Russ Levanway, CEO, Tektegrity

Not long ago, many businesses faced a decision. Would their computer network be built around the Windows or Mac operating systems? Because the products from these two industry leaders didn’t play well together, few brave souls tried to create a system to accommodate both.

While certain industries (such as those in the fields of design, music, and media communication) have always been more Mac-centric, in most professional service environments and back offices, Windows products were chosen. They were seen as the best fit due to their lower cost, ease of networking, and compatibility with the popular MS Office.

Now, however, we can safely say that Mac and Windows products can coexist in a shared environment. In the past, a bit of hackery was needed to make the two systems cooperate with each other.  In each version since OSX, Mac has improved network access and file sharing between its own system and Windows networks and servers.

Most printers and many other peripheral devices now arrive with drivers for both platforms and provide equal network access.

Historically, many industries had to choose an operating system based on software availability. Some applications were only available for one OS or the other, and there are still many applications created for only one operating system. This is most common in industry-specific software, where the industry is known for a strong operating system preference.  Using tools such as Parallels makes it possible to install Windows applications on a Mac.  However, the experience is not seamless and performance can leave something to be desired.

Subscription and cloud-based software has helped in the peacemaking. Applications hosted in the “cloud” rather than local machines and office servers, are often accessible by devices using either platform. This comes in especially handy for users who appreciate the outstanding performance of Apple’s mobile products while on the road, but use a Windows-based system in the office.

While there are fewer obstacles than ever in creating blended environments, a few caveats remain. Even though Macs are known for their stability and can connect to Microsoft networks, access to network resources on Windows servers tends to be slower and less reliable than with PCs.  One should carefully consider if the potentially slower performance of the network environment will be offset by the advantages of using a Mac.  Also, using the same OS throughout a network will lead to ease of management and lower support costs.

The most important factor in the selection of an operating system is functionality. Each person on each machine in your organization needs to be able to access the software and files they need. For some companies, this means reliance on a single operating system.

So, we won’t go as far as to call the improvements to compatibility a truce. Flexibility, however, is increasing and blended environments are becoming more common and accommodating.

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, an IT Managed Services Provider serving the Central Coast and Central Valley. The organization’s Total Systems Management™ (TSM) service model provides preventative IT support at fixed monthly fee levels. For more information, visit www.tektegrity.com.