Jonah and The Whale…

Jonah and the Whale

Or to give its longer title:- Advice on setting up, running and maintaining a Mac-based design studio in a PC-based company.

The rather irrelevant title to this article relates to its metaphor of existing and thriving inside a huge organism without being part of its lunch, i.e. how can a Mac-based design studio co-exist with a rabid, Microsoft-loving, multi-headed Windows IT department who eat Big Mac’s for breakfast? (Or is it Mars bars? which would explain their complexion).

In order to illustrate my rather over-zealous stance here, you need to understand some of my experiences over the last 15 years. These have been illustrated in some of my other posts.

Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Windows IT managers have a hard-wired hatred for Macintoshes. I’m not going to get in to the reasons for this, as any decent psychoanalyst could write several papers on the motivations, and layered, contradictory and self-served reasoning with these people.

My experiences have been so consistent from company to company, I have often wondered if all IT managers have some website somewhere where they swap techniques on how to get Mac’s out of their company – I’ve yet to find it (and I have looked).

Note I say ‘their’ company, because as we all know, most IT managers either do run the companies they work for (because the MD hasn’t a clue how computers work), or because of a Napoleon complex the IT Manager’s think they actually do.

All in all, I’ve worked for about 5 separate companies over the years and each job has entailed starting up an in-house design studio from scratch within the larger PC-based organisation.

Right from the start I’ve assumed that the reception from the Windows-based IT department would be hostile. Some are better than others, but all have shown signs of Mac-hatred, (or maybe it’s envy?).

This hatred usually starts even before you’ve started your new job. In one job, I learned of a 10 page document that was delivered to the MD on why not only the Mac was a bad choice, but why a design studio and the designers therein were a bad idea. Luckily it was ignored. Why was this? Well because the MD was heavily involved in print management at his company, and he spent a long time with Mac-based design houses, so he new how good the Mac was and the benefits that it could bring.

In another job, on my first day I was presented with a document outlining the things that I could not do, in terms of IT within the company. Most were irrelevant because of my setup (more of which later), but one item outlined the fact that they would not allow the Mac-version of Office on the network. Their workaround was to have a PC in the department that solely ran Office. This basically sums up Windows IT people. It doesn’t matter how inefficient the solution to a task is, the solution will be the one that serves their interests, not the users. In the end, I bought Mac Office myself personally, and didn’t tell them. Safe to say they didn’t notice, because as we all know, the documents are platform independent.

Once Windows IT Managers grudgingly accept that a Mac is coming to their company, their next steps vary. Some, outwardly don’t even acknowledge that it’s happening. Inwardly however they certainly do, and they’ll put a few barriers in motion that will make your life difficult. It’s important to realise that they will do anything, ANYTHING, to get Mac’s out of their company, and you need to be ready for all eventualities.

THE IT CHARTER DOCUMENT:

Most companies have an IT charter which outlines what you, as a user are allowed to do on their network.

These are usually over-draconian, but understandable, given Windows’ swiss-cheese record. They will try to update this document to include the Macintosh. So, you will not be allowed to install programs, surf the net, install fonts, add hard drives etc without their say so. They can’t do it either, as they don’t know the Mac, but that’s not the point. The point here is that they are trying to put you in your place.

It’s impossible to run a reprographics department under these circumstances, so the way around this is to strike before they do. Get a document together which outlines a few key things, and have this ready even before you start the new job:

• Their lack of knowledge regards Mac’s, and your greater understanding of reprographics, and the IT that’s involved.

• The fact that as part of your work, you install fonts, programs, change hard drives etc all the time, they won’t have time to do it for you and may do it wrong.

• Make a definite distinction between Office IT, and Reprographics IT, they are 2 different things. You’d be surprised how ill-trained most IT people are. Their Windows IT department does not understand the IT that’s required for Reprographics.

• If needed, get to know the company that recommended to the MD to choose Mac’s in the first place. Chances are he will respect them more than his own IT department, so get them to back you up and maintain that good relationship with them, they could get you out of a sticky situation.

• Make everyone understand that a design studio is a deadline-driven department. If a computer has problems, you cannot afford ANY downtime. With you doing your own IT you can make sure that their is none (if you follow my guidelines), with them doing the IT, it could be days before you’re up and running again. Play on the bad experiences the MD will have had with his own IT department.

