Inside Mac|Life - 10 Reasons Your Small Business Should Run on Macs

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The Macintosh, a computer that for over two decades has been the choice of creative professionals, is being adopted by more small businesses, a market segment that has traditionally been dominated by computers running Microsoft Windows. Apple has tried off and on since 1985 to pitch the Mac as a business machine, and the Macs of today are easily the most business-capable computers Apple has ever shipped.

If you’re a business owner or thinking of becoming one, you may be surprised by how useful a Mac can be and how it can save your company money in the long run. We’ve talked to business owners, scoured the Internet, and come up with the top ten reasons your small business should switch to Mac.



ONEINDUSTRIAL DESIGN
Apple’s reputation for good hardware design owes a lot to what its designers have done in the last 10 years. In 1998, the eye-catching curvy shape of the iMac helped forge a whimsical identity for the Mac, but its Bondi blue color and bulbous body didn’t complement every office’s décor. These days, the company’s designers are working with anodized aluminum casings with black or white accents that go with just about anything. Whether your desk surface is cherry, plum, or an unfinished plywood sheet, a new Mac will look great on it.

Having Macs in your office or shop sends a signal about your company’s philosophy: You understand good design and appreciate quality and simplicity. It could also signify how “with it” your company is, how creatively your employees think, or even how intelligently you manage the business.

Because most of your customers likely use Windows PCs at home and work, the Mac they see in your office will make an impression. Then, every time they see an Apple advertisement, there’s a chance they’ll think of you.



TWOiLIFE’S SUPRISING BUSINESS USES
Every Mac comes with iLife, Apple’s software for working with photos, music, video, and webpages, as well as iTunes and iCal. Just because most people use these apps in their homes doesn’t mean you can’t use them for work.
iTunes can do more than just play music in your office; it’s also a great general-purpose audio sequencer, which you can use to shape the soundscape of your office or store. You can even insert marketing messages between music tracks. If your phone system lets you connect a CD player or other audio source for people to listen to while they’re on hold, you can use iTunes to burn CDs with playlists that set the right tone or mood for your business. Be sure to include a “thanks for holding” message between songs, to keep customers on the line.

You can also use iPhoto as a still-image sequencer. Perhaps your business won’t benefit from a slide show, but it might benefit from a slide show with helpful information on a continuous loop. If your company is undercapitalized, you can use iPhoto as presentation software, using the arrow keys to change slides manually.

GarageBand isn’t just an audio editor. You can use its recording capabilities to create those marketing messages for the iTunes playlist or the customer-service message for the hold CD. Use the provided royalty-free audio loops to make music underneath your message, and if you time it right, you’ll have a perfect thirty-second cut to use as a radio advertisement.

With iWeb, you can build a simple website from professionally designed theme templates. iMovie lends itself to making videos to attract more customers over the Internet or ad spots for television. iCal can help you make schedules for your employees and keep track of appointments.

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COMPANY: Intermedia, Ltd.   EMPLOYEES: 2   LOCATION: Nagano, Japan
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transChoosing the Mac was a no-brainer for Intermedia, a provider of Japanese-English translation services to mostly Japanese clientele. “A well-configured Mac becomes a seamless extension of your mind, in a way that no other combination of software and hardware can,” says Intermedia owner Brian Rafter. “That makes work more productive, less stressful, and a whole lot more fun.”

The Mac has long been a leader in multiple-display setups, and Intermedia takes advantage of this ability with a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display as its main monitor, flanked by two 20-inch Apple Cinema Displays. A fourth display is also within view. Typically, Rafter keeps the previous year’s version of a document in Japanese and English on the left monitor, the current year’s versions appear in the main screen, and reference documents are visible with a glance to the right.

Rafter uses Mac OS X’s Spaces feature, which enables multiple workspaces for each display, to switch seamlessly from one project to another. Since he juggles anywhere from five to six projects at a time, each project will have its own workspace, available instantly.

When Intermedia’s clients required it, Rafter used to translate on Windows PCs. Since switching to the Mac, his translation word count per day has gone up by about 25 percent, which gave him more time to craft definitions like “the difference in the radii of the arcs traced by the front and rear inner wheels of a turning car” to represent the Japanese nairinsa, an obscure word that pops up every now and then.

