The battle between Apple's Macintosh and IBM-compatible PCs may rage well into the next century, but most small business managers are more interested in keeping the peace between the two factions. If the warfare has worn you down, don't despair: there are a variety of products that make it easier to make both types of computers coexist. However, finding your way to picking the right strategy isn't easy: it is hard to obtain unbiased information from either Mac or PC bigots and it often requires combining products from either side. So here's a guide to help the perplexed pick the proper product and promote productive computing. Questions to ask before getting started First off, decide whether you need to share files, printers, or applications between the two types of machines, and who has to share them. To help with your decision, consider the up-front business reasons: do you want to spread the costand use of a Macintosh laser printer over more PC users? Do you want to cut the cost of retyping a document on a PC that was originally created on a Mac? Do you want to cut the costs of training users who move between different platforms? Or do you want allyour users to run the same timesheet application, no matter what kind of computer they might have? Based on the business case, enumerate exactly the situation involved: do you need to have PC programs access to Mac files? Or do Mac programs require access to data that was stored on PCs? Or both? What about printers: do PCs need access to Mac printers, or vice-versa? "Some of our Mac users still go to DOS for email," said Mike Drickey, manager ofcorporate information systems for Hughes STX Corporation in Lanham, Maryland (301 794 5514). "We seldom find all of the tools to perform all job functions ona single platform," says Leo Spiegel, chief technology officer for LAN Systems, Inc., a nation-wide systems integrator and consulting firm. (NY, NY 212 995 7700) "As aresult, we have a considerable amount of document exchange between PCs and Macs." Later on, we'll help you decide on which product makes the most sense, given your specific strategy and the costs involved. Most likely, you will end up using products from one of the following four companies: Dayna Communications, Inc. (Salt Lake City, Utah 801 269 7200), Insignia Solutions, Inc. (Mountain View, Calif. 415 694 7600), Farallon Computing, Inc. (Alameda, Calif. 510 814 5000), and Novell (Provo, Utah 801 429 7000). These four stand out in terms of the breadth of their product lines and the quality of their solutions. Second, are you using mostly purchased applications or do you need to build yourown? If you have some flexibility in choosing your applications, consider those that work across platforms, such as Microsoft's Excel spreadsheets, Word Perfect's word processors, Lotus' ccMail electronic mail software and Claris Corp.'s FileMaker Pro databases. With these and other applications that have both a PC and a Mac version, you can create a document or a spreadsheet on a PC, save it to a floppydisk, and then be able to read the file from a Mac without having to do anything special. The file onthe Mac should look the same and have the same formatting characteristics as theone on the PC. "I have not extensively tested the file compatibility across platforms, but I was able to open up an IBM Pagemaker 4.0 file using the Macintosh version of Pagemaker. It was a simple document, but it did open and display and print flawlessly," says Scott Guillot, a PC technician with Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo. (314-464-2500 x594), a book publisher with a variety of PCs and Macintoshes. If you have to build your own applications (such as sales tracking databases or inventory models), do they have to work on both PCs and Macs? If the answer is yes, consider products such as Novell's Visual AppBuilder, Oracle's Oracle Card,Bythe's Omnis 7, and Brio's Data Prism. All of these are products that come in versions for both Windows and Macintosh, and allow corporate developers to write one set of programs that can run on both platforms. Finally, as you think about networking your PCs and Macs, consider your overall computer population, and how it will change over the next three years. If you have modest needs and mostly low-end Macintoshes and 286-grade PCs, you might want to consider Coactive Computing Corp.'s Coactive Connector (Belmont, Calif. 415 802-1080, $149for PCs, $29 for Macs). This is an external adapter that comes in two versions: one that connects to the PC's parallel port and the other to the Mac's networking port. Coactive includes software that allows DOS machines to share files among each other and also with Macintoshes, and vice-versa. It uses about 60 kilobytes of RAM on DOS and you connect all computers with simple telephone "silver satin" snap-in cords. You have several decision points: whether to move data around on floppy disks orto use a network, how to integrate your printers, and what to do about building cross-platform applications. Let's look at each in detail. Moving data by floppies Your first decision point is how to transport data around your corporation. Do you want to move files back and forth between Macs and PCs, but don't want the added expense of cabling everyone up to a network? Then swap floppies. Most Macs these days have SuperDrive floppy drives and software built-in that allow them to transfer files back and forth to DOS-formatted 3.5 floppy disks. However, the process is somewhat cumbersome. A better solution is to purchase for your Macintosh users either Dayna Communications Inc. DOS Mounter ($100) or Insignia Solutions Inc.'s Access PC software ($165 to $499, depending on options). When either product is used on the Mac, any DOS disk that is inserted in the Mac's floppy drive will show up on the desktop just like any other Mac disk drive, and any Macintosh application can access the DOS files as they would any Mac files. Applications such as Word Perfect, Microsoft Word and Excel, and Lotus' 1-2-3 are now mostly trilingual (available for Windows, DOS, and