Below are the thoughts from a computer professional who has spent the last 10 years supporting Mac, Windows, and Linux computers in a variety of network applications. By no means will this general tips section be exhaustive -- that is what a good book is all about. I am also not going to spell out how to do everything by hand -- if you have a question, please post it to the Mac forums, and let our team of moderators look into the solution.
Let's get started:
Every new computer that I receive coming out of a box, either for work or play, first gets booted up with the supplied disk setup, where I copy any vendor supplied information to a CD-ROM or network device. I then reboot with the supplied CD-ROMS and build the computer from scratch by myself. Why do this? So that I know what is installed, and can control the installation. I like to control the software that I am going to work with. I can also decided to throw in extra things, such as the development tools that OS X provides (compilers and the X environment).
Partitons. I like to partition the large hard drive into three: A system partition, an applications partition, and a data partition. By doing this, I isolate my data from logical errors, such as if the OS becomes unstable, and I need to re-install. If the system comes corrupted, that damage will be isolated from my data partition (unless the corruption deletes / destroys files). Partitioning does not protect against physical hard drive failure, but will give you more options.
OS 9. OS 9 was, in many ways, Magical that all of the system files were kept in the system folder. You could take that one system folder, and copy it to another similar machine (model number), change the sharing name, and boot it and away you go. If you wanted to backup your System folder to CD or external hard drive -- just copy it over. The newest Macs will no longer boot to OS 9, but if you have an older one, save off that OS 9 System Folder, and plug it in when you are done setting up OS X for classic programs. And if you did partiton your drive, you can easily change to boot to OS 9, and isolate the two system folders. My laptop has 3 system folders -- one for OS X, one for Classic, and one for pure OS 9. The Classic setup is a "minimal" OS 9, so that I do not load a lot of unneeded extensions within OS X.
Users. Consider setting up an administrative account, and a normal user account. Use the normal user account for daily things, and only go into the administrator account when you really need it. Also, under OS X, consider enabling the root user. This is done by using the Netinfo Manager.
OS X supports all kinds of networking options. The computers will issue DHCP requests, so you can get the dynamic IP addresses as needed. Macs can also file share, and participate in a number of networks.
Peer 2 Peer networks are when Macs turn on file sharing, and they communicate with each other. P2P networks can be defined over IP, or Appletalk. In order to turn them on, you will need to go into your System Preferences --> Sharing and then enable some services. For performance and security reasons, I would leave them disabled unless absolutely necessary. If you are going to keep various services enabled, make sure that you have accounts setup with proper security, so that outsiders do not get to information you need to protect.
Active Directory : Windows Apple is working to get Macs into Active Directory that the Windows people use to save data, and regulate permissions on a corporate network. Complete active directory logins is not fully ready to go... but for file sharing, you can, using OS X 10.3, make a connection to the server using the smb://servername/sharename syntax. The system should prompt you for a username and password. I believe they are case sensitive. Microsoft also has a UAM (user access module) available for download that will support encryption of usernames and passwords to the server. If the Microsoft server has Appletalk installed, you can also reference the share using afp://servername/sharename syntax. If you are having troubles writing to Windows sharepoints, check your permissions, and make sure that the volume is not locked. When 2003 servers setup Macintosh sharepoints, they lock the volumes by default. And, if you need to use Terminal Services, a free OS X RDP client is available from Microsoft.
Novell: Novell supports Appletalk, and you can login to their servers with typical usernames and passwords. You can print to Novell printers, although it really works well if the printer in question supports postscript. Novell has ported a number of tools to Linux, including ConsoleOne, and it is just a question of time before someone ports that to OS X. There is a version of RConsole for Mac OS X that does not use Java either.
Linux: Linux has software available to mimic Microsoft (samba), Novell (mars-nwe), and Apple (netatalk) servers. OS X will work with any of those services properly configured with username and password information, and the proper security permissions on the filesystem. OS X comes with SSH and Telnet, so you can interact with Linux from the command line rather easily.
The Mac, by design, is a very secure platform. Windows Viruses (aside from Office Macro Viruses) will not affect a Mac. Macintosh computers, through file sharing and emailing of files can infect other Windows machines, but a Windows virus will not have the right executable code to work with a Macintosh. Macs also ship with a number of outside services disabled.
User Security: Pick good passwords to use with your Macs. Do not always work with your computer in Administrator mode. Set your screensaver to require a password to access the computer. Do not install the patches the moment they are released via Software Update. Let the world take a crack at the patches first.
Firewall: Mac OS X ships with a firewall that is off by default. It is found in the System Preferences --> Sharing --> Firewall menu. Turn the firewall on (unless you are behind another firewall), and only enable what you really need. You do have the ability to add other port options as needed.
