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What’s your preferred operating system? What would you do if somebody told you not to use that operating system? While many people make this adjustment automatically as part of their jobs, there is a growing number of businesses out there that gives their employees freedom to use their operating system of choice. It can be challenging, but it is possible to combine Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux on the same network if that is what you desire.


Why Do This?

Before you start mixing and matching operating systems, it is worth asking why you should bother mixing and matching operating systems on a business network. There are a few reasons to consider this system. It gives employees more comfort with their work computers, since they can use the same settings at work that they use at home. That level of continuity is valuable. It also allows you to tailor your office hardware to the needs of individual employees. For example, an accountant might make the most out of a Windows platform, but a graphic designer might be able to use the strong hardware and rich features available with Mac OS X. It is possible to cater to the needs of both employees.

Perform Frequent Software Updates

The further into the future we go, the more operating systems are striving to maintain compatibility with other systems. This is becoming especially true in a mobile world where somebody’s computer might run on Linux, their tablet might use a Windows base, and their smartphone might use a Mac interface. Because of this, many operating systems are building in compatibility patches that allow Mac users to access Windows programs and vice versa. When using multiple operating systems on your network, you should make sure that you keep all software updated as often as possible. If you choose not to use automatic updates, you should have your IT personnel perform an update at least every month.

Modify your Share Settings

By default, operating systems assume that they are communicating with computers using the same operating system. When using multiple systems on one network, this can cause a few hiccups unless you take the time to make sure you have the proper compatibility. When setting up a computer or device on the network, you need to modify the share settings to allow other network users on different systems to access the appropriate files. In Windows, this means going to Sharing and Security in the Explorer folder window and altering settings appropriately. Macs have a Sharing section in their System Preferences menu that allows Windows sharing. Linux requires use of the Network Services menu.

Adjust Firewalls

This is an especially important step to take with any Windows PCs hooked up to the network. Windows and some other operating systems have no problem sharing with computers using the same system on the network, but may sometimes detect other operating systems as a potential threat. You should make sure to add the local addresses of all devices to the trusted list on your firewall. If you still experience problems with a Windows or Mac computer, you might want to try switching to a different workgroup to see if those settings work. It may take a little finagling, but once you have the firewall settings established you shouldn’t have to change them again and everything should run quite smoothly.

Establish a Policy

Just because employees now have the capability to use multiple operating systems on the same network doesn’t mean that they should go wild. As with any addition to a network, you should communicate to your employees the reason why you are allowing multiple operating systems and the relevant information about what devices are permitted and what aren’t. You should definitely allow as much latitude as possible with mobile devices, since employees will often use their personal phones or tablets to do professional work. Other matters should be reviewed on a case by case basis. No matter what your policy, it is important that you communicate it clearly and consistently in order to minimize confusion.

Using multiple operating systems on the same network means adding a lot of flexibility to your business network. It can also help employees feel more comfortable with their positions and provide them with a small feeling of ownership over their position. You will find that as long as you follow the advice above and apply just a little patience, the use of multiple operating systems opens up all sorts of possibilities to your employees and your business.

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