Mac), making the job easier. "My Mac and PC versions of Word Perfect translated easily, other products required significant work," says Peter Shulkin, the Information Systems manager at Siemens Meidcal Systems in Danvers, Mass. (508 750 7500). "We look for Windows/Mac twinsolutions such as Lotus' ccMail, Aldus Freehand, and Microsoft Excel," says MikeDrickey. However, it isn't effortless: even trilingual applications save their files in different formats and may have different sets of fonts, features and commands. "Microsoft Word does not use the same file format for Mac, DOS, or Windows products," says Leo Spiegel. "Fonts, formats, tables, graphics are all problems here," says Mike Drickey. Type fonts seem to be the biggest problem for many users that move information between PCs and Macs. "Fonts are a headache: inconsistencies can render a document illegile even when moving between computers of the same platform," saysLeo Spiegel. "One of the most fundamental barriers is the dependence of a document's format on the fonts used to create it. A document created in a specific font and sent to a user who doesn't have the original font will lose most, if not all, of the original document formatting." There are two different pedigrees for fonts: those from Adobe's Type Manager andthose from Microsoft called True Type. "We reduce this risk by using standardized fonts (TrueType from Microsoft) in documents that we anticipate sending between Macs and PCs," says Jeffre Canfield, a consultant with Management Information Systems in Falls Church, Vir. (703 207 5141). Others agree that this strategy of sticking to one vendor's fonts is best. Fonts are not the only issue: beware of software that makes use of sound, video (such as QuickTime movies) or other non-textual stuff. Getting these items to translate can be torture. Another problem has to do with version of software that you are running on both platforms: you should keep up with the latest software from your vendor to ensure that file formats are as compatible as possible. For example, use the Windows and Mac version 4.0 of Pagemaker. "I still get some funny characters that show up in Microsoft Word documents when I move them from the Mac to the PC, but I've gotten so used to cutting them out that I never even tried to find the cause. We've had better luck with Excel, as long as we've had all the same fonts," says Rich Bader, president of his own consulting firm in Beaverton, Ore. (Rich Bader & Associates, 503625 3460. A final issue has to do with with the name of the file itself. DOS is more rigidin its file naming conventions: you've got a total of 11 characters to call any of its files: THEFILE.TXT is an example of a typical format. The Macintosh allows 31 character names that can include spaces and upper and lower case characters. So if you save files from the Mac that you want your PC brethren to be able to read, make sure to stick to the DOS format of eight characters, a dot, and then three characters. If you are really trying to keep things the same between the two platforms you might also want to purchase the same monitors as well: several brands of what iscalled multisync monitors are available, but the best ones are those sold by NECTechnologies, Inc. (Wood Dale, IL 708-860-9500). The monitors come ready to be connected to a PC's VGA video port. And, with the addition of a small $5 connector sold by NEC,you can also connect them to your Mac's video port as well. Moving data by network But if you need more than just moving floppies around and already have some portion of your corporation cabled together, then a network may be more appropriate. There are two basic strategies for networking Macs and PCs: creating peer-to-peer networks that don't require the use of a central server, and those that do. While peer-to-peer networks are cheaper, those that have both Macs and PCs as clients and servers are problematical. Coactive, mentioned earlier, connects both together but does not support Ethernet connections or more than 31 computers. In the meantime, you can decide which method works best for you: -- PC as server, Mac as client. For this situation, use a software product fromMiramar Systems Inc. called Personal MacLAN Connect ($495 to $695, Santa Barbara, Calif. 805-966-2432). It turns your Windows PC into an AppleShare-equivalent server, so that Mac users can access files stored on the connected PCs. However, PCs can't access files on the Macs. [CHECK] --PC as client, Mac as server. For this situation, you'll have to purchase Farallon's Timbuktu for Windows ($199) product, which works the other way. Timbuktu contains a AppleTalk network adapter for PCs and software that allows aPC to connect to any Mac server and share its files with Macintoshes connected via LocalTalk connectors, which Farallon also sells. "Timbuktu does what it says it will do rather well, even over LocalTalk cabling," says Rich Bader. If you have more than ten machines total, you might want to consider a central-server based network, and we recommend Novell's NetWare. NetWare's file server runs on PCs only, but you can hook up both PCs and Macs as clients. The file server is an extra expense and hassle though when compared to the peer networks, which leverage existing client machines. NetWare's Mac clients don't require any additional software on the Mac to share files on NetWare servers, and the PC software is included as part of the price tag when you buy the server software. You will require an added server-based software called NetWare for Macintosh ($495 for five users) for versions of NetWare before 4.01 (a five-user version of 4.01 that supports both PC and Mac clients costs $1395). NetWare automatically converts longer Macintosh file names into the eight-dot-three name format that DOS is comfortable with, so that both types of users can store their files comfortably on the server. A central server also makes other applications possible, such as electronic mailor sharing modems for communications. Novell has products for both Macs and PCs for both kinds of applications, and