Hands on: Getting Macs and PCs to play well together

It's a common challenge for many IT departments

One of the most common challenges for Mac administrators and technicians is integrating Macs and PCs into a shared network environment. The first issue many IT departments need to deal with is providing access to shared resources for both platforms. There are a wide range of options, both server- and client-based, for accomplishing this, and many of these solutions work well in small-to-moderate network environments with simple access requirements.

In the future, I'll look at the creation of an integrated cross-platform environment that involves network authentication and client management options, issues more appropriate to larger organizations, particularly those that require some level of security as well as integration with network-based PIM software such as Outlook, GroupWise and Apple's iCal.

There are two basic tacks IT workers can take to marry Macs and PCs: server-based solutions and client-based solutions.

Server Solutions

The major commercial server platforms today include either built-in or optional support for both Mac and Windows clients. Ever since Windows NT, Microsoft has included File Services for Mac as an optional feature of its server products. Although not installed by default, Service for Mac adds AppleTalk and Apple file sharing over IP serving capabilities.

Shares can be created as a Mac volume, which enables not only Mac access to the share, but also allows the Windows Server to maintain both the resource and data forks created by a Macintosh. The resource fork in a Mac file structure contains two important codes: the create and type codes. These provide the same functions that a file extension provides under Windows, identifying to a Mac which application created a file as well the type (JPEG image, Word document, text file or others) of the file. Normally, when Mac files are sent across a network or saved on a non-Mac disk, this information is stripped from the file, leaving files that do not include the typical Windows file extensions as generic files when accessed on another Mac. Depending on the server configuration and Mac OS version, utilities may need to be installed on the Mac to support Microsoft's User Authentication Module.

In addition to File Services for Mac, which is supplied with Windows NT/2000 Server by Microsoft, two companies have produced an installable Apple File Protocol that can replace File Services for Mac. These products include Extremez-IP by Group Logic and MacServer IP by Cyan Software Ltd. Both companies boast better performance than File Services for Mac as well as a host of other features. Group Logic claims to provide better Mac OS X support when using Apple File Protocol over TCP/IP than File Services for Mac in Windows 2000.

Novell includes a Netware Loadable Module (NLM) for AppleTalk, (although with NetWare 5, this was developed by an outside company known as Prosoft Engineering Inc.). Like Microsoft's Services for Mac, the AppleTalk NLM allows a NetWare Server to "speak" AppleTalk to Macs over a network. In NetWare 5.1 and 6, the NLM also supports the Apple File Protocol over IP, which is a more efficient method of sharing data over a network than AppleTalk.

Ryan Faas

The last server-side solution is essentially the flip side of the preceding two. Mac OS X Server contains a built-in SMB server (as well as an NFS server for Unix or Linux clients). The server is functional and if a computer account is created for it, can function in both a Windows Workgroup or Domain. By default, it performs better as part of a Workgroup. (I'll have more on integrating with an Active Directory domain and authenticating Windows users via OS X Server in future columns.) This provides a solution for institutions that are predominantly Mac-based but have a limited number of Windows PCs.

Client Solutions

The simplest client-based solution is Mac OS X itself. With Version 10.1, Apple introduced SMB connectivity into the core operating system. (Although, in my experience, it wasn't until Version 10.2 -- Jaguar -- that the SMB client became fully viable.) As with the Mac OS X Server option above, this is best designed for use in a Windows Workgroup. It functions adequately in home and small office environments with PCs using personal file sharing or a limited number of stand-alone servers. It is not designed with authenticating to a Windows Domain in mind. Being a Unix-based operating system, Mac OS X also contains built-in support for NFS as a method for accessing shared resources.

A better client solution is Dave, by Thursby Software Systems Inc. Dave is designed to integrate with a Windows Domain, making it a better option than OS X's built-in SMB client for office environments. Dave is also designed to support legacy Mac OS versions (as far back as 8.6), making it a feasible solution for those still relying on older pre-Mac OS X hardware.

For Novell networks, Novell offers an IPX/SPX client for the Mac. This client can be used as an alternative to running the AppleTalk NLM on a Netware server. This is preferred in situations where there are a very limited number of Macs to be supported and works best with pre-OS X Macs. Novell (or Prosoft if you're dealing with Netware 5 or later) provides separate licensing options for the Mac client and the NLM, allowing you to choose the more cost- and performance-effective option for your environment.

A version of the Novell client is now also available for Mac OS X.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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