Friday, June 28, 2002

Be prepared. When you bring up the idea that Macs work in the enterprise, people look at you as if you've grown a second head. Still, being stubborn, professional, and persistent helps.

Still, no amount of pleading will work, I think, to seek out work where work exists in the marketplace when it comes to Mac OS systems. Your bosses don't want information, but evidence.

For my work, I plan on giving them just that. And then, I hope to improve some things. Myself, mostly, in the form of certifications. The Apple Certified Technical Coordinator cert is a good and easy start, but the ACSA certification can make a big impression if I can bring in some business with the paper.

In less personal news, the Xserve is now shipping from Apple. Some benchmarks from Xinet, a prepress software company, showed that the Xserve 2-processor model really has impressive speed over a two-processor G4. A few changes to memory and system speed make a big difference in throughput.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

All things for Apple hinge greatly on Mac OS X's power and adaption by its users. For my work, Mac OS X client and Server is the lynchpin for updating and diversifying the infrastructure of the company I work for.

I was talking about the enterprise initiatives that many companies take so seriously, as they should. The problem in creating an enterprise plan is looking to only one technology family solution to get the job done. I define a tech family by operating systems mostly, and the hardware it revolves, so there's some overlap. There's the Microsoft tech family, the largest and most dominant by far in terms of numbers of users. The supreme advantage to the MS family is that there is a great level of support services, hardware, and software. But the MS family has the greatest disadvantage--compromised and ill-written software solutions that are loaded with vunerabilities for crackers to exploit and viruses to invade.

The UNIX family includes Mac OS X now, as well as Linux, Solaris, BSD, and others. Its family strength is compatibility through common standards prevalent in many UNIX products in terms of software creation, tools, and performance. With Mac OS X being a possible exception, the UNIX family weakness is its "propellerhead" mentality of support. You're typically expected in many circles of UNIX users to know what you're doing. As a result, while there are a lot of people willing to help you initially, your ability to move forward is dependent on documentation that typically isn't written well or for new users, or cumbersome command line instructions. Another weakness is that UNIX as a whole is not meant for a typical business user. Again, Mac OS X appears to solve that initial problem, including the issue of running the ubiquitous Microsoft applications of the business atmosphere.

Apple's technologies are like the Avis rental company. They are typically geared to try harder, nowandays, so, with Mac OS X in place, Apple's offerings are much, much more versatile. If Apple hasn't a solution path, it's likely that a third-party has thought of it. While Apple doesn't do the Fibre Channel technology directly, for example, it does support it--a crucial matter right now for my project.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Apple's move to support the enterprise is reaching home to some, but still has a long way to go. A good example involves a project at my workplace, where I've been asked to make a seriously detailed presentation on how Macintosh systems integrate in their company's workplace.

This isn't an intrinsically difficult matter for me, but the hard part is the sell. The managers and other IT professionals have been taught one thing--that all enterprise revolves around Microsoft and Intel technologies. In many ways, Macintosh technologies and industries have MS enterprise initiatives beat. Macintosh systems are used to create an actual product in most cases: books, cars, cameras, televisions, newspapers. Many PCs are used to support the results of these product's sales. Sure, it's a symbotic relationship, since the product is nothing without the support system to quantify the sales and money needed to feed further creations. However, in a chicken-and-egg world, the egg has to come first to make the actual chicken.

This logic doesn't hold sway in most IT manager's minds, however. I'm talking in circles a bit here, so I'll continue this thought in a later post.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

I've been reading the various tributes to Mac columnist Rodney O. Lain, who committed suicide last weekend. Like the sudden death of popular Mac columnist Don Crabb in 2000 or so, this was a shock to the system. I was pretty stunned as I saw Rodney as a contemporary and drew several parallels to him and myself. He is African-American, like myself, and obviously a good writer. And, when the occasion called for it, an aggressive Macintosh advocate or critic. For me, the fact that he was being treated for depression hit a sore spot as I had similar treatments long ago during college and a few years beyond. There but the grace of God go many of us, when you stop to consider how the world seems much tougher than it really is, most of the time.

Today's my 38th birthday, so it's all about me today. Me, me, me. Gifts and new computers are encouraged. Jedi Outcast would be nice...

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Apple announced today that they would miss earnings by about 10% or so. Not surprising, and not just because the whole computer industry is in a slump. In 1997, Apple, again under the control of co-founder Steve Jobs, began to simplify its product line into two categories: consumer and professional. In the consumer line is the iMac and the iBook. The professional line began with the Power Macintosh G3 "Blue-and-White" tower and the PowerBook G3. Over the years, all of these models have undergone some dramatic external and internal changes, but it's the convenience and power of the pro desktop models that the power-hungry creative designers love. The Power Mac G4, introduced in 2000 or so, added some benefits with its vector subprocessor, Altivec, and modest changes to its system bus and the addition of Gigabit Ethernet, the CD-RW/DVD-R "SuperDrive" burner, and a slew of free, very useful applications that augment the usefulness for home users (the usefulness of these items are questionable for professional users). However, the PC industry has leapfrogged Apple badly with faster RAM and system boards, not to mention the 2GHz Pentium processors.

The new iMacs, while an initial hit, aren't selling extremely fast at the moment, and the rest of the product line is a bit lackluster, although still powerful. This slump isn't too unusual for Apple this time of year, and the company didn't indicate that they would have a loss or anything at the moment. Still--Apple must make the changes in July at their summer edition of the IDG-sponsored Apple trade show, Macworld Expo, this July in New York.