Antivirus: A great idea, but not an absolute requirement, unless you are interacting with a lot of Windows users. I am not all that impressed with Virex... their antivirus product conflicts with the Palm Sync software under OS X, and that is not so good for us with Palms. Norton has a product out there, along with Sophos.
Encryption: Encryption is available on the Mac. I have not explored the topic in detail, but it is available.
Backup Software: The Mac is a machine. It can lose data and corrupt things. Have a backup plan in mind. If you did the partitioning scheme suggested above, then all of your data is in one place. Burn a CD from that partition, or fire it off to a file server. If you want to use tapes, or a managed backup solution, Retrospect works really well. Don't worry about your applications -- they are probably on a CD somewhere. Be concerned about your data that doesn't exist elsewhere. Back it up.
Classic refers to a version of Mac OS 9 that is running "inside" of OS X. Classic is needed to run non-OS X programs on your Macinotsh. Think of classic as an emulator, similar to SoftWindows / Virtual PC. Classic can boot right away with the computer, or you can set it to load only when you need to run a classic program. You will know when you are in classic mode... the Apple in the right hand corner will change to the rainbow traditional one, and the fonts in the menubar will change.
If you want to take your old OS 9 Folder and use it for classic, you can do that. I would use the OS 9 extensions manager to thin down the OS 9 materials. If you have an OS X version of Palm Desktop, then you can disable the Palm materials from your OS 9 boot sequence.
What I did was keep my OS 9 System folder intact, and placed it on my Applications partition (see partitioning information above). I then made a second OS 9 System folder, and disabled a lot of the extensions that I did not need. If I want to go back to my pure OS 9 environment, I can boot directly to it. If I want to use my classic one within OS X, I can do that too.
Classic mode is a OS within an OS. Thus, if you are using a classic program, and need to print, you need to have that printer defined within the Chooser first. If you want to use internet programs within OS 9, you need to make sure that IP information is setup first.
Frequently Asked Questions
I would like to know what is inside my Mac. What are the tech specs? You can use a program called System Profiler inside your Applications --> Utilities --> System Profiler. If you want to see the whole Mac historical reference, check out Mactracker from www.mactracker.ca It has all of the Apple models in a database, along with common features and stuff. The creator even digitized the bootup tunes that the computers make.
Can I change where OS X stores user information? Yes, you can. Inside the NetInfo Manager, you can spell out where user home directories are located. Be very careful with this tool though. Read up on it before you start poking around here.
Does OS X write log files? As a UNIX, yes it does! Look in the Console utility to bring up the logs very similar to something you would see in a /var/log/messages from a Linux server.
How about Bluetooth and Rendovous? They are supported, but to what degree I am not sure. I own older Mac hardware (2000 is when my G3 Powerbook was made), and I do not have the ability to check that out yet. If someone wants to donate a computer for the cause, please contact me!
Can I minimize my install size by removing all the other languages? You betcha. I did. I do not read Chinese. I like their food, but cannot understand it, so I installed without the language extensions, and saved a lot of space.
You did not mention much about the Unix in OS X. I know. That is the subject of another day. I use Open Office on a regular basis, and really like it, but am not ready to publish here about it.
Will WIndows hardware work with my OS X computer? Yes and No. I have seen Windows-based CD-Burners work with OS X, and have seen Windows Wireless cards fail. USB floppy disks seem to work just fine across the board.
I have a Powerbook G3 with a PCMCIA slot, and looking for wireless solutions. What's available? There are not many wireless cards available for the Mac becausee a lot of the new computers come Airport ready. For those of us with good working computers yet (G3, 333 Mhz), the pickings are slim, but cards are available. I have an Ornico card that I purchased from MacMall for $80 or so, and a Buffalo Technologies AirStation 802.11(bg) port. Yes, it costs a bit more than the $30 Linksys card, but it does work, and works well.
Is there a Citrix Client? Yes there is. Look at their website.
What browser do you like to use? I like Safari, although I tend to use Mozilla's Firefox browser. I like blocking pop-ups, and not having to deal with other flaky issues that IE brings along. IE for OS X is a dead program -- Microsoft is no longer updating it.
How about email? I am a Eudora user from many years. I like the free Eudora client, and one of these days, should pay for it. I have also seen Mozilla's Thunderbird email client, and liked that. I just have an army of filters in Eudora that I am not ready to port to some other software.
How do I contact you? Send me a note through DaniWeb, or post to the Mac forum.
What is KC0ARF? That is my Amateur Radio (ham) callsign. I am very involved in ham radio, and particularly involved in severe weather spotting.
I hope you have learned some things about Macs, and if there are any comments / corrections, please send them forth.