I'm an IT guy who's never owned a Mac. What should I buy to learn about supporting them?

I’m starting to see more and more job ads out there that list Mac knowledge as a requirement. I’ve always had PCs at home and at work, and have barely touched anything Apple since playing Nanosaur on the G3 iMacs at school many many moons past (aside from a first gen iPod nano that was only ever plugged into my PC at home).

I want to buy something simple but relevantly modern to play with it, figure out how they work, how to use them, how to configure them, ultimately how to support other users of them.

Ideally I’d want a Macbook of some kind - most IT support is probably going to be of these, and knowing my way around one of their touchpads would be good. Having owned and worked with many Windows laptops in the past though, am I really likely to miss out on many Macbook idiosyncracies if I get a cheaper Mini with a Magic Trackpad instead? I don’t really have the desk space for a full-on iMac (or the budget for a Pro anything), but a Mini I could squirrel away somewhere and use with a KVM switch or something quite easily.

Also, I’d want to put an SSD in it for speed, if it doesn’t already come with one (and I’m assuming if I’m buying something second-hand it’s going to have a spinner in it). Is there anything in particular I should avoid to make life easier for doing this? (I’m not looking for step-by-step instructions, those I can find - if the decision comes down to two near-identical models and one’s easier to upgrade, I’ll go with that one.)

Lastly, the OS. I assume any Macs I’d ever support at work are going to be running the latest OSX. If I buy something second-hand, will I need to pay to upgrade to the latest? Anything I should consider to make wiping the drive and reinstalling from scratch any easier (especially if my first act is to put an SSD in it)? And stuff like bootcamp, to run Windows on the machine, same sort of question - assuming I want to try this at some point, what should I aim to buy/avoid to make that less of a hassle?

I know that’s a whole bundle of questions, but thanks for reading and for any answers you can provide!

Edit: Wow, thanks everyone - you’ve been unbelievably helpful. I did look at the Apple refurb store but (here in Australia at least) there’s only MacBook Airs and Pros which are all very recent and way more than I was budgeting for. Looks like I’ll be aiming to get a Mac Mini from 2011-2012ish.

If you’re looking at Mac Mini, the one to get is late 2012-mid 2014 production. Although the rare i7 ones are a little pricey due to demand, they and the dual core i5 can be upgraded with your own RAM and there are kits available to fit 2 drives in and ssd’s work fine. If you stumble across a 2012 Mini server, that is the same as the standard unit except it has 2 drives standard but they are 5400rpm. You can upgrade them to Catalina, though probably no further.

Macbook pro retina 15 mid 2012can be upgraded ram and ssd 2.5”. The late 2012 to 2015 model came with a very fast M2 style SSD can be upgraded SSD only though you need to use either genuine Apple or OWC and one other (Sandisk?). The OWC one works fine and with the i7 they are a screamer. OWC also offers an optional unit to place the old SSD in and use as a fast external drive.

Unlike M$, Apple’s os upgrades are all free since Mavericks as are their office suit programs. They don’t have all the bells and whistles of Office however once you take the time to learn they can do pretty much anything Office can do, including exporting in Office format.

Hope that helps. All these options available in Aus.

If you want to get an idea of what software for the Mac is like, you could take a look at macupdate.com. And for what is going on in the Mac universe, Macrumors can be useful. There are some good guides for various Mac applications and so forth at Take Control Books. For geeky stuff, search out Brett Terpstra’s site. That’s only a tiny sample, of course, and may not be what you are looking for, but the Mac is more than just the operating system or the machine.There are various popular applications and utilities that are Mac only.

As with most things, it depends… Are these support requirements for helping end-users configure software, network settings, etc? Or are they for maintaining Mac Pro desktops for high-end design work? For the latter, there’s no real difference in what you get, and getting a new Mini won’t matter much.

There are guides online for upgrading various mac hardware. For everything else, you’ll want to be able to help people configure Time Machine backups (and how to restore from one). Being familiar with SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner as an alternative way to image a new Mac with a department’s standard software and settings would probably help you land a job or contract. Getting to know the idiosyncrasies, and now to express sympathy with someone who hates Macs but has to use one in their new job vs. how to not annoy a Mac aficionado when you’re supporting them would also be a good way to sell yourself. Being able to address the “Total Cost of Ownership” debate in an even-handed way is probably as valuable as knowing how to turn off “Natural Scrolling”, which is something that I like but my wife cannot stand.

