Mac’s don’t work with PC’s

01 Sep 06

David Olliver goes beyond fiction to dispel some common misconceptions about Macs.

In the second part of this series, we looked at sharing user accounts, home directories and accessing commonly used public files across both Mac and Windows users on a network. We saw how remarkably straight forward it was to be able to open, edit, save, copy and print the same files using a shared folder or directory on a server or via peer-to-peer networking between a Mac and a PC.

This being our final article we’re going to see if we can find a hole in this “Macs and PCs play nicely together” theory by turning the spotlight on the subject of network services integration.

Many organisations operate managed networks to enable them to automate and simplify the process of adding personal computers to their network, assigning user access privileges and authenticating users. In addition some form of directory services are usually employed - the advantages of such processes being that they present a uniform computing experience to each user, help reduce troubleshooting and technical support costs and provide enhanced security.

The majority of managed networks in the commercial IT landscape are based on Microsoft’s proprietary Active Directory services. So does this mean that Macs are destined to remain an isolated separate network beyond the reach of appropriate IT control and management?

Let’s dispel that myth right away. These days, if you want to add Macintosh computers to an existing Active Directory network you can do so without any additional software or the need for changes to the Active Directory server schema. Mac OS X Tiger (Apple’s current Operating System) includes built-in support for Active Directory authentication policies, which typically include password changes and expiration, as well as support for Active Directory replication and failover if you have deployed those options.

Mac systems also integrate with any LDAP server via support for Open Directory built into Mac OS X, and MIT Kerberos support provides for strong authentication – both of these being technologies you will typically find in Linux-based networks. And with Apple’s OS being built on BSD, those UNIX and Linux skill-sets you have on your team are in familiar territory with current Apple systems management (via UNIX command line), whether on the client or server OS.

Finally, Mac OS X also includes built-in support for network home directories stored on either UNIX (NFS), Windows (SMB) or Apple (HFS) servers. No changes are required to the server to allow Mac users to access their home directory from any computer that’s handy, and know that their files are backed up when the server is backed up.

So we will have to concede defeat at this point. We’ve failed to find technical reasons why Macs and PCs can’t function together on the same network. In fact we’ve established that the basis for playing nicely on the same corporate network is stronger today than ever before.

But what’s this I hear about Macs running Intel processors now? And that you can actually run Windows on a Mac as well as Mac OS X? That sounds like subject matter for another MythBusters series. Unless you just want to try it at home anyway... to see if you can break something or blow it up... but don’t forget your safety goggles!

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