Moving to a Mac

You can't tell from the page you're reading, but this column is a major first for me. I'm writing it on a Mac running OS X. You might be wondering already, was he seduced by iTunes? Do iPods contain the computing Kryptonite for Windows users?

Actually, I've had a Windows iPod for several months now. But I ended up with the Mac quite by accident. The hard drive died in the 5-year-old 450MHz Dell I use at home and it seemed like a signal to make a change. I looked at desktops from all the usual PC vendors but nothing grabbed me - the days of beige boxes are gone, but in their place I found garish black or silver boxes that were trying a little too hard to be fashionable. I wanted something that looked cool in my house.

I've written not-so-favorable columns about Macs before (on a Windows XP system) and I've had a Mac at my desk for months, but it occupied the last port on my KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch -- a true IT afterthought. On a recent Friday, weary from shopping for a new PC, I grabbed the 3-year-old G4 at my desk (a 450MHz processor, same as my Dell) and took it home to see what all the Mac and OS X fuss was about. My plan was to add it to my existing home network, which consisted of two PCs and a Linux server. I plugged the Mac into the fourth port on my four-port KVM switch, mostly excited about iTunes. My Linux-served MP3 collection forced my unwitting experiment in enterprise Mac integration.

Fast forward to Monday and the KVM switch is in storage. I don't need it because the Mac does everything I need. It replaced the Linux server and one of the PC clients, and I've mainlined the keyboard and mouse directly into the Mac. My experience with OS X at home felt like crossing a chasm.

Now, you might ask: What does this really have to do with enterprise IT? The answer is simple: I used the Mac running OS X to replace a PC client and Linux server; the level of functionality was raised; and I did more with less. All the GNU and Unix tools I've used for years were right there in OS X: ps (process status), rsync, top, SSH (secure shell), Apache, Samba, and various Unix shells. I was able to access Windows file systems, and I easily shared Mac files to the Windows machine on my network via Samba, the open source file-sharing stalwart. I hardly struggled even for a second.

Of course, a small, successful integration project on a small network in one CTO's home hardly merits a mass OS migration at a Fortune 500 company, but my experience with the Mac at home forced me to re-examine my preconceptions. I'm grounded in reality, so I'm not expecting to replace all the Windows XP desktops and the Windows 2000 file/print servers at InfoWorld any time soon. Still, the next time I'm facing a mass desktop and network OS migration decision, Mac OS X will be on the list.

Next week, I'll write about some specific technologies embedded in OS X that grabbed my attention -- stay (i)tuned.

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