Visual Development Lab

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Windows & the Mac

"Windows only" hardware that plugs in using standard ports will usually work with a Mac without any special drivers or setup. That includes drives, card-based or stand-alone modems, and stand-alone or networked printers. If no Macintosh driver is available for a particular printer, a Gutenprint driver is likely to be. Most scanners can be used on any platform using VueScan.

Microsoft Office documents are interchangeable between Macs and Windows boxes (unless they contain macros that interact with the operating system and other applications). If you are having a problem reading a Word file, look to Word's preference settings. Word has been changed so often that Microsoft provide three dozen settings just to make one version work like another, and older versions of Word may refuse to open files created by newer versions. This has nothing to do with the operating system. It is as least as likely to happen between two Windows boxes as between a Windows box and a Mac.

Proprietary formats are a nuisance on any computer that does not have the program that created them—always send out generic formats—but all the common proprietary formats can be handled on the Mac by one product or another. OpenOffice or NeoOffice (a slightly improved Macintosh version of OpenOffice) will handle most of them that people run into, GraphicConverter will read and write hundreds of graphics formats, and MacLinkPlus will convert among dozens of spreadsheet, database and word-processing formats.

If you have a Windows box at home and want to use the same applications in the lab, you can use Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer—or you can use open-source products that cost nothing and are sufficiently preferable overall that even the PC press often recommend them, the source of their bread and butter notwithstanding:

  • Thunderbird is an e-mailer that's immune to viruses.
  • Firefox is a simple, fast, standards-based web browser that can be highly customized and is significantly safer.
  • OpenOffice is the free version of Sun's StarOffice, a virus-free equivalent of Microsoft Office that works with numerous generic formats as well as all the proprietary formats used by Word, WordPerfect and Excel. The only difference between OpenOffice and StarOffice is their packaging. StarOffice includes extensions and templates that must be downloaded for OpenOffice.

Mac & Windows file servers can both be mounted on the desktop of either system. Thus, on the lab's computers you ought to be able to mount on the desktop any Windows box that you have access to. (No computer of any sort is permitted to mount maurerserv on the desktop, except for the Macs in the lab's cluster. The only way to access maurerserv from any other computer is through SFTP.)

Remote access to your Mac from Windows is available safely through SFTP and SSH. To enable this, switch on "Remote Login" in the Sharing panel of System Preferences. A free SFTP client for Windows is WinSCP. A free Telnet/SSH terminal is PuTTY.

Running Windows on a Mac is also practical with any recent model. Windows will run right alongside the Macintosh operating system, quite as fast as if it were running on a dedicated computer. All this requires is an Intel-based Macintosh and a copy of Windows and either Parallels or VMware Fusion.


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