Making a Mac work in a dealership

apple-innovationMacs don’t belong in car dealerships! PC’s are where it’s at y0!

I beg to differ. I’m making it work.

Using a Mac in the dealership is not for everyone, but for those who do use one there is something about that innovative Apple interface that makes daily computing much more enjoyable. Of course, your mileage may vary.

If your patience is low and you don’t like figuring stuff out, then don’t get a Mac.  Moving from a PC to a Mac can be frustrating for a week or two – it was for me.  There is one key thing to remember when making the switch:

When you get stuck on a Mac, think about how your grandmother would do it and the solution comes right up.

In many ways you’ll have to unlearn PC.  But the learning will actually open your mind a lot more and you may discover that it helps you to better communicate with your vendors when working through process and feature development.

What are you going to need in your dealership Mac?

Hardware

This is very dependent upon your job duties.  If you’re a sales agent, you’re not going to need much.  If you’re a sales manager, I’d concentrate on a decent dual or quad core processor with at least 4GB of RAM.  If you’re an eCommerce Director who will use graphics & video software, multiple browsers, a virtual machine for windows programs, and anything else….then you’re like me.  I’m on a 15″ MacBook Pro with an Intel Dual Core 2.66 GHz processor and 8GB’s of RAM.  When on the move, the laptop is fantastic, and when at my desk I use the Apple 24″ display with a Magic Mouse and full Apple keyboard.  I have yet to find something I couldn’t throw at this setup.

Picking your Apple hardware is a lot simpler than picking your next Windows machine simply because your Apple choices are limited.  I think the MacBook Pro series and iMac series are the best bang for the buck in the Apple line-up.  Everything else just fills a niche in the market in my opinion.  But as I stated earlier, your mileage may vary.

Is Apple hardware more expensive?  Yes.  Is it more expensive over 2-4 years?  No.  Apple’s are fairly “future-proof” right out of the box.  In my experience, I am typically looking to add more RAM, then a graphics card, then an extra battery for my laptop, then a ____ to my PC within the first year of ownership.  It might be $800 cheaper to buy that PC vs. a similarly equipped Apple, but when I add that new RAM, that new video card, and those other things I am right near or over that $800 difference.  ….by the way, I just pulled $800 out of the air – that is not a factual dollar amount for the difference between an Apple and a Windows machine.

Software

This is what it is really about.  Yes, that Apple hardware is beautiful and those glass screens really make everything on your monitor pop, but the real beauty is in the sofware.

After living off of PC’s for years I was not prepared for the surprise I got the first time I installed all my programs on a Mac.  Holy crap – you’re telling me all these things not only keep a uniform look and feel, but they can also work together using the Mac operating operating system?  Wow, why didn’t that happen on my PC?  So, Apple has these things called Cocoa and Grand Central Dispatch that work inside the operating system to get programs speaking together and then using my hardware to deliver things to me based on what needs the most resources at the time?  So this is where a lot of that seamless integration comes from along with not necessarily needing to change up my hardware as often!  ….this was one of my first ah-ha Apple moments.

apple-osx-leopardOperating System
Snow Leopard brings with it a bundle of standard features that make life so much simpler.  If you need to make a VPN connection to your secure dealership network, that’s built in.  If you are mobile and need to use your cell phone as an Internet connection, that’s built in.  Ever put a sticky note on your monitor?  Yep, that’s built in.  Need to take a screen shot to show what is happening on your computer?  That’s not only built in, but you have the option to take a full screen shot, a shot of your active window, or just a piece of your screen with the extra option to save as a GIF, JPEG, or PNG (with drop shadow for better looks).  Instead of hitting the “Print Screen” button and then pasting, you can now easily insert your screen shot into any program without having to edit it first (Windows 7 now offers this).  Do you have multiple network drives or a drive you backup to?  That’s not only built in, but you can use Time Machine to create a backup schedule that works in the background without significantly slowing down your work progress.  Do you connect to multiple monitors or a projector?  Snow Leopard can be set to remember up to your last 10 displays you connected to, so the next time you connect to that display everything pops up instantly without having to go through display settings and configurations.  If you’re on a laptop, and doing a multitude of things, try Spaces to emulate the kind of workspace you’d have when working on up to 16 monitors!  Yeah, I can go and on about the Apple operating system.  Yes, you can buy or download a program to do each of these things on a PC, but nothing works so well as stock, and stock has never worked so well!

