Living on Air: A Windows guru spends two weeks with a Mac

Windows expert Preston Gralla was challenged to work with Apple's MacBook Air for two weeks. Will he ever go back to a PC?

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To use Exposé, you just press the F9 key (Fn-F9 or F3 on a MacBook Air), and you'll see previews all of your open windows nicely arranged against the desktop. Click any to switch to it.

There's a lot more to Exposé as well; Press F11 to get to the desktop, and F10 to see thumbnails of all windows open in your current application. You can also customize Exposé so that when you move your cursor to a specific area of the screen you can perform an Exposé function.

As for launching programs, the Dock isn't the only way to do it. You can also run them from the Finder, which is a more impressive and useful version of Windows Explorer. And you can put aliases on your desktop to run programs and access files and folders.

Every part of the operating system shows a similar combination of simplicity and elegance. Want to get a rundown about every aspect of your hardware and software? Click the Apple icon in the upper-left-hand part of the screen, select About this Mac, then click More Info and you'll be able to easily browse through screens of useful, easily accessible information. Similarly, selecting System Preferences from the Dock lets you customize many aspects of the operating system.

There's a lot more and I could spend more time writing about Mac OS X, but you get the point. While it takes a little bit of getting used to for a Windows user, it's an excellent operating system.

Networking with PCs

I approached the next task with a bit of apprehension -- getting the Mac to work with the Windows-based PCs on my network. I had tried this with Linux, with limited success at best, so I was worried that I would face the same issues with the Mac.

The initial work -- getting the Mac to recognize PCs on my network -- was a snap; it took no work at all. I launched Finder, saw all of my Windows PCs in the Shared area and was able to connect to every one of them -- Windows Vista PCs, Windows XP PCs and even a PC running a beta version of Windows 7. I merely had to click the PC to which I wanted to connect, click Connect As in the upper-right-hand part of the screen, type in my username and password, and I was in. I could open and save files just as if I was connected using a PC.

But it wasn't a two-way street. None of my PCs could see my Mac or connect to it -- the Mac was essentially invisible to them. The problem, I discovered, was that in order for the PCs to see the Mac, the Mac needed to be configured for PC networking using the SMB protocol -- the Samba networking protocol used in Linux.

Living with a Mac

It's easy to get a rundown about your hardware and software configuration.

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Given that I couldn't get a Linux machine to play properly with my PCs using Samba, I wasn't optimistic about getting the Mac to work. In fact, with a bit of help, I was able to fix the problem. It's certainly not obvious or intuitive, but if you know the steps, you can do it. Given Apple's push to get PC users to switch to the Mac, though, the company would do well to simplify the PC network setup on its Macs.

Before connecting a Mac and a PC, you need a few pieces of information. First, you need the name of your workgroup on your Windows network. If you've given your workgroup a name other than the Windows default name, just use that. By default, the workgroup name in Windows Vista is WORKGROUP, and in Windows XP, it's MSHOME.

If you're not sure of your workgroup name, in Windows XP, right-click My Computer, select Properties and click the Computer Name tab. Click Change, and you'll see the Workgroup name. In Windows Vista, right-click Computer and select Properties; you'll see the workgroup name in the "Computer name, domain and workgroup settings" area.

You also need to know the IP address of your router -- the internal IP address it uses on your network. If you don't know it, check the manual or the vendor's Web site. If you have a Linksys router, the default IP address is 192.168.1.1.

Now that you have that information, you're ready to get your Mac recognized on the network. On the Mac, select System Preferences --> Networking and select your main means of networking. In my case, because I was using the Air's wireless connection, this was AirPort. (If I wanted a hardwired Ethernet connection, I'd have to purchase a $29 USB Ethernet adapter.)

Click the Advanced button and select WINS. In the Workgroup field, type in the name of your network. Click the + button underneath the WINS Servers box, type in the IP address of your router and click OK. Back on the main Network screen, click Apply.

Go back to the System Preferences screen and click Sharing. Check the box next to File Sharing, and add any folders or users you want to share. Then click the Options button and check the box next to "Share files and folders using SMB." Check the box next to your account name and click Done. (Note: Enabling SMB is the most important part of the networking instructions, so even if you do nothing else, make sure to do this.)

That should do the trick -- at least, it did it for me. Once I did that, all of my PCs saw the Mac on the network. I was able to connect to the Mac in XP, Vista and Windows 7, and access its files and folders as easily as if I was doing it from a PC.

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