Make your Mac rock by gearing up with new apps

Government Mac offices of the future will need applications designed for OS X 10.3

Federal employees who use Apple Macintosh hardware count heavily on the systems for mapping, imagery, training videos, Web design and old-fashioned paper publication.

To continue using their Macs into the future, these workers need the right software, starting with the right operating system.

Ten is in. In two years, Mac OS X has become a platform standard [GCN, March 5, 2001, Page 32]. The Unix-based OS does true multitasking, almost never crashes and integrates well with mixed networks.

Newer Macs won't even run OS X's predecessors. But not every application has made the jump to OS X. An office that depends on older Mac software can run it on newer systems in so-called Classic OS 9 emulation mode, but with considerable speed loss.

Think about upgrading

Any office considering a future in the Mac world at this point should think in terms of OS X and its just-announced successor, OS X 10.3, designed for 64-bit PowerPC G5 systems.

It's hard to get by in the office without word processors and spreadsheets. Presentation software is becoming just as important because notebook PCs and projectors have replaced flip charts and markers.

The easiest approach is through Microsoft Office. The Office version for Mac OS X is full-powered, descended directly from the breakthrough Mac format of Office 2001. There are few alternatives, although Apple continues to offer its all-in-one office suite, AppleWorks.

AppleWorks combines stripped-down applications at minimal cost, but only the most basic features. It can, however, open Microsoft Word, Excel and FileMaker Pro files.

A viable alternative to PowerPoint is Apple's new Keynote program. It's designed to use QuickTime and OS X's graphics power to make flashy slide shows. It also can import PowerPoint slides.

FileMaker Pro remains the king of databases for the Mac, and Version 6 takes its power even further. It has multimedia capacity and a streamlined process for posting data on the Web. FileMaker is useful for everything from simple inventories to massive registration databases.

Anyone who's trying to work with a Mac in a Microsoft Windows world will find it essential to run the occasional PC program. Thanks to Connectix Corp.'s Virtual PC for Mac, it can be done. The version I tested came with a licensed copy of Windows XP Professional for a PC emulation environment under Mac OS X. Microsoft recently acquired the virtual machine technology from Connectix.

Virtual PC works best with the latest processors and graphics cards. Windows on a 1.25-GHz Mac won't give a 1.25-GHz experience, but it beats having to borrow a PC whenever an .exe file comes along. It's a great way for Mac users to run a particular professional program that is written only for PCs.

For legacy reasons, much of the federal government still composes documents with Corel WordPerfect. There's no WordPerfect for the Mac; as elsewhere, the dominant Mac word processor is Microsoft Word.

You can exchange files between the two programs, though with some difficulty. WordPerfect will import Word files via a downloadable patch, but the formatting often comes through scrambled for anything more complex than an ordinary paragraph.

Worse, a WordPerfect user has to save files in Rich Text Format so a Word user can open them. When everyone else on the distribution list can open the WordPerfect format as is, it's a snag that Mac users don't need.

Two applications essential for every office worker are e-mail and a browser. For most purposes, sending and receiving e-mail and Web surfing work exactly the same on a Mac as on a PC running Windows.
There's little reason not to use the Mail program that comes free and integrated with OS X. But some older mail programs such as Eudora do not store e-mail addresses in a standard form, so they are hard for Mac users to import.

For offices standardized on Microsoft Outlook, the compatible program for OS X is Entourage'part of the generally necessary Microsoft Office suite for OS X.

For browsing, the standard remains Microsoft Internet Explorer, also included with OS X or downloadable free from www.microsoft.com/mac. This will be the last Explorer version for the Mac, however.

Explorer 5.2 has had occasional security problems, and it continues its historical lack of respect for the user's preferences and privacy. Many Mac users have switched instead to Safari, downloadable from www.apple.com/safari.

Safari is still in beta form, but it offers tight OS X integration, speedy downloads, good privacy and bookmarks, a Google search capability instead of MSN and, best of all, automatic suppression of pop-up windows.

Open-door policy

The nice thing about this unusual browser is that there are no proprietary file formats'so no compatibility issues.

Only beyond the Internet do issues arise. For example, on an internal office messaging system, as opposed to instant messaging or e-mail, a Mac will need its own Mac-compatible client if one is available. And files downloaded from e-mail or the Web require the appropriate application to open them just as for file sharing within the office.

It's a cliche, but Macs and artists still go hand in hand. In government as in the private sector, Mac is the tool of choice for Web and graphics design, not to mention some scientific and archival imagery.

Design-oriented workers have their own set of needs, and most of them will quickly rattle off a list of essential software.

A glance at the accompanying table reveals the dominance of Adobe Systems Inc. in the realm of design software. The one place where Adobe has not been in control is publication layout, long ruled by the immensely powerful and popular QuarkXPress. But Quark Inc. was slow to make the jump to OS X.

That fact alone led many designers to delay upgrading their operating systems. Serious pixel-mashers can't afford the speed loss from running their main layout program in the Classic mode that OS X uses for OS 9 applications.

Adobe saw an opportunity to push the latest version of its would-be Quark killer, InDesign 2.0, which is native under OS X, less expensive than Quark, and designed with similar features such as precise type control and some improvements that Quark users have wanted for years.

The core of QuarkXPress has remained essentially unchanged since the early 1990s, possibly dating it in some areas, but also keeping it comfortably familiar.

Because Adobe produces so many other crucial apps for designers, InDesign is built to interact smoothly with Adobe Photoshop, and it comes as part of attractive, money-saving bundles.

Quark began shipping QuarkXPress 6.0 last month. The new version has serious improvements such as multiple Undo levels and pixel-for-pixel preview. For government designers accustomed to Quark, it makes sense to stay with the application of choice.

Designers who like to have hundreds or thousands of fonts on hand have long counted on Adobe Type Manager to keep them organized. Under OS X, PostScript support is built in; the organizing powers of Type Manager Deluxe are not available.

Handy friends

Font Reserve has been fairly popular for OS 9, and many designers turn to it for OS X as well. The Suitcase application from Extensis Inc. also has received a warm welcome. Adobe recommends both as possible Type Manager replacements.

Web design is far more complex than it was just a few years ago, and the current generation of applications acknowledges that fact.

Adobe GoLive integrates with all the other Adobe design products. Dreamweaver is preferable for Macromedia Flash-intensive site-making, as it comes from Flash creator Macromedia Inc. Both programs have enough oomph for high-powered Web designers.

Finally, for agency offices that produce some videos, the industry standard is Apple Final Cut Pro, cousin to the powerful software used to generate special-effects movies such as 'The Lord of the Rings.' Final Cut Pro can output to numerous Internet, CD-ROM and DVD formats.

Footnote: My test system was a dual-processor, 1.25-GHz Power Mac G4 with 256M of RAM, 80G SuperDrive and 17-inch Apple Studio Display.

Joel Sparks, a free-lance reviewer in Silver Spring, Md., has been a government lawyer and database programmer.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above