Browsers
Firefox is definitely the clear winner on a Mac because of plug-ins and how many programs are written to work together with FireFox.  Safari is nicer than Internet Explorer, but Chrome and Camtasia are nice too.  If you have a software that absolutely won’t work without Internet Explorer, then there is a solution for that as well (keep reading).

screen-capture-2Mail, Calendar, Address Book and syncing
Apple Mail (email) in Snow Leopard works well with Microsoft Exchange 2007.  The real beauty of Apple Mail comes in Smart Mailboxes.  Instead of doing searches or keeping a bunch of folders, you can setup Smart Mailboxes with tons of options that will always find or sort your mail as you wish.  There is also a bounce feature for those pesky spam emails (COMMAND + SHIFT + B) that bounces an email back telling that spammer your email address does not exist.  Through this alone I have cut my spam email down by at least half. There are some drawbacks to Mail.  Apple believes the recipient of your email has set the default font for viewing your email and you shouldn’t set your fonts in respect of your recipient’s preferred fonts.  If your recipient hasn’t changed their font views, then all your emails are in 12 point Times New Roman font – I don’t like that.  And if your recipient hasn’t set how they want to view images in their email, Apple Mail inserts graphics and PDF’s as fully displayed inside the email, so they don’t show as downloadable attachments to the recipient unless you right-click the image or PDF and tell Mail to show them as icons.  You can purchase a plug-in from Lokiware that will insert all your attachments as icons.  Of course, Apple Mail isn’t your only option – there are two email clients from Mozilla (the makers of FireFox) called Thunderbird and SeaMonkey.  There are quite a few others, but the next most popular is Microsoft’s Entourage which is their Mac version of Outlook.  The funny part about Microsoft’s Entourage is that is it doesn’t play nice with all Microsoft Exchange Servers – huh?

Calendar and Address Book are separate programs from Mail.  If you use Entourage, you can combine everything, but almost every Mac program can use Calendar and Address Book, so that is why they’re separated.  If you take advantage of Bento or FileMaker for database building, then you’ll appreciate this separation.

screen-capture-3Syncing is great with Microsoft Exchange 2007.  In some ways I’ve found the Apple world to work better with Exchange than the PC world.  You can put things together with Google, MobileMe, and just about any other calendar or address book with the exception of HotMail (another Microsoft product).  It does take some tweaking to get HotMail to work, but it takes some tweaking to get it to work properly with other Microsoft products as well.  Of course, if you have an iPhone, the Apple world gets so much better in the syncing department!

Graphic & Video Softwares
Remember the days when people said that Macs were only used by graphic designers?  There’s probably a good reason for that!  First off, everything looks better on a Mac display.  Sorry, that isn’t just my opinion, it is fact.  Their gamma and color settings are just more true, and when you pair that with the glass monitor it all just comes together.  Photoshop has a lot more flexibility and customization settings, and the same goes for just about any other program in the Adobe Creative Suite.  On top of that, these programs “float” on your desktop allowing you to view one image in Photoshop while you’re simultaneously working with a vector graphic in Illustrator.  It just makes sense.

screen-capture-4Office software
You’ve got 2 ways you can go here:  Microsoft Office for Mac or iWork by Apple (you can use OpenOffice too).  Either way you go, you’re going to have a little bit of a learning curve coming from a PC because neither work the same as a PC.  Microsoft has stated that with Office 2011 for Mac they will make it more like the PC version.  This is one area where the PC currently trumps Apple.  However, it is the one area where I’m seeing more updates and additions than any other.  I foresee the office software environment being a very even playing field in the near future.  Yes, you can absolutely still accomplish everything you can on a PC today inside Powerpoint, Excel, and Word with the exception of some very high function Excel algorithms that maybe NASA developers use.  The one thing that annoys me the most about working in Office for Mac is the toolbox.  Instead of having all your normal font editing functions in the the actual working window itself, they’re all separated into an entirely different window.  Only Microsoft would do this crap.

