Making the move to Mac at work

I’ve been an Apple user for a while now and I use the term ‘Apple user’ for a reason. I’ve had an iPod, in various incarnations, since it only had a Firewire connection. [1] I’ve moved on to various versions of the iPhone since its original release. And between those two devices, I made the move to Mac about 5 years ago. So while I use a Mac as my preferred platform, I was an Apple user first. With the use of an iPhone and a Mac as my primary personal systems, my workflow started to depend on these tools.

So now I’ve made the move to a Mac at work too. This hasn’t been as easy of a change as I thought it would be. Like a lot of businesses, my company’s prevalent computing platform is based on Microsoft software. Making the transition from PC to Mac has required me to update my workflow and toolset to effectively work in a Microsoft centric office. Here is a list of what I did to comfortably move from a PC to a Mac at work.

Microsoft Office:

While the Mac has a plethora of options for dealing with documents and spreadsheets, the fact is most businesses rely on Microsoft Office - including mine. Planning to install Microsoft Office should probably be on anyone’s checklist if they are moving from a PC to a Mac. However, Office for Mac comes with its own little twists and here’s what I’ve done so far to correct them.

  • I do a lot of work with regulations and standards, so one of the first things I needed to do was modify the Language & Text settings to stop changing (c) into ©.
  • Keeping smart quotes enabled is just asking for trouble when you bounce between Microsoft applications, HTML, and straight text formats. Turn off Smart Quotes and you will have one less headache to deal with.
  • Office applications allow for custom keyboard shortcuts. Take a look at the default shortcuts and make any updates as needed.

One quick note, Mac Outlook 2011 does not have the ability to create or track email read receipts. If this is a standard part of your business or workflow, you may need investigate some other options.

Alternatives to PC Applications:

While what I do is not always Microsoft centric, quite a few of the tasks I need to do day to day involve a Microsoft related product. One of my primary duties is facilitating the corporate use of a software application called Maximo. So quite often I’ll need to login into a SQL Server, or remote into a Windows Server, to do a variety of tasks. Here are some alternative methods to manage your Microsoft centric tasks.

Microsoft SQL Server Admin:
While there is no SQL Server tool for OS X from Microsoft, you can use the Oracle SQL Developer platform as a way to do most of your tasks with SQL Server. Gokhan Atil, an Oracle DBA, has a great post on how to use the Oracle SQL Developer app for MS SQL Server management. Look for more on this toolkit as I get more familiar with the application.

Remote Desktop Control:
The first route most people will take is to use the free Microsoft RDP client. While the Microsoft RDP client is barebones and does the job, do yourself (and your sanity) a favor and look at some other options. Here are two good RDP clients for Mac.

  • iTap: The folks at HWL Software do nothing but make RDP clients for iOS, Android and OS X. This is my personal favorite and I’ve been using the iOS version for a couple of years. The OS X version is just as nice and easy to use. Located in the Apple App Store (not affiliate link).
  • Jump Desktop: I haven’t tried Jump Desktop myself, but it was recommended by David Sparks (@macsparky) on a recent Mac Power Users (MPU) podcast. The fact that David personally uses the software was enough for me to include it as an option. Jump Desktop is also located in the Apple App Store (not affiliate link).

VPN Software:
This is a tricky one because VPN software is typically dictated by your network infrastructure. I’ll bet that there’s a good chance that your company has some Cisco equipment installed, and if so, Cisco makes a nice Mac VPN client.

Fixing Finder

While I may be a Mac user, I have it hardwired in my brain to sort my Folders alphabetically first and everything else by filetype. I have steps that I’ve updated with each iteration of OS X on how to make sort the way I want. Changing the sort order in OS X seems to strike a nerve with some OS X purists. [2]

Mac Environment Adjustments:

Once I got the Mac environment setup, there are a few things I wanted carry over from my personal Mac. Here’s a list of the tweaks I made:

Move screenshots:
I love that OS X has a built in screenshot utility, but I don’t like idea of dumping screenshots onto a user’s desktop. I personally prefer to have all my screenshots inside a dedicated folder, typically ~/Pictures/Screenshots. To change where OS X saves screenshots, launch Terminal and use the following commands to put your screenshot images into a folder called ‘Screenshots’, under the Pictures folder.

cd ~/Pictures

mkdir Screenshots

defaults write location ~/Pictures/Screenshots

To have the changes take effect, type:

killall SystemUIServer

Now all of your screenshots will be saved in the ~/Pictures/Screenshots folder.

Fixing Home & End buttons:
I liked the way Windows uses the Home and End buttons on a full size keyboard and the way OS X was using them was driving me crazy. OS X allows you to remap keys on your keyboard by adding a custom keyboard binding. Using a text editor (not TextEdit, it saves as RTF), create a file with the following information (just copy/paste below, including curly braces):

/* Remap Home / End keys to be correct */
"\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLine:"; /* Home */
"\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLine:"; /* End */
"$\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLineAndModifySelection:"; /* Shift + Home */
"$\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLineAndModifySelection:"; /* Shift + End */

Save the file as DefaultKeyBinding.dict. Now open Finder and go to ~/Library/KeyBindings. If the KeyBindings folder isn’t there, just create it. Copy the DefaultKeyBinding.dict file into the folder. Now the next time you restart your Mac, the Home and End keys will work like they do in Windows. [3]

Stop using dashboard: I don’t use the Dashboard and find it annoying when moving between different desktops in OS X. To turn off Dashboard open a Terminal window and enter the following commands:

defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES

killall Dock