November 06, 2013, 4:45 PM — Are you always doing a double take when you see all the Mac laptops at the café? Perhaps you're shopping for a new work machine and you don't want one that runs Windows 8.
Whatever the case, the good news is that switching from Windows to a Mac laptop isn't as difficult as you may think. This is especially true for smaller businesses that don't rely on enterprise-centric management tools and don't require access to legacy Windows-only apps.
With some preparation, the transition to a new platform can be a relatively painless one, even for lifelong Windows users. Here are six pointers to help you along.
1. Make Sure Mac OS X Supports Apps You Need
The first step toward ensuring that your business can survive the switch from a PC to a Mac is to make sure the apps you need are available on the Mac. This methodical process involves listing all critical business software currently installed on your Windows machine. Don't forget productivity apps that you regularly use, too.
Once you're done, check for the availability of a native Mac OS X version for these important apps. With more than a decade since the initial release of OS X, the number of apps that are currently available may surprise you. For example, browsers such as Firefox and Chrome are available for the OS X, as are popular online services such as Dropbox, SugarSync, EverNote and Skype. In fact, even Microsoft offers Office 2011 for Mac; it includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook but is missing applications such as Access, OneNote and Publisher.
Be forewarned, though: The OS X version of a given app may not always offer the exact capabilities as the Windows version. In addition, things can get confusing when the product lineup for Windows is different than the one on the Mac. Nuance offers Dragon Home 12, Dragon Premium 12 and Dragon Professional 12 for the PC, for example, but Dragon Dictate 3 and MacSpeech Scribe for the Mac.
In the event that a software publisher doesn't have a native OS X app available, the next step is to check for applications that deliver equivalent functionality. In general, the maturity of OS X means you have a good chance of finding what you need. Expect to do some research, though, and don't rush the process. Read online reviews and search forums dedicated to Mac users to find what you need.
2. Consider Options for Putting Windows on the Mac
But what happens when an important business app is just not available on the OS X? Fortunately, you can load the Windows on your Mac computer in order to continue using it. There are two main ways to do that: From Boot Camp or using a virtual machine.
Boot Camp is an OS X system utility system designed to help carve out a separate partition for installing Microsoft Windows. Once set up, users have the choice between booting into Windows or OS X. Of course, while installing Windows on a MacBook guarantees the ability to continue using your Windows apps, booting into Windows on a regular basis does somewhat defeat the purpose of making a switch to the Mac in the first place.
In most cases, setting up a Windows virtual machine on the OS X laptop may be a more viable alternative. Virtualization software options for OS X include Oracle VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. VirtualBox is a credible free product, though its OS X-centric integration and overall capabilities significantly lag behind the commercial Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion software.
The recently released Parallels Desktop 9 and VMware Fusion 6 introduced enhanced performance, improved peripheral support and better Windows 8 support. Both offer advanced capabilities, though Parallels 9 may be more user-friendly to beginners. Importantly, both come with the ability to "skin" Windows apps from the virtualized Windows environment so they appear alongside OS X apps on the Mac desktop. (This functionality is called Coherence in Parallels and Unity in Fusion.)
Here's what Microsoft Outlook 2013 looks like running in Coherence mode alongside the Mac version of Evernote.
3. Research MacBook Options (Luckily, There Are Only a Few)
Once you have the requisite software apps, the next step is purchasing a MacBook laptop. Luckily, Apple's simplistic device lineup makes the MacBook purchasing processing relatively straightforward.
Laptops are categorized into the lightweight MacBook Air, the more powerful MacBook Pro with Retina display and the older non-Retina MacBook Pro family. MacBook Air laptops are available in 11- and 13-inch models, while the MacBook Pro is available in 13- and 15-inch models. Users who prefer portability will find the 11-inch MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Air or MacBook Pro models appealing; power users will want to stick to the MacBook Pro models.
It's worth noting that the RAM on the newer MacBook laptops isn't designed to be upgraded. Additional RAM may be soldered on, though. Some aftermarket vendors offer solid state drive (SSD) upgrades, along with the necessary proprietary connectors, though these tend to be prohibitively expensive. Ultimately, you would do well to select the desired RAM and storage options when ordering your MacBook.
4. Make the OS X Switch; Take Your Time - But Hurry Up
While it may be tempting to make a gradual transition to OS X, going "cold turkey" is probably the best way to get up to speed on any new platform. Avoid making the switch on the eve of an important deadline, for obvious reasons, or on the day before an overseas work trip.
Spend a few days installing apps and getting familiar with OS X. In the meantime, sync work documents from your old PC to your new Mac using a cloud storage service such as Dropbox or SugarSync. Even IT-savvy users should expect a period of adaptation when making the switch - the user interface is different, as are the steps for accomplishing common tasks such as startup and shutdown.
Users who type a lot may want to keep a list of common OS X keyboard shortcuts handy, while mouse users should download and install Scroll Reverser. As its name suggests, this free utility reverses the direction of the physical scroll wheel in an external mouse without disrupting the new "natural scroll" direction that works well with a built-in trackpad.
5. Accessorize Your MacBook With Cases, Screens or External Batteries
The small number of discrete MacBook models and form factors has another advantage: It gives peripheral makers ample incentive to design and manufacture protective cases and other custom accessories for a single laptop.
This means there's a wide variety of accessories designed specifically for the MacBook. Here are some useful ones to consider:
The PlugBug adds a USB charger to an Apple power cord.
- HyperShop's HyperJuice 2 external battery packs enough oomph to effectively triple the runtime of the 11-inch MacBook Air.
- Moshi makes a variety of screen and keyboard protectors molded specifically for the MacBook, including a number of ultra-slim hardshell cases with a precise fit.
- Twelve South, which prides itself on only making accessories for Apple products, sells the vertical BookArc laptop stand and the PlugBug, a clever USB charger that clips onto the standard Apple power adapter.
6. Become a Mac Power User No Matter Where You Are
Once you've survived the initial discomfort of switching operating systems, take the time to explore - and leverage - the various capabilities the Mac platform offers.
One advantage that's especially useful for business travelers: the MacBook's excellent battery life, a byproduct of tight hardware and operating system integration. Workers frequently away from their desks will also appreciate Spaces, which allows for the creation of multiple virtual desktops and helps users organize running applications without requiring more monitors.
Ultimately, the move to a Mac doesn't have to be a permanent one. In fact, if you make it a point to occasionally switch between Windows and Mac OS X, you should attain platform "ambidexterity" in no time at all.
Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. He has worked in various capacities within the IT industry and enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.
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