Let's face it, you're pretty much on your own when it comes to supporting Macs in the enterprise. Apple isn't going to give you much of a hand. Windows vendors offering Mac products aren't really geared up to support the Mac. And the number of Mac experts out there pales in comparison to those of Windows pros.
But don't lose faith. The good news is that Mac people help each other out, more so than the fragmented PC user community. "Typically, Mac people have their own network for support, tips and best practices," says Jon Oltsik, analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. "There is a lot of good advice on the Apple website, as well as others."
Which ones? We asked IT leaders of Mac-Windows shops where they go when they get stumped or are looking for the latest developments on the Apple platform. When it concerns specific software, of course, they go to that software's user community. But they also regularly visit a few websites, too. Here are some of their favorites:
Apple Support: While Apple enterprise support itself might be spotty, the user community on the Apple discussion boards is pretty helpful. "There are lots of very experienced Mac heads on there," says Brad Kugler, CEO of DVA, a distributor of video and audio equipment. DVA is currently undergoing a makeover from Windows to Mac.
Brian Hubbard, senior IT engineer at TMP Worldwide Advertising and Communications, also visits Apple support. But he's quick to point out Apple's shortcomings. "I haven't found Apple support from the standard Apple Care to be too helpful in enterprise situations," he says. "They have been great, though, on broken hardware and minor OS issues."
Mac Enterprise: This very technical, non-profit website helps Mac pros bring OS X clients and servers to a mixed environment. "The enterprise Mac website has a lot of bright people integrating Macs into their enterprise," says Alex Morken, IT manager of Chris King Precision Components, a manufacturer of bicycle parts, and an all-Mac shop. "They are very vocal, very helpful."
Version Tracker: This award-winning Cnet site was founded by a former Mac systems admin nearly a decade ago and quickly became one of the most popular Mac sites helping people stay current with Mac updates. The website has evolved over the years, of course, yet remains a powerful tool in the Mac enterprise toolbox.
Bombich Software: Michael Bombich, an engineer who works for Apple, provides some neat and useful tools and scripts on his site, TMP's Hubbard says. Bombich also has documented the process of integrating Apple's Open Directory with Windows Active Directory.
Mac Rumors and World of Apple: What's Apple without a wildly spinning rumor mill? Given the silent treatment from Cupertino, enterprise Mac users turn to rumor websites in hopes of gaining a glimpse of the future. After all, knowing what's coming can help CIOs plan better. Be sure to take rumors with a grain of salt. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart recently slammed Mad Money's Jim Cramer, who was caught on tape showing how to spread Apple rumors to game the stock.
Other enterprise Mac support sites receiving honorable mentions:
While all of these sites can help companies manage their Mac environments, integrate with Windows and stay abreast of the latest Apple rumors, Tony Lin, manager of desktop services at TMP, says it's important to thoroughly test all community advice. In fact, Hubbard runs tests on a dedicated machine before rolling out anything to a production machine.
User communities shouldn't be the first place to look to solve Mac problems anyway, says Lin. "Our first actions, after performing our own troubleshooting steps, are still to contact the vendors and hope to get solutions from them," he says. "Taking advice or following instructions from the Internet forums is risky, as no one is accountable for what could happen."