• Play the Mac’s trump card – no viruses. It’s important now more than ever, that you keep on top of the latest developments in this area, regarding Mac OS X and viruses, because you can bet the Windows IT department is as well. Be ready to counter any arguement FUD, with the facts. Mac’s are getting more attention from Windows zealots and a Mac virus is coming – you need to be ready.

• If their is any disagreement, ask for a 6 months trial. If there are any significant problems in this time then you’ll give in, (but there won’t be, if you follow my guidelines).
If you do this, then anything that the IT department says has no effect on you.

THE HARDWARE SETUP:

This part is the most important part of the set up and guarantees that the Windows IT department won’t even know you exist – and therefore will have no ammunition to kill your department.

I’ll keep it simple, just the basic set-up, but in it I’ll sow the seeds to allow your department to grow.

The workstation – a mid to top range tower, with as much memory as you can get away with.

Monitor – needs to be colour managed, so a CRT is best, although LCD are getting better in this area. Aim for the biggest screen you can get, and get 2 if possible.

Storage – aim to handle your own backup – this is VITAL as it could be one area where the Windows IT department gets a foot in your door. If they handle your backup they can complain that your files are too big to backup, you slow the network down etc. so do it yourself. Backup software – there’s only one (substandard) choice – Retrospect.

Scanner – most scanners are pretty good now, the technology is so mature that the only thing to differentiate them is software. However I still don’t rate the bundled software in any package so just go for a scanner that’s compatible with Vuescan – a shareware application that’s as good as it gets.

Printers – You’ll need an A3 laser for quick proofs, and a colour calibrated A3 inkjet proofer. Most models from Xerox and HP are good choices here. Password protect them if you can, and don’t connect to any PC printers that show up on your network.

Network hardware – here’s the crux to your setup. It’s vital that you separate your network from the PC network. Never, NEVER have your network running through their servers. Never just plug your ethernet into the ethernet wall socket. It’s always best to have your own internal gigabit ethernet switch, where you plug all your Mac’s, printers etc. Then have one ethernet cable running from this switch to the connection to the wall socket which is routed into the PC server network. This way you can disconnect it at any time – for reasons I’ll get to shortly.

Network software – Do NOT, NOT, NOT connect to any kind of VPN, or Active Directory network. They’re just too flaky to be reliable and will give the IT department more ammunition. Keep your network totally separate from their’s. Set up all your Mac’s with fixed IP addresses, do not rely on the Windows server giving out IP addresses with DCHP. Get a range of IP addresses (10-20) from your Windows IT department and setup all your Mac’s & printers with these addresses with a few spare.

Email – this is one area where you may face problems and it depends on their setup. In my experience, never connect to an Outlook Express Server, it just doesn’t work reliably. If you have no other choice, then I pity you. From a stability standpoint you’re probably better off running Outlook through an emulator or separate PC. You need to put aside your prejudices in running Windows and remember what we’re after here is stability and not to give the Windows IT department ammunition in closing down your Mac’s.

If you can, see if your company has a webmail version of their email server, you can connect Apple Mail to the address this is at. I have this setup at the moment and it works fine. You’re also good from a stability standpoint because you’re not connecting to their server, your connecting to their webmail as if you were using a browser.

Internet – Windows IT managers have a weird attitude to internet access. They see it as a privilege that they give out. You need to take this away from them. Try and get your own router installed that connects directly to the internet. This way you can control what’s seen, and change the password so you control it. If the IT department complain that you don’t need access, make the excuse that as IT admin for the Mac’s you need to update them over the internet, you also need to buy stock photos over the internet, you gain design ideas from here, you transfer artwork this way etc.

Viruses – you’d think that this wouldn’t be a problem. However I’ve seen IT managers feign ignorance concerning the lack of viruses for the Mac in the hope that they would fool the MD, so this is why you’ve already pointed this out in your charter document that this isn’t the case. However you must play the good citizen, so install ClamXAV, an open source anti-virus that doesn’t have much overhead and run it once a week.