I expect at least DDR RAM, which appears in the new Xserve server. System bus upgrades and a potent processor update should help. However, the Power Mac G3/G4 tower design is also aging. Still, from a tech point of view, I can't imagine how Apple can improve on the merits of the easy-to-open chassis, especially while still conforming the box to general standards in the PC industry on footprint and size orientation. Still, Apple leads the computer industry in ingenious, and sometimes innovative industrial design. While beefing up the pro line is essential, rest assured that the CEO has more than one surprise at the keynote address of this trade show.

A friend of mine who worked with me at a book publisher called me recently on getting cheap help in learning Mac OS 9. Apparently the company my friend works for has received a contract to deploy Xserves from Apple. This friend has extensive PC and UNIX experience but never got around to using Mac OS 9 despite my attempts. I have an old Performa 6115 that may be a good trainer, although running Mac OS X on this 8 year old box is impossible. Mac OS X is the wave of the future, but Apple still appears to require OS 9 training as well. Sometimes Apple's right hand doesn't know that it's left hand is gambling needlessly--and with the right hand's money.

Today wasn't a bad day for me in the enterprise. The company that I service has a dull, lopsided Macintosh infrastructure that needs some serious refreshing. Thanks to Apple's good timing, the Xserves arrived with Mac OS X Server, so that was a consideration. I studied and reviewed the advantages and benefits of Windows 2000 Services for Macintosh, an add-on for Windows 2000 Server that provides Mac OS file shares on a Windows NTFS volume. It's a little beefier than its NT predecessor but is still fraught with frailities. Its biggest problem is that its not a very scalable product and offers only file sharing. Like most companies, this place is loaded with Windows-based servers as the majority of workstations are PC-based. (You can never expect a better than 3:1 ratio of PCs to Macintosh systems in most companies unless you are at a school system or blessed by bosses in the creative industry.)

Mac OS X Server was a better fit as it was more compatible with its client, Mac OS X, and allows greater features such as authentication to Windows Active Directory via LDAP, auto-mounting of shares, and greater client-server administration (what Windows calls SMS, or Server Management System). The company is warm to this configuration, but needs to integrate it with their existing servers, particularly some hulking network-based storage with terminology I've never heard of until today. Nevertheless, I've found hardware that can connect an Xserve to their technology. The next step is determining if HFS+ (the file system used on Macintosh disks; it's comparable to FAT32) can be reserved on a portion of the network disks for use by the server. Never give up hope. I have two weeks to find the solutions and make a report.

This is the life of a Macintosh solutions provider. I love this kind of challenge--I usually win them.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

One problem that Apple has given itself over the years is not playing well with others. By that, I mean that, while the rest of the industry (led by Microsoft) offered professional training courses for computer hardware and operating systems, Apple has left things rather closed up for those interested in learning more in supporting Macintosh systems. Until recently, the only training you could receive from Apple was its Service Technician certification--and that was only available if the company you worked for was an Apple-authorized service provider. There was a public version of this training, but unlike the closed version of the training, the AppleCare Technician Training did not make you an agent of Apple that authorized you to repair warrantied equipment.

No longer. Apple's new services and certification for IT professionals now provides anyone who requires additional training to get it. More importantly, Apple's now in the certification game by offering two certification tracks. The first requires mastering the basics of Mac OS X client and server, which, after taking and passing tests at Prometric Learning Services, will give you an Apple Certified Technical Coordinator certification. This certification is good for teachers or others looking for basic Apple training in small companies or networks with a few Macintosh systems. For myself, I'd prefer the Apple Certified Systems Administrator track. It's Apple's analogue to the once-venerable MCSE track from Microsoft. Apple's offering are just as rich, and likely just as challenging.

I attended the Mac OS X Server Essentials course this past week, one of two courses for the Technician Coordinator certification. Turned out that I knew most of the material, but it never hurt to do some networking and clear up a few things that I had failed to do on my solo attempts with the server operating system. You don't have to take the classes, but unfortunately, it is the only way to obtain the course material. No one has created study aids such as the many books and automated courses available for Windows and other products--yet.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Most computer technicians aren't writers. Most computer techs know Windows and perhaps some Linux, too. I'm a rare kind, although I don't think this distinction will last for long. I am trained and experienced in Macintosh and Windows operating systems, and can repair the hardware of either. I already mentioned that I write and do a bit of technical editing on the side. Got one book published with a friend of mine on Macintosh programming, although I admit it's getting dated fast. I've experimented with Linux, but never got into the UNIX thing until Mac OS X came along. I'm not a UNIX expert, and I can't even set up a shell script just yet, but I know the difference between what's good and what sucks for most users.

You're not going to get a lot of inspiration from my blog, but perhaps you'll share in my insights. I've gotten quite a few guesses right on major computer issues in the past, and now I'll put my money where my mouth is by publishing it so I can brag or apologize about my so-called "vision." I tell you all this just so you'd know where I'm coming from, and maybe where I'm going.

Welcome. The whole reason this blog exists is for me to put in my two cents on recent computer issues, news, and interesting related topics. Sometimes places like slashdot find the interesting topics, but you can only deal with some anonymous reader's comments of "Macs suck" for so long.

I've used and worked on many computer types over the years, yet the Macintosh has been my personal favorite. (Yours will differ, surely.) The Macintosh world has brightened much since the return of co-founder Steve Jobs in 1997. But you can read up on history somewhere else. It's Mac OS X you should be interested in, especially if you've used any UNIX family product before, such as BSD, Linux, or other UNIX. If you're a developer, the news is even better.

Most of my ramblings will relate in some way to Mac OS X, the BSD/Mach fusion that's based on the old, venerable NEXTSTEP operating system of the 1980s and how it's changing the landscape in the UNIX world in a good way. Back on Friday or so with some catch-up information for skeptics and supporters alike.