In my last post I talked about the office suites and Mac's. Bottom line there is that I never have any issues with document compatibility, but most of the documents I see and create do not take advantage of every single last feature that MS offers.
Since then I started working on a new data center consolidation (much material for my Green IT blog!). I have had occasion to really test out the road worthiness and readiness of Macs for professional purposes. My main office system (other than my Fedora 16 desktop) is a Mac mini, and my main road system is a 13" Macbook Pro. I knew when I was going in that I would want to run virtualization on the MBP, so I went with the latest Intel i7 processor and 8 GB of 1600 Mhz DDR3 RAM. The disk is a small but speedy 256GB SSD, and I have a 1 TB external disk for Time Machine backups and storing ancillary things that I don't want on the SSD (mainly data center pictures: Big files that I need infrequent access to). I went with the 13" rather than the 15 for portability, and the 13" standard MBP rather than the 13" Macbook Air because I wanted the faster system for virtualization. It sits nicely between the ultra-portable Air, and the uber-nice and super expensive 15" Retina.
Sure. I would have liked the Retina. I just could not see spending the money. When I am in Houston, I connect to a 23" Dell external monitor for dual screen. I know a lot of people that have and love the Thunderbolt external display. That is an amazing screen, and it adds the Ethernet, extra USB, and Firewire ports. Screen and docking station. Very nice.
Being able to get back to my systems back home in Austin while I am sitting at my temporary work space in Houston is invaluable. My Linux system has my email archive on it, plus all sorts of other useful things. My Mac Mini has a much bigger hard drive than my MBP, and so often has current copies of various documents that I was working on when I was there. If I forget to put them on the MBP ("Oh... I won't need that!" he says), then it is nice to be able to reach across the internal WAN and get to the desktops of both of these systems. There is also a need to access various Windows systems from time to time, installed around the world.
VNC is how I get to the Linux and Mac Mini, and it is as easy as starting Finder, and going to Go / Connect to Server (Or apple-K keyboard shortcut. Konnect I guess...? Apple-C was taken.). From there I enter the VNC server password, and I can do whatever I need to do as if I was sitting there. The remote response time is quite good. I often find myself just using the remote systems to do things rather than bringing it local. That way whatever it was I was working on stays in one place.
I have secure FTP on the Linux system, and AFP enabled on the Mac, so I can also reach out over the WAN and block copy files to me if needed. This may be something that makes me a bit mentally lazy in fact: I don't really spend a lot of time trying to figure out if I need it or not. I can always get it. The systems back home are on UPS in my office to help ensure they are available at all times.
For Windows I need RDP, and there is an excellent RDP client available from Microsoft, so that need is covered as well. It also works so well that I can spend a great dela of time on remote MS WIndows systems and work feeling more or less like I am local to them. BMC has a good WAN though, so that helps.
Browsers and IE
In the modern world of the browser, with HTML 5 and ACID compatibility tests and such, any decent web page works from any modern browser. If it does not, its the very definition of poor web design, and you know you are accessing a page from someone that does not understand the Web.
OS.X ships with Safari of course, but there are a good number of alternatives, such as Camino, Seamonkey, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome. I use mostly Chrome and Firefox, and that is true no matter what OS I am using: OS.X, Linux, or occasionally MS Windows.
There is one application I have to use that is deeply, stupidly IE only. Worse, the poorly designed web application is not doing anything all that unique as to require anything special of IE. When that happens, and I am forced to IE, I have the choice of remote access, or virtualization to get to a copy.
Other than that, I can do everything I need to do, web-wise, from Chrome and / or Firefox. I keep both around to compare speeds and features and because I don't like getting to locked in to doing things just one way. I like to stay educated about my options.
(Update 8/3/2012 about Chrome: http://www.macrumors.com/2012/06/29/google-chrome-causing-freezing-and-crashing-on-new-mac-notebooks/
My MBP has frozen twice. Not an experince I am used to on UNIX based OS's. The first time it happened I looked at the traceback and saw Google Chrome had been running at the time. The second time it was again. OK. Pattern. Quick look, and sure enough, as noted at the link above, Chrome is is causing the CPU to panic. Google thinks that the browser should not be able to do that, and had opened a problem with Apple on it. But they are apparently also looking to fix Chrome.
I agree that the browser should not be able to do this, and I hope this does not degenerate into finger pointing. This does not happen on my Air, my iMac, or my Mini. Only the new MBP. The problem is pretty specific as to which graphic card is in the computer though.
