Dealership Communication Tools

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?


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.


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!

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.

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.

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
Alex, wonderful article! I personally find using an Apple computer in this industry to bring a unique twist to presentations, analytical work, and ulitmately a set of premium digital asset management tools that help us keep up :)

How many of the other machines in your store(s) have made the switch as well?

I've toyed with bringing in a workstation for larger internal video/graphics needs - It would definitely increase our output while helping reduce/eliminate a lot of extra costs...and it would be a ton of fun.
hallelujah Brother. One of the demands I made when I became the Internet Director for our three stores was that I have a Mac. Why? Pure efficiency. What takes hours on a PC I can do in minutes on a Mac. With video becoming so popular how could you use anything else but a mac. iMovie which is part of iLife ($79.00) can make you look like a Hollywood producer. I use iPhoto to organize all of my photos. Garageband is great for making your own soundtracks. I also edit all of our radio ads in Garageband. With the built in capabilities of preview (free on a mac) I can re size images and optimize them for the web. With all of the demand for diverse content by consumers the mac is the only way to accomplish all of this without a huge learning curve. I also run windows as BMW loves IE. With VMWare fusion my windows runs better on my mac that it did on my PC. Great post. All I can say is my mac helps me be a hero.

Did I mention that my personalized license plate says "Im a Mac"
I've been on a Mac for close to a year now in the dealership and it's excellent. I would be hard pressed to consider a PC again. I really enjoy using iMovie to edit dealership videos, it's awfully simple to use and makes it really quick to produce some great, clean, well done videos. One of the things that still amazes me is the battery life, I can usually make it through better then 6 hours of use without having it plugged in... crazy!

Alex is a man in the know and answered lots of questions I had when I made the switch, thanks for being such a great resource man!
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • February 23, 2010
Rub it in you Mac Driod! Now I want a Mac even more. Thanks Alex. Not really. :)
  • A
    Andy Wright
  • February 23, 2010
Already tried a Mac in the dealership environment a few years ago with zero success. A lot has changed since then as evidenced by this post. Good stuff Alex. My only problem: I like my PC and I like my Blackberry. I actually think they are simple to use. My wife and mom have iPhones. They are cool but filled with bugs and problems that I don't have with my Blackberry. I really like Macs because of their design but I just think they are more designed for consumer (retail) computing and artists and not for power business data users. I could be wrong. Regardless, when my Dell kicks the bucket, I'm gonna pull this post out of my saved file and reconsider Mac. This is really good info for people considering the switch. Thanks for the hard work it took to put this together. BTW...I have not found a program for windows similar to iMovie which is a big issue for the inhouse web video production we do. There's just no easy way to do what iMovie does on a PC. Mac definitely has a leg up there.
I have to say that I made the switch to Mac in August of 2009. Keith Latman of iMagicLab was the person who originally tried to convert me, and he is one hell of a salesman! But it was Khalid Kadrie who finally pushed me over the edge while he was interning at Checkered Flag last year. So, I guess I have to call Khalid my Mac Father because if I called him my Mac Daddy people might get the wrong idea.

Jeff - you know you want to. 17" MBP + 24" ACD and you're set.

Andy - glad to hear you're considering it again. Macs aren't for everyone. There is no way I would ever consider trying to talk my IT Director, Dealer Principle, or VP of Sales into switching.

By the way, I've converted so hard I am now on the iPhone and am trying to get more Apple into the house. I think this is the next project:
Haha! Alex, I don't even know how to respond to that..thank you?

Jokes aside, I'm delighted to read the posts from fellow Mac lovers. I believe that there are benifits of both the Windows OS as well as Mac OS X but when push comes to shove, the Apple is capable of doing both!
I have been using a Mac in the dealership for the last 3 years and I'm sad to say that I have chugged the koolaid.. There is nothing I can't do on it either (with the exception of Microsoft Visual Basic controls for Excel). If you ever feel on the fence about setting up a windows virtual machine, just remember that you will run into a website that just isn't compatible with Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc. You are going to eventually need IE running in a windows environment at some point in time. But this is very easy to do. Once you get accustom to Mac OS X, you will begin to understand the fluidity that it offers when you are knocking out your simple everyday tasks.

