November 07, 2011

Using and supporting Apple computers

For University of Warwick staff, I have created a list of links to pages that detail the support that is currently available at Warwick. This includes information on purchasing, how to get site licensed software (Office 2010, Mindmanager, maths and stats software, Endnote and more), and security. See the list here.

I have a small collection of Apple computers, both at Warwick and at home. Some of them are in quite regular use, as part of the IATL Media Suite. As a result, I'm widely known as someone who can give advice on Apple computers. On a few occasions recently I have been asked: what kind of support is needed for people using Apple? My answer is: not much, although until recently Apple users in HE have either been:

  • People who care more about their hardware and software, who buy their own equipment, and are prepared to put more time into getting to know it and getting the most out of it.
  • People who have specific requirements, best met by Apple (especially video editing).

That's starting to change, with many non-geeky people getting Apple machines, as a result of positive experiences with other Apple equipment (iPod, iPhone), negative experiences with Windows, and the growing "network effect" with Apple users recommending and supporting their friends.

So what support might be needed if Apple use were to grow further?

Most commonly asked questions

Simply: are we allowed to buy Apple (yes)? what should I buy? how can it be paid for through the university (link on the purchasing site)? how do we get the academic discount (a bit complicated)? how do I get my email (wait until you move to the Live@Edu system, use web interface for now)? how do I get Microsoft Office (we have a site license)? Do I need anti-virus software? (the consensus is still NO).

I help people to get started with iMovie, Keynote etc. But usually it only takes a little bit of help (I can do iMovie easily in 30 minutes max).

Hardware problems

I've got or look after 6 iMacs (now over 3 years old), 2 Mac Minis, 5 MacBooks and 1 MacBook AIR (over 3 years old). I have only the basic 1 year warranty. Given that the 3 year Apple Care is available at a much lower cost to HE, in future I will get that. I've come across 3 hardware faults:

  1. MacBook battery failure - replacement £80 on an out of warranty machine. Apple recommend that laptops are used as much as possible running off the battery (not mains), and that using the battery almost to empty will prolong its life. That does work.
  2. Headphone socket failure on an iMac - I've not fixed this, but suspect it might have been caused by ugrading to OSX Lion.
  3. Wifi card failure on a Mac Mini - I added an external wifi card through usb.

I've hear of other people having problems fixed quite quickly under Apple Care.

Apple Mice are a bit rubbish! Some people like them. Many hate them. I recommend using the Apple Magic Trackpad instead.

Operating System

Never had a problem with a machine running on the version of OSX that it was designed to run (most of mine are older, and run Snow Leopard). However, upgrading an older machine using the very latest OSX is a problem. Best avoided if possible.

Auto-updating is relatively simple.

Back-up is handled by Time Machine, perhaps the best and most intuitive system available. A big hard disk (1TB+), formatted in the Apple format, makes it work well. However, the online backup through iCloud also offers a simple alternative (although the 5GB limit will cause problems).

Software applications

Most people are happy with iMovie, Office for Mac etc. I also introduce them to Evernote (free), Mindmanager (site license) and Screenflow (£60 with educational discount). Keynote is a much more stylish alternative to Powerpoint - for some people that matters. We have a license for Endnote Mac, but so far no one has asked me about that.

Cisco Webex (our videoconferencing software) works best on the Safari browser (not Firefox).

Access and NVivo aren't available on the Mac. For some people, that's an issue, and they need to think about it before purchasing one. I have helped a couple of people to use Parallels (one of the ways of running Windows on a Mac) for this reason. Personally, I have a small Windows machine that I can access remotely from the Mac, using the Remote Desktop client that comes with Office 2010.

The new iCloud sync and backup system seems to be causing some confusion and issues with people using older equipment (it currently only works on the latest OSX Lion). That could be a big concern. Most people will hit the 5GB limit right away if they try to replcicate videos and photos onto iCloud. After that they have to pay for extra space.

Otherwise, software on Apple is always delight to use!

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