Message to IT from Mac users: Tread lightly

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Reader Anthony Lanier wishes to have a cordial conversation with his IT department. He writes:

The division I work in uses Macs but we’ve recently been told that our computers and devices will soon be run by the company IT department, which is very Microsoft and Windows-centric. They’ve solicited our feedback before proceeding but I honestly don’t know what to suggest. Any ideas?

Before I embark on what may appear to be attacks on IT, let me say from the outset that working in IT is a thankless job. They hear from the people they’re trying to help only when those people have a problem, and much of the time they’re approached in anger. So first, be sympathetic to their work and next, be grateful that they care enough to ask for feedback. I’d suggest something along these lines.

Microsoft and Macs sometimes don’t mix. IT folks who don’t normally work with Macs often have a little too much faith in Microsoft’s marketing. Microsoft will tell them that Macs work with Exchange just as seamlessly as they do with Windows PCs. This is simply not true. Apple’s Mail app can have problems with Exchange—to the point where users can’t retrieve their email. Creating and sharing group calendars doesn’t always work and calendar syncing can be a problem as well. The relationship between Exchange calendars and contacts and Apple’s Calendar and Contacts apps is not always harmonious.

Honestly, I’ve found Outlook for Mac to be more reliable than Apple’s Mail when using an Exchange account. It has some disadvantages (its database can become corrupt if you store too many messages, for example), but in terms of day-to-day performance, I have fewer problems than my colleagues who use Mail.

Walk a week in a Mac user's shoes. The worst sort of IT person will reply to complaints from Mac users with “It works fine on Windows.” The best responds, “Let me get on a Mac and see what happens.” If there’s time and your IT crew is open-minded, they’ll task a Mac user or two to use any software and services that will be imposed on their users. And not for just an hour or two but rather for a couple of weeks. If they experience pain they’ll do their darndest to fix problems before they roll something out company-wide. And if they can’t fix them, they’ll offer alternatives.

Be open to alternatives. Speaking of which, if something like group calendaring doesn’t work with Macs or users are locked out of their email accounts, a good IT department won't leave them hanging. They should provide a solution that works, even if that solution lives outside of Exchange and isn’t supported company-wide. That may mean setting up an alternative Gmail account for when Exchange fails or giving a group access to a shared Google calendar. IT should be aware that people getting their work done is more important than a flawed one-size-fits-all strategy.

Understand the differences between Macs and PCs. Windows users need antivirus and malware protection on their computers. Macs don’t. Too many IT departments impose this kind of software on every user—regardless of the variety of computer they’re sitting in front of—because they believe that security trumps all. The truth is that this software can cause Macs to crash and perform very poorly and, given the lack of cooties made for the Mac, provide almost no benefit.

Worse yet, some of these utilities are devilishly difficult to remove (and IT will be unhappy if someone does so without their say so). Better to have the conversation about whether they’re really necessary before arguing that they’re ruining your productivity after they’ve been installed. A more productive use of their time may be educating users about phishing schemes and imposing firewalls that prevent bad things from making their way to your Mac.

Hire a Mac user/advocate. If IT has to support a significant number of Macs and iOS devices they should have at least one person who knows the technology inside and out. There’s nothing more frustrating than being put in touch with someone who believes the only difference between Windows and the Mac OS is the Apple menu or who responds to your request to use your iPad for work with “iPads aren’t secure. No.”

Having that person in some position of power will also help when IT is developing its 2.0 strategy. In that position they may have the ability to halt or alter plans that could prove distressing to Mac users.

And more. I know a number of IT professionals who read Mac 911. If you’re one of them (or just a regular citizen interested in sharing an amusing IT anecdote) I’d love to hear what you have to say in regard to Mac support in the comments area below.

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