iWork on the other hand, does include all your normal functions in the areas you’d expect to see them.  I have not spent a great deal of time in iWork yet, so I can’t comment as deeply.  I do love Keynote over Powerpoint and would like to learn Numbers a bit more.  I’d like to switch from Excel to Numbers one day.

screen-capture-5Windows and Microsoft-only softwares
As the car business has been dominated by Windows and the PC, there are still some products that will only work in a Windows environment.  The biggest ones who absolutely refuse to code for a Mac are DMS companies.  As our ADP contract is coming up, we have been talking to all the various DMS companies and I’ve asked all of them if they have something for a Mac – the response is laughter….my thought is “yeah, keep chuckling smart guy.”  DMS companies are another matter of frustration, but there is a workaround to make their solutions work on a Mac:  VMware Fusion or Parallels are products that create a virtual machine inside your Mac.  You can be running things as normal and have Windows running too – pretty cool!  If you want to install another operating system, or have a version of Windows XP and Windows 7 running along with Snow Leopard go right ahead.  Either of these two programs will take care of all your Windows programs.

When Apple released OSX (Leopard) they also built in a feature called Boot Camp which can launch a totally different operating system when you first start your computer up.  So if you always wanted the Apple hardware, but not the Apple operating system, you can run Windows completely on an Intel Mac.  This is good for gamers.

screen-capture-6Other Mac softwares
There is a whole new world of stuff out there that is coded by Mac people for Mac people.  Ladies and Gentlemen, this stuff is FANTASTIC!  For instant chat I use Adium.  For FTP uploading CyberDuck is great.  And my absolute favorite Mac-only tool is 1Password which stores all your passwords, credit cards, personal information and plug directly into FireFox and Safari for quick log-ins and online purchases.  It can also generate passwords for you.  I have it syncing with DropBox and my iPhone so I can access my passwords anywhere.  And for you IT geeks, 1Password is encrypted.  Keep in mind that Macs have been most popular with the graphics, video, and music crowds so the applications and plug-ins for your favorite softwares, in those genres, are unbelievable.  There is just no comparison in this area between the Microsoft and Apple worlds.

Cons of moving to a Mac
I’ve already discussed how poor the Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac suite is in comparison to Office 2007 for a PC…..I guess I should say that it isn’t disgusting – it just isn’t as good.  And, you have to factor in that some CRM systems (AutoBase, HigherGear, the server-based ones), definitely your bigger DMS companies, and all of the dealership chat tools currently on the market are all written for Windows, so you will have to purchase VM Ware or Parallels with a good copy of Windows (I suggest XP because it isn’t a resource hog).  If you’ve always been on Windows you’re also going to struggle with your initial migration.

Things are simpler and cleaner on a Mac and you’re going to have to un-learn a lot of the workarounds and hoop-jumping you didn’t even realize you’ve been doing in your daily Windows computing.

The un-learning can be frustrating.

Expense
Yes, a Mac is more expensive than a PC right off the bat.  Over the long-term they’re about the same (already covered this).  However, Apple operating systems are hundreds of dollars less than Windows operating systems.  Apple software is typically sold with a bundle of activation codes so you can install your software on multiple machines even when only paying for one copy.  In this regard I suggest making friends with someone who is sufficient with Macs and has a decent amount of software.  That person can really help you in the expense territory!

Any questions?  Feel free to ask in the comments below, and I will answer.

Alex Snyder

Alex was one of the automotive industry's first eCommerce Directors. Whether it is the latest Internet trend or the oldest selling philosophy, Alex Snyder has a unique approach to the automotive business because of his years of experience. During these years Alex was introduced to Jeff and became a integral part of DealerRefresh. Alex has since moved from the front line of the dealership and is now the Senior Director of Product Design at Dealer.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  1. [...] Why Mac?  It is just easy.  Nothing more needs to be said, but if you want to read more on my switch to Mac, check out Making a Mac work in a Car Dealership. [...]