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THREEYOU CAN RUN WINDOWS APPS IF NECESSARY
It’s difficult to justify buying a Mac to run software for Microsoft Windows, but that’s not the reason the compatibility factor makes this list. Rather, it’s knowing that your investment in Mac hardware won’t prevent you from using Windows software in the future--if you ever need to--that makes good sense. You can control the processes in your office, so you’ll run Mac software in-house. You can’t control the processes of other organizations, some of which may require compatibility with Windows.

While a Mac isn’t capable of running Windows apps out of the box, there are a number of options available that are cheaper than running out and buying a Windows-based computer. Apple’s Boot Camp software, part of Mac OS X Leopard, enables you to install your copy of Windows onto the Mac and lets you choose which operating system you’ll boot into.

If you prefer to use Windows programs without rebooting, you can try VMware Fusion ($79.99) or Parallels Desktop ($79.99), both of which require a copy of Windows. If you don’t have Windows, try CodeWeavers CrossOver ($39.95), though it doesn’t run as many programs as the other two.

FOURRETURN ON INVESTMENT
Corporations study the “total cost of ownership” of their technology to decide whether a computer system is worth purchasing. Businesses of all sizes find that the Mac platform can save money over time, despite the higher price tag associated with the initial purchase.

The Mac’s greatest ally in calculating cost of ownership is the value of time. Business owners say their Macs experience fewer crashes and other problems than PCs running Windows, translating to less lost work and fewer visits from the IT folks. They also tend to keep Macs in service longer than they keep PCs running.

The time calculation works both ways: You’ll have to place a value on retraining employees on the new operating system and lost time and increased agitation due to slightly different keyboard layouts and a different OS. You’ll also need to budget for Mac versions of the software you plan to run. (Of course, you would probably also have some retraining and software costs upgrading from XP to Vista if you stuck with Windows.) If you’re starting a new business, you can skip the costs associated with switching.

 

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COMPANY: Stevens MacPhail, P.A.   EMPLOYEES: 4   LOCATION: Spartanburg, South Carolina
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lawFamily-law firm Stevens MacPhail switched to a Mac platform in August 2005. “I got tired of wasting time and money dealing with one problem after another with our PCs and network,” says Ben Stevens, one of the company’s two attorneys. “It seemed that we were having at least one issue a week that was affecting our ability to most effectively represent our clients, and that was not acceptable.”

Since the switch, the company’s tech-support costs were reduced to almost nothing. (The company still uses a Windows server that requires troubleshooting.) Stevens reports 100 percent uptime on the company’s Macs. He also says his employees are happier: “Anything that can be done on a PC can be done on a Mac, and usually faster, better, and more enjoyably,” he says.
The company uses each of the apps in iWork. Stevens is especially fond of Keynote for his presentations. Rocket Matter ($50/month), a Web-based app, is the company’s choice for case management. Stevens MacPhail uses a combination of Parallels Desktop and Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection to run two Windows apps: QuickBooks (because the Windows version has better payroll features than the Mac version, they say), and South Carolina’s child-support calculator, which has no Mac version.

Stevens uses a MacBook Air and his partner uses a 15-inch PowerBook from 2005 that he likes too much to upgrade. The company’s two legal assistants use 20-inch iMacs. “We often have clients and other visitors to our office comment on how ‘pretty’ their computers are,” says Stevens, who also publishes a legal Mac-tech blog, themaclawyer.com.

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FIVESECURITY
Part of the reason businesses report more uptime with the Mac is because of the Mac’s built-in security features that keep viruses and malware at bay. A Mac won’t run Windows software right out of the box, so most of the malware lurking on the Internet won’t harm a Mac. The same goes with viruses that affect Windows users: With no version of Windows to run on, a virus will sit unused, unable to replicate itself.

Because viruses and malware are not a serious threat on Mac OS X yet, attackers have to fool unsuspecting Mac users into installing malware themselves. Apple’s Safari, Mail, and iChat software all notice when downloads contain applications, and tell Leopard to warn you the first time you open the software, hopefully thwarting the security breach.

The sunny state of Mac security may not last forever, of course: As more people connect their Macs to the Internet, attackers may take more of an interest in learning new ways to compromise them. Even so, experts have been saying this over the last decade, but the threats still haven’t shown up in large numbers.