Topic moved to more appropriate forum. – Katherine

If you’re wanting to learn the IT management side of things, you’re going to need to learn one or more of the third-party frameworks out there for mass management of Macs. Natively, Macs don’t have all the same types of management interfaces built in that enterprise versions of Windows do, especially in a mixed environment like the one I help support.

If you already know Office 365, the Intune stuff is a good way to start – they don’t have the wealth of support for Macs yet that they do for mobile devices and Windows 10, but they are working on it. There are, however, other frameworks out there that I don’t know (since I don’t do the workstation side of things) that have a lot more capability. These help you manage Macs in the same ways that SCCM, Active Directory, Group Policy, etc. do for Windows.

Thank you my issue has been solved,…

If you have never bought a Mac, then I think you should go for basic model. Learn about Mac, how it works and what are the features you required. Then buy accordingly.

I worked 11 years as part of a four person support team, which supported a few over 1200 users and aproximately 2000 machines. We all had skills that overlapped but each of us were specialists in two or three areas. I ran the pc testing lab one the one hand and was the “Mac Guy” on the other, the part of the job that I found much more pleasant and less stressful.

I got the job, and was good at my niche, in small part because I had experience with Macs since 1986, but in great part because I knew hardware so well. I could tell you (at one time :slight_smile: ) which of the 12 revisions of the ATI Rage 2 were incompatible in which machine, etc, and found that silly level of nerd-dom fun for a few decades. (what a wast of life I think now! :slight_smile: )

What we found, that the Mac users were in contrast to the PC users much more independent and pains in a way, because they took this attitude “don’t touch my baby” and were the only people who occasionally refused upgrades and such. The PC users by and large just let us do whatever it was that we wanted to do. I found that though the Mac users were about 18 percent of the base, they only generated about 2 percent of our tickets, and most of. that was networking and email. (Novel Netware was awful on the Mac)

Things have changed a lot since I left in 2011, but in some ways it’s all still the same. One thing that I would like to mention is that no, one should not expect that machines to be the latest and the OS to be up to date. That I think was due to budget constraints, where while it is free and easy to upgrade the OS, it may break apps, and updates sometimes lag OS releases by months, and then often there is no budget to fund some of these exotic software package upgrades. The other thing I noticed over the years that it was always Mac users than had strange, exotic and sometimes very expensive software needs, that management didn’t have on their radar, They were in the PC world and so were aware of the PC license needs and would plan budgets around Oracle expenses but never think of Filmaker Pro for example, until budgets were all signed off on.

But what has changed over the years is that everything tends to be more reliable on both platforms and so I feel that a lot of the day now is spent on mundane tasks, which don’t really need a lot of exotic Mac knowledge. But when problems really come up, it often requires really deep knowledge.

My advice is to not really bother getting any soft of Mac for now, but instead, buy a drive caddy for your PC and install FreeBSD on it. MacOS is FreeBSD with a much more approachable package management system, which will push you to hone the skill that the Mac occasionally needs, but tends to hide from the user. As one example when you are in the finder and look at the “Go” menu pulldown, there is no local library visible. One has to know to push the option key at the same time, and presto, there is the local library visible, and that is one of the frequent first stops in any sort of software acting glitchy. It’s a beautiful thing that all the p.lists are plain text.

By first using FreeBSD, it will force you much faster to get familiar with the shell, the directory layout and the tools that most Mac users don’t use, or even know about, but any good Mac Techie needs at their disposal. Sorry for the long post, good luck and Happy new year.

Which means that you as the IT guy can earn the undying gratitude of the Mac users by making yourself aware of their “strange, exotic, software needs” and being an advocate for them when budget time rolls around.


Katherine, I spent years coming off as a Mac Nut, advocating for them every step of the way, even though much of my “skill set” was in the windows world. The deeper one dives into the Mac, both from a hardware perspective as well as OS and app support, the more one appreciates the underlying beauty of the ecosystem. But budget decision were never something any of us IT folks were privy to beforehand, and they really messed our lives up every so often. Many IT directors in those years in the late nineties, up to the middle part of the fist decade of the century saw the Mac as something that caused nothing but trouble and thought that the best move would be to get rid of them.

How I smile now, seeing the sucess of the platform. these are the good ol’ days. :slight_smile:

Mind you, as much as I dislike much about windows, I advocate for choice and multiple OS’s, including Linux. Each has their strengths and perhaps the major advantage is that only with competition do we get maximum improvement.