frequently need Windows, it's well worth the roughly $800 to $1,500 investment, and perhaps some installation headaches. (Remember, this is, in effect, installing a PC in your Mac.)

So the technical issues of Mac-PC cohabitation aren't so formidable anymore. As for any lingering feelings of superiority, I'd counsel that until there's a software program called SoftMac for the PC, keep a lid on the overt smugness--except when provoked.

Charles Piller, senior editor at Macworld magazine, can be reached via e-mail at cpiller@macworld.com

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