 

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SIXTIME MACHINE
Backups are tedious, time consuming, and inconvenient to schedules, but they’re critical for all businesses, especially small ones that don’t have IT departments in charge of such things. Mac OS X Leopard’s built-in backup software, Time Machine, backs up documents automatically. Should you accidentally delete your tax return, payroll info, or even if you just destroy part of it, you can easily call up Time Machine and travel backwards in hours, days, or weeks through time—onscreen, of course—until you find the particular file you were looking for.

Because it’s automatic, you don’t need to force your employees to come in on the weekends to babysit the backup. It’s a tradeoff, however: Time Machine stores its backup information on an attached hard drive, a Leopard server, or a Time Capsule wireless storage device ($299 for 500GB). Time Machine won’t make a copy that you can take off-site in case your office burns down, and it won’t let you keep stuff indefinitely (when the drive fills up, it starts deleting weekly backups). Still, it’s a lot better than no backup at all, and it’s easy to restore individual files quickly, without needing to spelunk through piles of removable media for an earlier version of the file. Think of it as a “Time- and Bacon-saving Machine” when calculating its benefit to your business.


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COMPANY: Spruce Body Lab   EMPLOYEES: 12   LOCATION: Vancouver, British Columbia
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spaCustomers visiting Spruce Body Lab for services like microdermabrasion or massage will notice the day spa’s calming design: subtle use of color; a logo in shades of green, suggesting new life; and a white iMac G5 at the front counter.

That iMac isn’t just for show: The spa uses Xsilva LightSpeed (from $1098/single user) point-of-sale software to handle invoices, inventory, and a customer database. LightSpeed even integrates with iCal for scheduling appointments.

“The Mac is a user-friendly and high-quality product with attention to detail,” says Kathryn Sawers, the company’s creative director and general manager. “It is a good fit for our business from an aesthetic perspective as well: We are a very modern and polished facility, and the Mac design complements that.”

The company uses Adobe Creative Suite for marketing materials, Adobe Contribute to update its website at sprucebodylab.com, and Microsoft Office for word processing, invoicing, and other business tasks.

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SEVENiWORK
Apple’s iWork software does a lot for just $79. The Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentation software let you take advantage of Apple’s army of designers and software engineers to make your company’s documents and presentations stand apart from generic business documents. Naturally, iWork is available exclusively on the Mac.


In addition to great-looking documents, iWork can also open and save Microsoft Office 2007 Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, letting your business exchange files with Office users in a Microsoft-dominated world. And at just $79, iWork is a lot less expensive than Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac ($299.95).

You can use Pages to create all kinds of great-looking newsletters, flyers, “take one” sheets, brochures, and other documents. Numbers can keep track of your company’s cash flow, and help you create beautiful 2D and 3D charts to help your employees, associates, and investors visualize what the data really mean. Keynote helps you prepare unforgettable presentations. iWork isn’t for everyone, but it’s a capable software suite.

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COMPANY: Sea Shell City   EMPLOYEES: 40   LOCATION: Fenwick Island, Delaware
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shellsWhen it’s raining in the beach resort town of Fenwick Island, Delaware, vacationers head to the shops on Coastal Highway. The staff at Sea Shell City, a longtime landmark of the town, loves rainy days.

They also love the Macintosh, using six iMacs as cash registers, plus more iMacs and a Mac mini for the business office and mail-order operations. The company has only one PC, tucked away in a back office. Though many of the store’s seasonal workers come from countries where Microsoft Windows dominates even more than in the U.S., the store hasn’t received many complaints from workers about the Mac. In fact, the workers catch on quickly.

“The only problem we have noticed sometimes is that the foreign employees like to go online when no one is looking to check mail from home and the news,” says Virginia Davidson, who helps her family run the business. “We hope in the future to have a lounge set up so that during their free time they can connect with home a little easier.”

Sea Shell City uses ShopKeeper ($1395/multiple user) for its point-of-sale software, and MYOB for accounting. Its website, at seashellcity.com, is served from 
an iMac.