Bottom line:

Excellent article. Very comprehensive, and well written.
I just hope more and more things move to the web as connections get faster and faster so that I don't have to worry about what OS is running on my computer. I have used Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, etc., and they're all fine with me, though each has good and bad points, but there are still a few things that I need to do that only run on Windows.

As far as the DMS software, I have a feeling that soon you will be able to have your DMS on the web, encrypted, and not have to worry about Windows vs Mac, at least for that issue.
  • G
  • February 24, 2010
Yeah yeah yeah. Mac whatever. You won't see them in my dealership though because I won't support them. If someone wants to be different I'll install Linux. Linux works exactly like a Mac except it doesn't hide everything and treat you like your grandma (your words, reformed!)
Ha ha Ghen - spoken like a true IT Director!

I had to pull the Snyder-family card in order to get approval to use my Mac. And then I told our IT department I didn't want them to support it. So, I'm my own support.
Great article Alex. I made the switch back in August of 06. Started with our first 24" intel iMac. Today we have over 20 Mac's in the showroom. The worst IT problem we've had since that switch was the cleaning crew knocking the printer plug out of the socket and no one could understand why they couldn't print! That will teach me to go on vacation!

Alex, I think one aspect you fail to consider in the cost comparison are IT costs! We no longer need a full time in house IT professional! (Sorry Ghen) How much more expensive is a PC when you ad a $70k plus demo, plus benefits/year employee to the equation? I have an old PowerMac G5 at home set up as a server and it tasks jobs like software updates and pushes everything out over night. Rarely a need for manual maintenance. They just work! And that is the big difference. No more spyware and just works right every time.

Alex, I would recommend you familiarize yourself with iWork. It's a great product and once you unlearn Office, you will not want to go back. Again the seamless integration between programs is a stand out here and it is more robust with each product upgrade.

Our newest addition was a 17" Macbook Pro and a 27" Quad Core i7 - high def video is on it's way! Stay tuned!
  • M
  • February 25, 2010
I started using a Mac in-dealership about 4 years ago, and that has now grown to my personal machine, plus 8 iMacs in our stores for our photo process.

We shoot all of our new and used cars in photo studios in house, with lot technicians doing all of the work. The combination of Automator + Aperture to run sophisticated workflows giving us consistent results to do all of our photos in-house vs a third party vendor will save us tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention put a hell of a lot better product out for our customers.

IT support has been a minor issue - our IT staff doesn't want to support our Macs which leaves me to do it - but I might get 1-2 support requests a month so not overwhelming by any means.

I run Windows under Parallels for our Reynolds DMS access, Reynolds CRM (IE only), and for IE web development usability & site debugging for IE's non-standards compliance.

And for Ghen - most every thing you'd ever need admin access to is available in the GUI, and a Terminal window with root access if you really need it are easily accessible.
  • G
  • February 26, 2010
$70k plus demo, plus benefits/year employee