there are a wide variety of other products available as well. Sharing Printers If you are considering a NetWare network, it is relatively easy to set it up to share printers between the two platforms, provided they are able to talk Postscript. You connect the printer either to a PC's parallel port or to the network directly, and with the right series of software commands both Mac and PC applications can send print jobs easily. If you don't have NetWare, there are several other solutions. The best bet is tobuy a printer that supports Postscript and that can receive print jobs on two ports: a parallel port for PCs and an AppleTalk port for Macs. Various models are sold by Hewlett Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif. (415-857-1501) and other companies. These printers can figure out what kind of print job is being sent to them, and switchaccordingly, so that you don't end up with a pile of paper with useless characters printed on it. Make sure you get at least four megabytes of memory to handle complicated print jobs, and that your printer can be located convienently near both Macs andPCs that are going to be connected to it. Also make sure that both ports can be connected and active concurrently: some of the older printers had lots of ports but couldn't switch on the fly among them without a cumbersome setup procedure. If your printer doesn't have autoswitch and multiple port features, you can purchase an add-on box that does: Extended Systems Inc.'s BridgePort ($495 to $595, depending on options, Boise Idaho, 208-322-7575) is one example of this kind of product. Running Applications Across Platforms One final consideration has to do with the kinds of applications you intend to use and whether they will span across platforms. If you can make do with using existing packaged applications, and these applications are available for both Macs and PCs, then you are finished with your decisions and should have things easy. But what aboutthe situation where you need to run applications that aren't available on both platforms, such as Intel's PC fax products or Borland's Quattro spreadsheets andParadox databases? You can follow one or more of three separate strategies to get over this hurdle: translate, emulate, or electronically publish a document. All three involve some sort of compromise. The first strategy is to translate the file format into something usable. The best product for the Mac is DataViz's MacLinkPlus ($169, Trumbull, CT; 203-268-0030). This has hundreds of translators to convert data files from say, Word Perfect on the PC to Word on the Mac. The software also include's Dayna's DOS Mounter as part of the package. "This software usually does a better job than the built-in file conversion features found in many applications such as Microsoft Word and Word Perfect," says Leo Spiegel. For the PC, the best products are Mastersoft's Word for Word, Keyword, or Inset System's HiJaak. However, the more complex the translation, the more likely you will loose some information. "Fonts, formats, tables and graphics are all problems here, regardless of the means of translating," says Mike Drickey. You may not need a separate translation product for many spreadsheets and databases, which typically have better-defined file formats than word processorsand graphics programs. "Virtually all the products we use follow the defacto standards of xBase (dBase-compatible files) or are compatible with 1-2-3 files," says Mike Drickey. A second strategy is to run an emulator, so that PC programs can work inside your Macintosh. Insignia Solutions Inc.'s SoftPC ($499) is one example of this type of product. You run software on your Mac which creates a DOS window on the desktop. Almost any PC software can then run inside this window, and you can even cut and paste objects between the DOS and Mac applications. You can also print from those DOS applications that support Postscript printers directly to the Macintosh-attachedprinters, and use the Mac's mouse inside the DOS window. "SoftPC is so slow that it is suitable only for the most occasional user," says Leo Spiegel. Plus if you want to run Windows, you'll need a Quadra or Centris with the faster 68040 processors." Finally, you might want to use one of the new technologies that separate document creation from the platform itself, and allow you to electronically distribute images. Basically, what these products do is capture the image that is sent to a printer, and allow you to view (but not modify) that image on the other platform without the need to have software that created the original file. Three products are available that can move documents between Macs and Windows-capable PCs: Adobe's Acrobat (prices begin at $195, Mountain View, Calif., 800 833-6687), Farallon's Replica ($99), and Common Ground from No HandsSoftware ($190, Belmont, Calif., 415 802-5800). The three companies sell two components to their products: a creator application that captures and distributes the file, and a viewer application that allows anyone to see the file but not make any changes. There are some differences: Adobe's reader must be purchsed separately ($50), Replica's readers are free, and Common Ground ships a viewer with limited functionality (printing and reading the document, but not searching) for free. Adobe is shipping both the Mac and Windows pieces, and has promised DOS and Solaris versions later thisyear. And single platforms are currently available for the other vendors: the Mac version of Common Ground and the Windows version of Replica. Their companionproducts will be available by year-end. All three technologies are relatively new and limited by the resolution and sizeof your monitor screen: "People who want to be able to read documents with at least two-thirds of the page visible at one time will have to buy 17 inch [monitor] screens." says David Coursey, in his August edition of industry newsletter PC Letter (415 312 0683, San Mateo, Calif.) BIO: David Strom is a columnist for Infoworld and is president of his own Port Washington, NY-based consulting firm.