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EIGHTYOU CAN RUN MICROSOFT OFFICE
Despite no love lost between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Microsoft continues to improve upon the Office suite for OS X. Office 2008 for Mac includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage (the Mac version of Outlook, if you’ve used it in past work environments) and sports a few Mac-only features to balance out what it lacks.

Word 2008 for Mac offers one big advantage over Word 2007 for Windows: Its Page Layout view makes it easy to create elegant-looking documents. Excel 2008 includes premade ledger sheets, making it easy to keep track of finances without worrying about how to set up a spreadsheet.

If your office already runs a Microsoft Exchange server, you can use Entourage to connect to the server and use most of the features that full-fledged Outlook users can use, including email, calendaring, and contact management. Windows Outlook users have no parallel to Entourage’s My Day feature, which lets you see your schedule at a glance in a single window on your Desktop.



NINECHEAPER LICENSING FEES FOR SERVERS
If you’ve ever bought a server for a Windows network, you know how they get you. Hint: It’s the licensing fees. Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, for example, has a retail price of $1,089. For that price, five clients can connect to the server. Each additional client costs $77. If you opt instead for a full-fledged copy of Windows Server 2008 and Exchange Server 2007, the pricing structure is even more complex.

Mac OS X server costs $999 and includes an unlimited client license, making the accounting simple. It uses the familiar Mac interface, so you don’t need to go out and get a certification before you set up your network. It’s got the communication and management capabilities you’d expect for a small business, and some you might not have thought about, such as a Wiki Server to make your intranet more collaborative and flexible. And, as your business grows, you don’t have to shell out for more client licenses.

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COMPANY: Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit   EMPLOYEES: 12   LOCATION: New York City
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bottleBottlerocket Wine & Spirit was ranked second in Zagat’s New York City Gourmet Shopping and Entertaining 2008 and 2009. It’s no surprise that the shop is doing so well: Its founder, Tom Geniesse, understands that a good shopping experience makes customers happier and keeps them coming back.

Naturally, Geniesse is a Mac user. “I love Apple and always have. The company designs with people in mind. They provide an excellent, intuitive, and beautiful experience. We are trying to do the same thing at Bottlerocket.”

Geniesse is really trying, and customers notice. For customers with kids, for example,  there’s a “children’s nook” with toys and books to keep them busy. Customers can bring dogs in too; the shop provides water and dog treats. Themed display islands, organized by intended use of the wine, make selection easier for novices. Each bottle also has tasting notes posted nearby.

bottleThe company chose PayGo ($349/year) as its point-of-sale software, and uses it to offer better service: The tasting notes for each wine are stored in PayGo’s database, so customers receive each bottle’s tasting notes with their receipt. Bottlerocket also uses PayGo to power its website’s shopping cart, running on “a big fat [Apple] Xserve,” at bottlerocketwine.com.

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TENBECAUSE IT'S A MAC
Apple has made the Mac the best computing experience available, so why would you accept anything less for your business? Sure, Macs costs more than low-end PCs initially, but isn’t it worth it in the end to pay a little bit more up front for a computer that works with you, rather than against you? Mac users love their computers, so, if you can, it makes nothing but sense to bring that to your business. The strides Apple has made in offering business solutions over the past decade are making the Mac a more sensible choice, as our profiles of Mac-using businesses throughout this article prove.

 

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COMPANY: Arockalypse    EMPLOYEES: 3   LOCATION: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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skate

When Arockalypse founder Jeff Mains was starting his skateboarding, footwear, and clothing shop, he went into it with an open mind: Though he was a Mac user with a degree in graphic design, he would be willing to accept a Windows-based point-of-sale solution for his business, if it were the best choice.

skte“After researching many other specialty retailers that I know through our industry, I realized so many people were not happy with PC-based POS,” says Mains, who opened the shop after years of working as a marketing representative for some of the clothes he now sells in the store. “I had researched LightSpeed through Apple, and after months of considering, and researching, it was apparent that Mac and Xsilva were appropriate to our needs. It also fits our business ideals, style, and standard.”

Mains says that as the Mac gains mainstream popularity, his customers have started to ask about it when they see one in the store. He responds with the reasons the Mac is better. Mains’ passion for the Mac is much like his passion for skateboarding.

The company also uses the Mac to design apparel, skateboards, and its website, which is packed with action photos and video of local skaters, at arockalypsenow.com

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