How to ask for help from the Mac IT guy

By John Welch

Macworld’s core mission is pretty simple: To help Mac users.

One of the most obvious ways we do that is by answering questions: “How do I….?” “This should be working but it’s not….” “What’s the best way to….?” But there has always been one kind of question we’ve tended to neglect, and we’d like to change that.

What is IT?
Macs are becoming more common in small- to medium-sized businesses. As they do, they’re mixing with Windows PCs, sharing resources like printers and file servers, connecting into and out of the corporate network, and generally trying to fit in.

But because of the predominance of Windows PCs in business networks, the information technology (IT) people who manage those networks aren’t always as Mac-savvy as they might be. True, there are some Mac IT resources available—mailling lists and the like. But because of the kinds of personalities IT attract, those resources can sometimes be a bit…terse.

More importantly, there are all kinds of IT people. Some are trained professionals. But many of them just stumbled into it. In some small businesses, the IT person is the head of the company (who also serves as CFO, HR department, administrative assistant, and janitor). No matter their background or training, we’d like to help IT people by answering their questions about Macs.

We’d also like to help another group of IT folks: Those who use Macs themselves to do their jobs. That isn’t as surprising as it might  seem at first: Because you can run any pretty much any operating system on a Mac, it’s a powerful and popular IT machine. But information about using the Mac as a network management tool isn’t always easy to find; perhaps we can fix that.

Finally, we’d like to answer questions from end users who are trying to use Macs on a company network. Maybe they aren’t getting the help they need from their own IT department. Maybe that IT department has been outsourced. Maybe it doesn’t even exist. Those users have IT-related questions, too.

How to ask
So if you’re an IT person yourself, or you just need one, we’d like to hear from you: Ask your Mac-related IT questions, and we’ll try to answer them. The way to do that is simple: E-mail us at macitguy (at)

It doesn’t matter if how big your network is. It doesn’t matter if you want to know about the finer points of directory service integration or you just want to know what directory service is: If you’ve got an IT question that relates in some ways to Macs, we’ll try to give you a good answer.

The better your question, the better, (and faster) the answer. So, for example, this is not ideal: “We have a bunch of Macs in our office, and we’re trying to connect them all to a printer, and nothing works, what do I do now?” Better:  “We have five iMacs (2009 models) and three MacBook Pros (2008 vintage) in our small office; they’re all running Mac OS X 10.6.4. They’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, which is secured via MAC address access lists and WPA-2 encryption; our Airport Extreme base station has all the latest updates. We’re trying to share an HP Color Laserwriter 5550n, which is connected via Ethernet to the base station; we’re using Bonjour to connect to it. The Macs can see the printer. But when we try to print from Word 2008, we get error message. What can we do?”

Don’t fret if you don’t have all of that information or if you don’t know the right lingo. Just provide as much information as you can. Also, let us know where you fit into the equation: Are you the IT person? If so, how much experience do you have? If you’re worried about divulging details that might compromise your network’s security, just flag those in your e-mail and we’ll be sure not to repeat them in public. But do send along everything you can.

Of course, we won’t be able to answer every question we get. But we’ll try to answer the ones that we think will be of greatest interest to the greatest number of readers. And remember that, in any Q&A column, the author’s answer is often only the beginning: Some of the best information comes out in the comments, as other readers chime in. Our job will be to select the questions, provide the best answer we can, and then open up the floor to further suggestions.

Enough with the explanations. Ask away.

John Welch is IT Director for The Zimmerman Agency, and a long-time Mac IT pundit.

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