IT: Macs versus PCs and virii

John Gruber takes issue with Microsoft, and Outlook, and the virus issues allowed by Microsoft, in his latest article “Good Times“:

We, as a society, have decided that indoor plumbing should be held to high standards of reliability and maintenance. And somehow weíve been convinced that indoor computing should not.

And in the follow up “Dynomite!“:

Complexity is not an excuse for low expectations. Weíve strapped men into giant rockets loaded with jet fuel, propelled them into space, and landed them on the moon. That was complicated. And our expectation was that weíd get them back.

Why we donít expect our email to work is beyond me.

In reading Gruber’s articles, I reflected on the few IT staffs I’ve had experience with in the past:

US Army: At my level (I was a junior officer) we were completely Wintel centric, but relied very, very little on the PC. No one in our 140 man unit had email except the commander (Director level in most large organizations). Everyone else got their orders by memo, face to face meeting, or voice over the radio. Viruses never stopped our organization from running, though they did impede our operations for the first 12 hours or so until someone higher up the chain said “fuck the computers, we’ve got work to do” and we all just got back to work until the one or two IT-trained guys in the 600+ man unit got things working sufficiently again.

MacNN: Small 3-5 man operation. No IT staff (just consultants every now and then). We all used Macs for our desktops and Linux or FreeBSD solutions for our servers. We talked to each other a lot, used email to schedule meetings, and operated pretty virtually (one person in San Fran., one in Iowa or somewhere close to Iowa, one in Texas and one in Washington State, with a few more contractors spread across the internet). We never had virus problems except for when the internet succumbed to a virus epedemic, at which point, we all took the day off anyways (ok, everyone but the owner who never really worked all that much anyways). Small entreprenurial company. Staff: 120 people. IT Staff: 1 Full time guy, sometimes 1.5 guys (depending on the second guys schedule). We survived with an Outlook/Exchange set-up because again, only 30 people or so in the company had email. Everyone else was a real worker. Those of us with email and calendaring got used to not having an internet connection for at least 2 days per quarter because our IT guy was really good at pulling the plug on the company internet connection if he so much as sniffed a virus coming in. That, and the company was too cheap to upgrade to a more full featured version of Exchange than version 4.x or 5.x, so that we really didn’t have all that much whiz-bang features to being with… And when email went down, I usually got to go home early, so I didn’t complain.

Current job: Large media company. We’ve got two IT staffs: one Mac centric and one PC centric. The “CIO” is a Mac guy. Our internal servers are a mish-mash of Sun boxes, Netscape solutions, XServes, and Linux or FreeBSD solutions. Half the staff uses Netscape Mail and Calendaring. Some use Outlook on Wintel-based desktops. Some use Entrouage on Mac OS 9 or X. And a good amount never use computers in their daily work. We have in-house written spam and virus filters, and yet, our total IT staff investment is tiny… maybe 1% of the total staff in the company works in IT. It’s got a decent budget, but it’s all in hardware and software, not staff, and things work well. When Macintosh desktops break down (pretty infrequent) the Mac staff fixes them (if the operator can’t fix it first that is). When the PCs break down (pretty often) the IT staff tells the operator to reboot and see if that fixes the problem, and if that doesn’t work, they pull it off the desk, take it to a room where they ‘operate’ on the machine to diagnose the issues and then fix it, returning it to service after 24 or 48 hours… We don’t have Exchange installed, and instead use IMAP-based Netscape mail for everyone.

That said, I use a PC at work, and hate it most of the time. Especially since I have Outlook, and not Exchange. And since not everyone uses Netscape Mail, we don’t have a common calendaring solution that we can use to invite people to email reliably… But you know what? I also find that I’m not glued to my computer as much as I used to be.

1 Response to “IT: Macs versus PCs and virii”

  • We’re a 150 person, 7 (soon to be 9) office company, all mac. Four IT staff. We’re using FirstClass ( for all our group calendaring and email. It’s totally cross platform, and even has a link into voicemail systems and a complete webmail interface. It’s a solid little system.

    I’ve enjoyed Gruber’s (and your) take on IT departments and share them, it’s not like IT is rocket science, so why are we so tolerant of our computers not working like they should? I’m not sure. But I would imagine that because the end user doesn’t understand them, they assume they are appropriately complex that you have to be Really Really Smart to figure them out, when in fact, you just need to not be afraid of them.

    IT departments that are more keyed toward fixing the PEBCAK problems instead of the technical problems will quickly see their workload decrease.

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