Holy crap, I'm getting screwed.. Where's my money and demo??! LOL.
With a little bit of know how and WINE ( you can run most versions of EraLink fairly effectively. This might eliminate the need to run windows through a VM.
  • M
  • February 26, 2010
@Evan you're probably right. If EraLink is all someone needs, WINE is a good solution that only seems to be getting better. Now that DarWINE got rolled into WINE, and .dmg packages in beta (winebottler) - that should be a realistic solution for even the less technically inclined within a few months.
LOL Sorry Ghen! Cost of living is high up here in MA!
  • J
  • February 28, 2010
I like the article, but one thing that isn't touched on are the lack of administrator controls to the desktop. When you are administering Windows computer, Active Directory combined with group policies provides invaluable time saving tools, like keeping a consistent desktop background, screensaver, configuring security policies, configuring all the trusted sites, IE security settings. Apple's server product is good and getting better, but with the vast majority of DMS and manufacturer sites requiring IE, I think larger dealerships full of Macs is a bit of a pipe dream. With that said, I run a hybrid approach where 3-4 users have a Mac for specific purposes (Photoshop/Quark eXpress/iMovie/etc.). They run Parallels with XP for all their Microsoft necessities, but even them as more technically savvy users run into issues. I had one user whose HP printer was incompatible with OSX, and another who forgets to switch devices between OSX and Windows when they need to open a DVD. Multiply those support issues out to a few hundred users, and I'll pass. I think that the automotive dealership of today can get some great benefits from using Mac, but are better served with Windows for overall support and compatibility.
I do not understand this whole Mac thing. I have one at home and still prefer my PC. Although the Mac by far is easier to use for the not so computer literate, the fact that software and printers at dealers have been developed with Windows in mind, there is no way in implementing a Mac environment at the dealership. Even if you use a Mac and make it work with your DMS, try calling them if something does not work (all you get it we do not support that platform and good bye)

At our dealership we have implemented copier/printers other than our DMS' suggested printers and trust me it was a %&*$@. Now that it is all working, it is great because we do not have to purchase pre-printed forms anymore, because we setup a seperate print server that adds the invoice background automatically when it prints. This has given us big savings on printing, but a hassle what support is concerned since we have another party involved.

In addition to problems with your DMS or other software, MACs are expensive and as they become more popular, they become target of hackers and virus writers more and more. That is why McAfee just released a Mac version of their anti virus software.

Anywho, I can see how one person at a dealership could use it if they are a little more savvy, but to support a whole dealership with 50 plus computers on a Mac?
Between my wife's Macbook and employees at work I am around 6 macs all the time. Of those 6, 3 have had major problems. Macs have all the same problems that PCs have. You just don't know very many people that have Macs so you don't hear about them.

Macs are a colossal pain in the rear for business use in a corporate environment. Network access, security, centralized back up and everything else that is important to an IT department.

At the end of the day, the operating system hardly even matter anymore. All most people ever use is an internet browser.

Snow Leopard fubared my wife's Macbook for some reason. She now has a wonderful Sony VAIO w/Windows 7 and is actually much happier. So I have a Macbook for sale...
Matt - I'm not the least bit surprised to hear that from you. In fact, as I was writing this article, I was thinking "how negative is Matt going to be when he comments on this one."

First paragraph - beg to differ. Your second paragraph shows that you have absolutely no clue what you're talking about. Your third paragraph is spoken as a true Windows fan. And your fourth - huh? I've never heard of Snow Leopard destroying a Mac.
Alex - we've been using MAC's for about 10 years in our dealerships. Yes, being the Marketing Director I'm bias. However I've been converting the PC faithful and they are finding that MAC's work better and faster! There is nothing and I mean nothing that the new MAC's cannot run...Reynolds, Reynolds CRM,,, vAuto, MAC will run them better than a PC.

Yes, MAC's are more expensive but in the long run you aren't fighting virus, speed issues, etc that cause you to spend extra dollars fixing a PC. MAC's are true workhorses for your business.

For the PC faithful, try using FUSION with XP on a MAC. It will run faster and smoother than running XP on your PC. I don't suggest using Vista or 7 yet, not because they won't work on the MAC but because those op systems have too many bugs and many vendors still don't have working programs with 7.

I will admit you will need to buy an Intel based MAC for this to work. DON'T buy an older non Intel MAC - unless you don't care about running PC programs.

Your dealership will run more efficiently, and cost less to operate - BUY a MAC!
Over 1 year later some more Mac applications to add to the list:
  • T
  • November 2, 2011
FYI I developed a MAC DMS using Filemaker software (cross platformed too)
Does a great job running a car business
Tom Droz