The last piece of advice is for your future. Once a company realises that they have a design department, your workload will quickly grow beyond its initial remit, so expand as quickly as you can, and take on more people. Try and get jurisdiction of the website, and get it away from IT, which is where it usually resides. A new member of staff who specialises in the web would be a good bet here. Once this person is under you, then you have the website and all that entails, such as web access, FTP access to the web server (which you can use to transfer large artwork files to remote agencies), and even the company intranet. A lot of power can be got here in terms of your standing in the company – and this all runs on Mac’s. Get as many workstations as you can into the company, but keep them under your control, don’t let the IT department have any say in who administers them.

Why all this paranoia? Well it’s because over the years I’ve seen what these people are capable of, and what lengths they will go to as part of their sad little lives.

What if I told you that one IT manager tried to hack OS 9 Mac’s on the network, using a utility that’s passed amongst IT people, trying to crash them? I found this out by noting the times of the crashing, and they stopped when we disconnected from the network, unplugged the PC connection from our switch, and when the Windows IT manager went on holiday. The software had a legitimate purpose, but had a side effect of crashing a Mac if you wanted (nicely convenient). He was told to stop using the software, after my intervention.

Another IT manager purposefully ran ‘tests’ on the Virtual PC clients on the PC network that purposefully caused them to belly-up and needing to be completely reinstalled? His excuse? When he saw the name ‘Virtual PC’ on the network he thought they were virtual PC’s that didn’t really exist and you could run tests on them.

Remember the problems that Safari had a while back, when if you configured a JPEG in such as way, it would crash Safari whenever you viewed a webpage that contained said JPEG? I wonder how such a jpeg ended up on the front page of a companies intranet that I was working for? It took over a month to get the IT department to update the page.

What about rules on a companies email server that purposefully missed in filtering out spam to email addresses that were on Mac’s (so we got inundated with spam), and filters that gave Mac emails a low priority? I found this out after a Windows IT Manager left the company.

Or another time when a Windows IT support staffer kept on sending 50mb jpeg files to our colour proofer over the network (by mistake of course) to jam it up. This happened so often we had to password protect it?

The only time, in 15+ years of using a Mac have I ever got a virus was when I accepted a floppy disk (which had been infected with the MDEF OS 7 virus), from the Windows IT Manager. How it got on there is anybody’s guess, I have a good idea though.

And the deliberate unplugging of connections to the iSDN line in one company I worked for, which happened so often, I stopped complaining and simply walked into the IT server room and plugged them back in? Apparently it was a in-joke with the IT department.

So you can see why I keep the Mac department isolated from the PC network as much as possible. The key here is to almost run the Mac department as a business with a business. Keep it all separate as far as you can – even run your own email server if that’s possible, which is something I’m looking into.

Your ultimate, long-term goal is to have your own full-service, Mac-based studio, that is totally independant, with its own network, in the belly of the beast. If your department gets really big (10+ people), you need to start thinking about becoming your own Mac-based IT manager. Then maybe, just maybe, when the MD walks around your department, seeing a productive, virus & hassle free department that works 24-7 that’s based on Mac’s, he’ll start to ask important questions as to why the Windows side of the company is plagued with problems all the time and needs an army of IT staff to keep it running, when it seems your department runs itself.

Your overall, more short-term goal, is to become as independent and as invisible as you can. If you cause no problems on the network, they have no ammunition, and without this, they cannot launch an attack on your department.

A lot of Windows users and potential switchers, go on about Mac-zealotry and the reasons for it. I fully understand where the zealots are coming from. We are angry. Angry that we have to put up with this every day.

When someone posts lies about the Mac, and they then get flamed by angry Mac users, there’s a good reason for it – THEY STARTED IT.

Get the Windows IT manager out of your department, and keep him out – he’s no business there (pun intended). Good luck.

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One comment

  1. wafflejuice

    Great post. Reminds me of almost a decade ago when I was buying my first home computer. My brother-in-law is in IT and was doing everything in his power to discourage me from buying a Mac. He had assistance from the CompUSA salesman that told me I didn’t really want a Mac because they didn’t have warranties. Fortunately I stuck to my guns and walked out of that store, went to another more helpful CompUSA without my brother-in-law and purchased a “Snow” G3 iMac. This despite all the discouragement I was getting from family members about how I wasn’t going to be able to get any help or support if something went wrong if I got a Mac. All these years later I’m currently on a 1st gen Intel MacBook and I wouldn’t trade my Mac user experience for the world. By the way, the old G3 iMac is still in use as a music server for my home network :)

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