As a computer technician my job mostly requires working on Windows machines. Macs are now starting to show up but due to their reliability most of the Macs we deal with will be generally nothing more than software issues.
One of the greatest tools for my ability to fix Windows machines is ironically the one thing that Windows users, especially IT "gurus", mock... my Mac. To many in either camp it seems like a travesty to use a Mac for this. To Mac users it's a travesty to use a Mac to fix Windows instead of using it to get people off Windows and in the other camp it's a travesty to use a Mac let alone fix Windows but the reality is that Windows makes it difficult to fix Windows.
The truth is that this can be done with a Linux CD as well but I don't often have such a disc and let's be honest the true irony of the situation is way more fun.
So how do you fix Windows with a Mac? Well, straight away many of you would be thinking I use Parallels but that's not the case. Yes I do use Parallels because I need to run some Windows tools but the reality is most of the problems need Windows to not be running because some of the issues arise with protected system files.
For example, one of the common problems is NTOSKRNL.exe becomes more corrupt than a Bush administration congressman. The problem is that NTOSKRNL.exe is a file that is protected by Windows because it's the file that runs Windows. Added to this any attempt to use Windows to fix this issue is broken by the fact that you simply can't just copy the file from one Windows machine to the other which leads me to a tool that we use a lot in our business which Phil just recently gave away as a competition prize (not to me however :( ;) ). I'll take about the drive adapter later in this post but rest assured it's needed to fix this problem and it's a pain because you need to copy from one drive (working) to the other drive (bung) meaning a computer needs to be in between... the Mac.
So why use a Mac? The simple answer is that Mac OS X cares about as much about the oxymoron of Windows security as a politician cares as much about other people than himself. Windows security is not affective under a Mac and so you find the Mac able to copy files between machines very easily because it doesn't know what to do with the files anyway and most importantly it doesn't care about those files anyway.
This also tends to be the same when transferring files from one machine to another where those files are in a user's profile. Documents and Settings is a folder that has permissions that prevent other users from getting in unless they have admin privileges. However, it also has files that can't be touched even with admin privileges because the system needs control of those files. It makes copying profiles sometimes difficult. Enter the Mac. For the same reason as stated above the Mac makes this problem disappear and moving profiles between machines is relatively easy process.
The interesting thing about all this is that without installing anything I've been able to sort out issues mostly thanks to the UNIX underpinnings. Install MacFUSE and you're able to write to NTFS partitions instead of just the reading ability. This makes things undeniably easy to fix problems that are the result of an OS getting in the way of itself.
Working between Macs is even easier while at the same time adding similar issues as with Windows with permissions. That's where the UNIX aspect of Mac OS X comes in. This relatively unlimited power can fix any problem on a Mac because the tools are incredibly powerful. This however invokes the catch phrase of Spider Man... "With great power comes great responsibility". In the wrong hands you can do uber amounts of damage.
But let's get back to something I alluded to earlier, the drive adapter. Here's largely what my toolkit consists of:
- Screwdrivers - Philips, Torx, Flatheads
- Putty Knife - for getting into Mac Minis
- Drill - don't ask
- Hammer - for when it all goes horribly wrong
- CDs - various diagnostics software
- Paper Clip - keep forgetting to check CD/DVD drive before swapping out machines
- Extendable Magnet - handiest tool around
- Torch - it's inevitable that you'll work in a dark area at some stage
- Anti-Static Equipment - to prevent static damage to chips
- Stanley Knife - because a Bowie knife, while cool, is a little too cumbersome
- Dust Mask - you really shouldn't have computers sitting on the carpet
- Leads - USB, Crossover Ethernet, Firewire, Serial, Serial to USB convertor, etc
But the most handy of them all except for the paper clip is the 3.5"/2.5"/SATA to USB convertor. Drives fail, machines fail, and more often than not the user has data on there that needs to be retrieved. To get around the fact the machine won't boot up we take the drive out, connect it to the drive convertor, then to the USB port (in my case on my Mac) and well, problem solved. Sometimes the drives become very corrupted but you can still get data back, other times you're plum out of luck but it's the ability to try that makes this little device so irrefutably handy. It's also a pain in the butt because people keep knicking mine and it's never there when I need it.
FileMaker has just released a tool that has been so fantastic that it has made my life even easier. I use Bento for my job because Bento has the ability to quickly develop a database and has a nice interface. It does exactly what I need it to do so while I really want to learn FileMaker Pro I find it's too much for what I need and in any case I can download MySQL and develop a web page interface for free if needed (something I'm looking into anyway with my learning Ruby). However, Bento now has an iPhone version and this has been completely invaluable to me. I deal with data every day, mostly in the form of a call system that leaves a hell of a lot to be desired... but you don't expect much from Australia. With Bento I can quickly create a relational database that contains a relation to a database that includes contact details and job descriptions. Then I have another relation that has my updates against the job so that I can quickly see what I've done for that job. I can now synch this to my iPhone and blow me away I have all the data I need in my hand - contacts, details, parts lists, and information that allows me to see what I've done and what needs to be done for a job. While this may seem unimportant to most of you, having access to information quickly is an extremely vital ability in our role. It helps you out as much as it does us... of course if the information is bollocks to start with having that at our hands isn't really going to help much anyway but then that's where having that ability to update information is so vital.
The Internet is another of the tools we use. Updates for software and drivers, knowledge bases, forums, all help to allow us to do our job. To get around the fact that I'm mobile so much I have a Vodafone Express Card modem that allows me to connect to the Internet no matter where I am. This is a must but sadly one that the company just doesn't get. It's ludicrous to want to find more efficient ways to do our jobs and yet discard the one that will work because it will cost money. That being said I'm more effective by going out and getting the gear myself and as such I have more of a clue as to what's going on than others. If you want something right do it yourself.
Any IT "guru" worth a damn won't be someone who only knows Windows. Anyone who thinks he's great at IT because he knows how Windows works is as deluded as they come. A true IT guru will have the ability to fix problems in the most unconventional way. Sometimes it's messy, sometimes it's only a quick hack, but always it will be cool because it's outside the norm. A true IT guru has the ability to see solutions in any form and most importantly a true IT guru will be constantly learning and acknowledging that they know very little in the grand scheme of things hence their desire to learn new things. Most Windows gurus are not true IT gurus because they know Windows and don't care about anything else. These people are ignorant and more often than not arrogant and it's always fun to watch them get taken down a peg or two. Mac gurus are a special breed apart. We know Macs but we know Windows because we're forced to live in a Windows world. Already we have a leg up on Windows users because we know two platforms. But Mac OS X gurus also have a third weapon in our arsenal because we have the ability to learn UNIX and it's one opportunity that ALL Mac OS X users should take because the power we weave at our fingertips is grand.
So the when your Windows buddies tell you you're an idiot because you use a Mac, acknowledge their ignorance, ask them how easy it is to fix an NTOSKRNL.exe failure on a Windows machine, then laugh when you say you know someone who does it so much easier using a Mac. Irony is our greatest tool in destroying ignorance.