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The Great OS Experiment

The Great OS Experiment

A celebrity CIO reviews the desktop operating system contenders in search of the next-generation office computer

Although Entourage worked seamlessly for e-mail, he observed some annoying quirks and weaknesses. For example synchronizing the e-mail application with Microsoft Exchange for the first time took the better part of a day. The reason: Entourage stores all of a user's e-mail on his hard drive (Halamka's takes up 3GB), in contrast to Microsoft Outlook, which, by default, stores it on a server. The time-consuming synchronization process was a one-time problem. A minor annoyance is that users, whether they're in the office or on the road, have to wait for all of their new mail to download from the server before they can read any new messages. However, this is the same problem faced by PC users if they choose to keep e-mail stored on their laptop, which is an option with Outlook.

Meanwhile, he had trouble managing complex recurring appointments in Entourage. In such cases, he had to use Outlook Web Access on his Mac. Halamka found that none of the advanced features of Outlook Web Access 2003 (the Windows version), such as easy scrolling and deletion of messages, works on the Mac. That gave him more reason to ditch Windows applications in favour of the software bundled with his Mac and to tolerate Entourage's few functional shortcomings.

With any new technology comes a learning curve, and the Mac, while known for being easy to use, still requires some getting used to. For widespread deployment at CareGroup, Halamka would have to create thorough training manuals for users accustomed to Windows since some of the functions one takes for granted on PCs, such as printing screen shots and right clicking, aren't obvious on Macs. He doesn't want his users to have to navigate all the Apple lore and oral tradition the way he did when learning the ins and outs of his MacBook. He says it took him about three days to get completely comfortable with the machine.

Workarounds: As happens anytime one tries to integrate new technology into an existing environment, Halamka had to come up with some workarounds to get the MacBook to function properly and to work with seemingly incompatible systems. For the most part, these were straightforward, requiring a switch from running OS X to XP, slight reconfigurations of enterprise applications or the installation of a patch.

For example, CareGroup's Juniper Networks' VPN wasn't compatible with the MacBook, and it crashed the computer the first time he tried to connect (which he needed to do in order to access the Microsoft Exchange address book or secure Web sites behind the firewall, such as CareGroup's PeopleSoft portal). Halamka notified Juniper of the problem, and a day later the vendor developed a patch for the VPN software. After that, the VPN worked flawlessly with the MacBook. In addition, before he could run his video files that were created in the Windows proprietary Audio Video Interleave format (formerly Windows Video Format), he had to download some shareware.

When it came to making presentations, Halamka discovered the MacBook doesn't have a standard connector to hook it up to a projector. He had to get an adaptor cable and carry the mini-DVI to XGA cable with him. But when he connected his Mac to a projector via the adaptor cable, it usually figured out the proper display resolutions automatically.

Conclusion: Halamka says the MacBook's reliability far outweighed any challenges he had with the learning curve. Though he's not ready to deploy it yet, he thinks it has potential as an enterprise platform. He'll have to test it out on a larger number of CareGroup employees to be sure. However, he does think the MacBook suited his needs as a CIO superbly.

"At the moment, where my role is so much about change management and effectively communicating with everyone who works for me and with my customers, multimedia is very important to me. A MacBook, which is extraordinarily good at managing multimedia, is actually a superior knowledge worker tool to XP, which is probably a better development environment," he says. But since he's not writing a lot of code, he adds, "the Mac does seem to hit the sweet spot of what I need".

>> For a second opinion, see "Making the Migration"

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