Windows vs. Linux vs. OS X

CIO John Halamka reviews the desktop operating system contenders in search of the next-generation office computer.

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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 favor 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.

Update: Subsequent to posting this story, additional products for running Windows on a Mac have been released. As of Feb. 1, 2007, these include a product in public beta test from VMWare and CrossOver from CodeWeaver.

<< Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business    |   Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business - Workarounds >>

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 websites 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.

<< Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business - Dislikes   |   Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business - Conclusion >>

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."

<< Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business - Workarounds   |   Second Opinion: Making the Migration >>

Second Opinion: Making the Migration

A Mac expert weighs in

By Jason Snell

I'd echo John Halamka's thoughts about running Windows on

Mac hardware: Parallels Desktop is definitely the better option, and it generally runs well, but it has the occasional quirk. Users who buy a Mac should expect to spend most of their time using Mac OS X, not switching into Windows. For the vast majority of tasks, the Mac-native software will do the job. Windows is there if you need it, but most users view it as a tool to be used only when absolutely necessary, not as a major part of their Mac-using experience.

Websites that require Internet Explorer for Windows used to be the bane of Mac users' existences, but these days most Web developers are building their apps using Web standards and testing for Firefox compatibility, which generally means they're compatible with the Mac version of Firefox (and sometimes with Safari too).

Halamka used a MacBook, which is Apple's consumer laptop. If he had been using a MacBook Pro (which might be a more appropriate choice given his expertise and title), he wouldn't have found himself needing a $15 mini-DVI adapter for his projector; the MacBook Pro has a standard DVI port and includes a DVI-to-VGA connector in the box.

The article makes Keynote sound like a "light" version of PowerPoint. My experience is that Keynote presentations actually offer far more options (in terms of transitions and slide builds) than PowerPoint does. I can always tell when someone is using Keynote, but that recognition is because of extra effects, not the lack of effects. It might be more accurate to say that Keynote doesn't offer the same effects as PowerPoint.

As a Mac user, it's encouraging to see that many of Halamka's complaints are the sort you'd expect from someone trying to make a transition from their familiar Windows operating system to the Mac's somewhat different approach. Although Mac users can rattle off the "Vulcan Death Grip" required to take a screen shot (Command-Shift-3) and know that on the Mac "right click" is synonymous with "Control click," it's not always obvious to new users how these things work.

Jason Snell is VP and editorial director of Macworld (Macworld's publisher is a sister company to CIO's publisher.)

<< Mac OS X: Looking Better for Business - Conclusion   |   Linux: Admirable, But Not Yet an Option >>

Linux: Admirable, But Not Yet an Option

Configuration: Lenovo X41 laptop loaded with two Red Hat Linux operating systems—Fedora Core 5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) version WS 4 U3—so that Halamka could test both. Each system ran the following open-source desktop applications: Firefox Web browser, OpenOffice (version 1.x on RHEL and 2.x on Fedora) and Evolution e-mail with Novell's Ximian Connector for Microsoft Exchange (Connector is an extension to Evolution that functions as a Microsoft Exchange Server client for Linux and Unix desktops and workstations).


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What he liked: Contrary to what Microsoft says on its website, Linux can be a stable, reliable desktop operating system. But not all varieties of desktop Linux are created equal. Halamka says RHEL in particular lends itself well to corporate computing environments because the infrequent changes Red Hat makes to the OS are well tested and documented. The testing and documentation of changes and upgrades gives corporate IT departments the confidence they need to support and administer Linux on the desktop and to know that it won't be the source of hundreds of furious calls from users to the help desk.

Fedora, on the other hand, is a lot of work to maintain because, unlike RHEL, it's so frequently updated (see "What he disliked," below). But those frequent updates enable support for the latest hardware—for instance, EVDO wireless broadband cards—as well as rapidly evolving applications such as OpenOffice and power management applications.

As for open-source office productivity applications, Halamka fell in love with Firefox. The application didn't crash on him once, and he found it easy to use. He particularly loved the tabbing function that let him open new webpages without having to open a separate browser window. And he didn't encounter any problems accessing CareGroup's Web-based corporate applications with Firefox, because they're based on open standards. Halamka liked Firefox so much that he made it the default browser on his MacBook and on the new Dell laptop he tested. OpenOffice worked well for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets. In addition, he did not encounter any serious problems working with Microsoft Office documents. Between OpenOffice and Adobe Acrobat, Halamka says he had all the office productivity tools he needed.

<< Second Opinion: Making the Migration   |   Linux: Admirable, But Not Yet an Option - Dislikes >>

What he disliked: Although a stable operating system like

Red Hat is easier to manage, it also doesn't support the latest technologies, features and functionality. Sometimes, it doesn't even support tried-and-true technologies like USB drives or basic features like sleep. A potential stumbling block to deployment at CareGroup, Halamka found, is that RHEL doesn't incorporate the drivers that automatically detect networks or support new hardware, such as those wireless broadband cards or the tablet computers clinicians use to access electronic health records and e-prescribing applications.

Neither RHEL nor Fedora could recognize a USB drive when Halamka plugged one into his laptop. Each time he added one, he had to mount it manually by writing a command. Thus, moving 250MB of files from his MacBook to his Lenovo X41 took him two hours. Halamka notes that his Linux engineers, who have been using Fedora on their own computers, were eventually able to get that OS to recognize USB drives after installing the necessary updates.

When Halamka wasn't using his computer, the RHEL OS sucked the life out of its battery or the electrical outlet into which it was plugged because he couldn't put it to sleep. Fedora's sleep feature worked half the time. When it didn't function properly, he had to reboot.

Fedora's major problem, according to Halamka, is that the operating system is in "permanent beta." It's a standard procedure in the development of Fedora for open-source developers to constantly release updates and enhancements and leave it to the user community to test for interoperability with other applications. Consequently, when Halamka downloaded these updates onto his computer, they often caused other applications to crash. He says figuring out which applications would work and which wouldn't after downloading 200MB of updates every few days "was liking spinning a roulette wheel."

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