I use the bookmark syncing a great deal, so I will be glad when this is fixed. It is weird to not be able to use the browser I want to use for any given task, above and beyond the IE issue already noted here)
... and the apps I have to use with it.
When I have to bring up a virtual environment to do real work, I don't consider that a win. I like being able to carry around different OS's to play with and learn from of course, but having to rely on a VM to get daily work done always feels like failure in some way. Still, I have been tilting at the Linux desktop for a long time now, so I have a pretty good idea which things I have to go back to a VM for.
One of these, as noted before, is IE. While there is no excuse for an IE only app, they do exist, and they sometimes end up doing something you need done. Being able to run IE without having to carry around an entire other computer is a Good Thing (tm). The good news is that the Mac has plenty of ways to crack that nut. One is dual boot of course, but I can not see any reason to do that. When I am booted somewhere else, I can't get to the Mac stuff!
Virtualization is, for me, the better way. Modern computers with i7 processors and half way decent amounts of RAM can run a VM without issue, and in the case of the MBP, it runs Windows 7 as a guest faster than any other computer that I have access to runs Win 7 on the raw iron. The SSD really makes a big difference there. Back when I used to do the Linux in a Windows world presentations at LinuxWorld, I attached USB hard drives to spread the I/O out over multiple disks, so I could run more than one VM on a laptop. With one guest on the MBP, Win 7 runs crisply on the shared-with-OS.X SSD disk.
I have given thought to taking out the CD ROM and putting a second disk in. I did that on my personal Mac a number of years ago, and it was hard to beat having two disks internally for things like virtualization. I have that on my M4500 laptop running Fedora 17. Spreading guest I/O to the virtual disk acroos multiple real disks is a Good Thing (tm)
On Fedora I have KVM and VirtualBox set up for virtualizing. On the Mac I am currently using VirtualBox, but have a license for VMware Fusion, and Parallels. I really have no preference here. They all run well. They all share disk space with the host OS so that I can keep documents in one place.
There is one other thing I am using right now that I have to use some sort of virtualization for, and that is MS Project. The current data center consolidation I am doing is quite large, and I have to have a project for it. Since the guest is speedy, the only real issue here is the 13" screen size is suboptimal for the huge project. Thats why I have the 23" external screen.
I have had a license for Crossover since way way back. Currently 11.2 is out, and it is amazing all the things that the WINE based tool can do these days. I mentioned I do not like only having one way to do something and this is my other way to do MS Windows things on the Mac other than virtualization. I have a copy of IE 7 installed there for example. Other than the fonts being very old school, it works pretty well for most applications. IE under Codeweavers is not as fast as a native browser of course.
The most recent version of Crossover supports Office 2010, including Project, so there is another reason to be sure that virtualization stores its working files out on the host file system rather than inside the virtual disk image. I may need to see those files from a Codeweaver's hosted application, if not a Mac native one.
Back to Linux
This is "Adventures in Linux" so I'll head back to that territory, even though for the next year I'll mostly be living on a MacBook. Its BSD under there, and if I forget how to do something the Mac way, there is always the Terminal.
Last night I was sitting in a restaurant, and I had my Mac with me. I opened it up and turned it on, and it booted in no time. SSD drives and the OS.X OS. The waiter came over and said "How did you get that booted so fast? You just sat down!". Yeah. Well. I did not expect such fast service either... what can I say?
One of the reasons we like to use Mac's in the office is the same as why we use them at home. The Apple esthetic. They are lovely to look at. Hold. They slide in and out of backpacks smoothly. They are tough. The keyboards are nice. The screens are nice (especially the Retina..). The trackpads are amazing: like nothing on any other laptop. I rarely feel the need for a mouse, and in fact most of the time a mouse seems less efficient. The systems go to sleep in a flash and reliably wake back up. My MBP lasts for seven hours or so between charges. On and on. They just work. I know that sounds a bit Fan-ish. This is not meant to be an ad for Apple. Lest I be mistaken for such I will say that I traded my iPad in a Xoom, and prefer it. Ditto my iPhone for an Android phone.
I also do not like Apple's recent trend towards making their hardware practically unserviceable. My wife broke her Air's screen, and there is nothing to do but replace the whole screen as a unit. You can also forget adding RAM or disk space to an Air. They just work, but get them how you want them to be...
I did not even talk here about BYOD, but I imagine when more and more people start having the option of choosing what they have to live on at home and at work, Apple is going to see even more uptake than they already have. Macs in the office. Here to stay, at least until the Next Big Thing (tm).