Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    New software really does the job of bridging the gap between PC and Apple platforms

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #300 July 25,1995 High Tech Office  column

    PCs make up about 80 per cent of all the computers in the world. The flip side of that statistic is that 20 per cent of all the computers are something other than what used to be known as IBM clones and compatibles. And about half of those, or about 10 per cent of the world's computers, are one model or another of Apple's Macintosh. (There haven't been any Mac clones, though that's just begun to change.)

    While those numbers would make the Macs seem almost insignificant, in some areas of business the figures could be reversed. Ask any graphic artist or page designer: in those trades and among the businesses that service them, Macintoshes remain overwhelmingly the machine of choice. And even though PCs have begun to make inroads in those areas, the newest Power Mac 9500s and their descendants will continue to be what most designers want to use.

    In most cases, though, those Mac users will find themselves needing to exchange files or data with the PC majority, or the reverse will often occur: stories written by a PC user will need to be transferred to a Mac user wanting to lay out pages for printing.

    It has become easier to mix the two platforms. Software allows each to read floppy disks formatted on the other platform, which wasn't always the case. In fact, older PC 5-1/4" floppy disks wouldn't even fit in a Mac drive without the help of scissors (don't even think of trying it!) and even though 3-1/2" double-density disks fitted into either machine's drives, they were incompatible.

    Now, Apple provides software called PC Exchange as part of its operating system, allowing Mac users to read and write from PC high-density floppy disks. And a number of add-on utilities provide the same abilities for PC users: if needed, they too can read and write to Mac floppies.

    As well, Macs with ethernet cards can now plug into PC-based Novell Netware networks for access to the wide range of data on those servers.

    If you have a new PowerMac, you can do even more. With the addition of enough ram (at least 16 megs) and Soft Windows software, you can pretend to be running a (slow) Windows PC, and run at least some Windows software. Or you can buy an add-in board with an actual 486 chip on it, getting the computer equivalent of multiple personality disorder, but actually running Windows software on your Mac in real time.

    But getting a PC file onto your Mac (or the reverse) may only be the first step. You still need to be able to use that file in your actual applications. In some cases, this is not a problem: more and more programs are available on both platforms and use the same files in both versions. If you can get your Mac PageMaker file onto your PC, you can load it into Windows PageMaker. And if you have the same fonts available, and if the graphics are compatible, you're ready to get to work.

    But this isn't always the case. Too often, you may need to load a PC WordPerfect file into Word on the Mac. Or you want to use a Mac PICT graphic in a PC program. You need to be able to translate those files into a form that's usable by your software.

    DataViz (1-800-733-0030) is a company that has made its reputation by specializing in this problem. It has a pair of programs--MacLink Plus on the Mac side, and Conversions Plus for Windows--to simplify the process of moving files between Macs and PCs and translating them into the format that your software can use.

    Both programs feature similar capabilities and interfaces: they let you read a foreign disk, and in a single step, copy data files, while translating them into your desired format. Both support most popular word-processor, spreadsheet, database, and graphic formats for both PC and Mac platforms. As a side benefit, they can also be used to translate files between programs on the same platform. For example, Microsoft has never seen a need to let Word for Windows users read files created in Lotus's AmiPro word processor, but Conversions Plus makes this possible.

    These programs also do a good job of preserving the look of your files--styles and formatting are preserved as much as possible, and even embedded graphics are usually converted correctly.

    Apple thinks highly enough of MacLink Plus that it has bought the rights to include it in its upgrade to operating System 7.5. If you're working in a mixed PC and Mac workplace, one of these $149 programs may be the solution you've been looking for.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan