by July 9, 2003 0 comments

Navneet was faced with a rather unique problem, one he had never faced before. If it were a technology problem, he would not have had to spend so much time thinking about it. He would have put one of his very able juniors on the job and would have been quite sure that the job would have been taken care of. If push came to shove, he would have himself sat down to the task. But, this was not a straightforward technology issue.

Sanjay Kumar had just joined the organization in a fairly senior sales position, from an MNC abroad. Sanjay was eligible for a notebook and Navneet had gone up to ask him about his preferences. In the few days he had been here, Sanjay had created a reputation of being a man on top of his job, but an easy person to work with. Frankly, Navneet had not expected too much in the way of inputs or demands, and, so, was fairly taken aback when Sanjay asked for an Apple PowerBook straight away.

His reasoning was very simple. During his many years abroad, he had used a PowerBook extensively, and was not familiar with anything else. He would rather use a notebook that he was comfortable with, and ensure that targets were met than
learning how to operate a new notebook.

Sanjay even found a local Mac dealer who gave a fairly impressive demo. During the demo, Navneet happened to mention that he was looking at adding more storage to his network, and the dealer came back a few days later with a demo for Apple Xserve and RAID storage, connecting them to his network.

Pricing issues apart (Navneet was confident that he could drive a mean deal), he was not sure that he wanted to take on the burden of supporting another OS and architecture. His 400-client/10-server network was based on the Intel architecture and ran Windows and Linux. The Mac was a totally unfamiliar animal to his team. There was also the issue of applications. He had site licenses to most of the regularly used applications (Office Suite and ERP) in the organization. However, he wasn’t sure if Mac software would be easily available or if licenses could be treated as part of the site licenses. Also, a couple of apps were homegrown and there would be issues of porting them or their clients for one man’s use.On the other hand, Sanjay was a very compelling person, and Navneet wasn’t sure if his arguments about not wanting to support a new architecture would be accepted by Sanjay.

Expert Comment 1 Other OS Support

Lt Cdr MS Raghunath

Asst Director, Naval Technical Group, Bharat Electronics, Bangalore


While analysing the problem, we should note that the company is already using Windows and Linux. It is safe and indeed traditional, to assume the classical scenario of Windows on Desktops (for users interfaces) and Linux on Servers and backend service providers. The entry of desktop Linux has dented this assumption. Linux may now be used as a desktop user interface with no major compatibility issues. At the very outset, Navneet needs to identify the various uses the Apple Powerbook is likely to be put into. The identification of the software required can be as follows:

General Purpose: This includes use a browser, mail client, messenger(s) and an office suite. Mac OS X already has a browser, mail client messenger and so on. There are a large number of Office and Productivity suites available. Both MS Office and OpenOffice are available for the Powerbook. In case of the MS Office, a single user license would suffice. OpenOffice is of course available under GPL and Public Document License. Either of these can totally meet the requirements of office and personal use. Since the company is already using Windows and Linux on the LAN, OpenOffice can be used.
Other productivity-enhancing tools like the Audio and Video conferencing tools (like Netmeeting/ Gmeeting) and bulletin boards are network compatible and may not pose any compatibility issues. Many organizations like to make Network Neighbourhood available on the Windows platform. 
Today tools like Samba are available for providing a similar capability on Linux-Windows networks. However, this leads to a number of problems like security vulnerabilities, version control and management, and file access, authentication and non-repudiation. Hence, though the capability is available I would not recommend the same. It is more prudent to send files by e-mail for scrutiny.

Proprietary: These can cause problems in a few areas. Many of the top-level data extraction and presentation tools have either a spreadsheet (like Excel) or a database (like Access) as user interface. If so, the compatibility problems are largely mitigated. Tweaking the ODBC/ JDBC sources may be sufficient. The real issue comes in proprietary interfaces on specific OSs for ERP and other such software. There is no alternative to identifying each and every interface that needs to be on Sanjay’s Powerbook and discussing the same with the relevant vendor(s). 

Such interfaces need redesign for the Mac OS X. It may be economical to go for OS-independent interfaces like Web browsers, in case they opt for a redesign.

Navneet then needs to work out the cost of redesign/porting of the interfaces required by Sanjay and compare with the cost and value addition feasible if Sanjay decides to switch to a Linux/Windows-compatible notebook. Simple economics should be the most compelling argument and is likely to prevail. However, if I were in Navneet’s shoes I would take this opportunity to identify every single proprietary user interface and ask for a redesign into an OS-neutral Web interface. This would pay dividends in the long run.

Apple Xserve is an rack-optimised server which comes with Mac OS X server which in turn is based on Free BSD. It is certified to be compatible with Windows and Linux by Apple. If used as DAS (Direct Attached Storage) device only on the LAN, there are no further compatibility issues involved. However, Navneet is right in being apprehensive in opting for a new architecture, though it is compatible. It is totally his prerogative to decide on server merits, costs and risks involved. I would prefer a good Linux-based server (there are many good ones in the market today) since I know the environment. The company LAN is already tuned into this.

Expert Comment 2 Other OS Support

Navneet’s and Sanjay’s challenges are to  support and integrate the following.

  • Join and operate in the current network 

  • Use and exchange office-automation software (Documents, Spread sheets, presentations and so on)

  • ERP Application Access (Centralized Applications)

  • Mail services access (POP3 and

  • Printer support (Network Printers and Shared Printers)

  • File Server access (Linux and Windows)

  • Enterprise Windows application access (MS SQL, MS Project, ACAD or MS Visio)

An Apple Mac OS X device currently supports TCP/IP and Net BIOS protocolS. This means that the Apple device could connect to any servers or Computers on the local network. This would enable the Apple user to browse the Net, do file sharing and drive mapping, with other systems of Windows and Linux. Network services like FTP and browsing are not an issue.

The Mac user could use the bundled Apple Works for information exchange. If MS Office is the standard, you can procure the Mac OS X version of the MS Office.

Mac OS X users can access centralized applications running on a Windows Server using the remote desktop-connection client. This is a freeware available from Microsoft, and lets a Mac user access a Windows desktop and work on applications there. If the server is a Unix system, Mac OS X clients could use the X11 environment. 

Many Mac OS X mail clients including Netscape and Eudora. Microsoft Outlook is also available on Mac OS X as Microsoft Entourage. Elm and many Unix mail clients are also supported on OS X.

Mac OS X provides support for print services for directly attached printers, network printers and shared printers. 

Mac OS X integrates well into Windows and Unix environments due to BSD compliance. It blends well with Network file systems and actively supports SMB and CIFS access, thus making peer-to-peer connectivity and mounted file systems easy to handle.

‘Home grown’ Linux applications if any can be ported to Mac OS X with very little effort, as the utilities are common and have variants on the Mac OS X. 

It is evident from the above facts that setting up and working with an Apple OS X with-in an existing network should not be an issue. A Mac can go hand in hand with Windows, Linux,Unix and vice versa. 

PS Ravindranath, PMP, VP-Service Delivery, and Anand Prasanna, APP MCSE,Vinciti 
Networks Inc, Bangalore

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