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Ask the MACist

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Welcome to the latest edition of “Ask the MACist", the column where I answer your Mac and Mac-related questions with hopefully more clarity and insight than you could ever need. As always, I want to thank those of you who sent in questions this week. They are much appreciated. Keep it up!

And remember, if you have a question about anything Mac, Mac-related, or even something about another technology like TiVo or anything, send it to me, The MACist, at: themacist at gmail dot com. Ok, let's get to the questions.

This one comes from Greg in North Hollywood. He asks "Hi, I'm considering a switch to Mac from Windows but I have some questions. Can you answer them?" The answer is yes, of course. I would be happy to answer them. Greg actually had one question in many parts so here are his questions followed by the answers.

1. Can I still use my two-button mouse or do I have to use Apple's with one button?

Good news, you can still use your two-button mouse. Apple, like Windows, has a right click menu that has several features, depending on what Application or Window you happen to be working in at the time. For example, if you right-click on the desktop you would see a menu allowing you to "Create a new Folder" or "Change Desktop Background" and things like that. So yes, feel free to use your two-button mouse. Click around and see what you can do with it.

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2. Will my printer and other things like that still work with my Mac?
Most likely they will. Most modern printers from companies like Epson, Canon and HP have drivers either built into Mac OSX or available for download at their websites. Plus, as OSX uses USB just the same way Windows does, you won't have to get another cable or anything for your printer.

In most cases, you should just be able to connect your printer and it should work. If not, you may need to install a driver or ADD the printer to your Mac's list of usable printers by using the Print/Fax System Preference located in, of all places, System Prefs.


3. Will I be able to open my Microsoft Word and Excel documents on my Mac?
You will have no trouble with this if you buy and install Microsoft Office for the Macintosh. Microsoft has had a version of Office for the Mac for several years and documents created with it are fully compatible with Office on Windows -- and vice versa. So don't worry, get a copy of Office for Mac and get to work.

One side note: Apple includes a program with OSX called TextEdit that will actually open and save Word docs as well. However, if you use it you may end up losing some of the formatting in a Word document. Still, in a pinch, it helps you at least open and read them but it really isn't a full-time solution.

There are also a couple of Open-Source alternatives to Word and Office, like Neo Office or Open Office, but the reality is that using the actual Office from Microsoft will still provide you with the best possible compatibility for your Office documents across platforms. So, if Office is important to you and/or your daily business, best to stick with the actual product.

4. Can I use my company’s email with my Mac?
Sure you can -- with one or two caveats. If your company uses normal IMAP or POP email, Apple's built-in email program called Mail will do the job for you with minimal, if any, hassle. I use it myself. However, if your company uses an Exchange Server or something like that (if you don't know what I mean, ask you IT department) then Apple's mail would not be the best choice.

At the moment, Microsoft’s Entourage program (which is part of MS Office) has the best compatibility with Exchange Server for email, calendar and contact integration. Of course, it helps entourage that Exchange Server is also a Microsoft product. So, if you need Exchange functionality on your Mac, Entourage is your best choice at the moment.

Apple's Mail, Address Book and iCal do offer some Exchange compatibility features but sadly, they are pretty poor at the moment. I have hope that the next version of OSX will improve this functionality but for the moment, its just not there. So, yet again, stick to MS Office for the Mac for the best possible experience.

5. Can I connect to my ISP/Wireless Network at my home/office with a Mac just like I can with my Windows PC?
Again, the answer is yes -- with one or two caveats. Mac, like Windows, follows the same wireless and Internet protocols that are used throughout the world so you should have no trouble connecting to your ISP and a wireless network. That said, the method of connection on the Mac will vary a little from what is done while using Windows. For example, on a Mac when connecting to a wireless network, simply go up to the top right of the screen and select the icon that looks like an upside down triangle. A menu will come down showing you the available wireless networks around you. To connect to one of them, simply select it from the list.

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If the network requires a password, a dialog box will come up asking for the type of encryption (WEP, WPA, etc.) that is in use on the wireless network. All you have to do is select the type of encryption, enter the correct password and you can join the network. It's that easy. Connecting to a wired network via Ethernet is even easier. In most cases you can just plug the cable into your Mac and the Mac does the rest for you. Again, it’s that simple.

As for connecting to your ISP, the details may vary somewhat but the method of connection (wireless or wired) should stay the same. Most ISPs today provide you with a modem -- all that is required is to connect your computer to the modem via an Ethernet cable and it should work. However, methods will vary from ISP to ISP so consult your ISP's instructions for Mac-specific info.

More of Greg's questions next time (yes, he has more). Until then, hope this helps.

About Chris Ullrich: Chris is a frequent contributor to LAist as well as other sites like Comic Book Resources and Cinematical. He also used to tweak Macs (and PCs) for clients in the Entertainment Industry.

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