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Which is better for WLAN support: Mac or Windows?

Choosing the right laptop for WLAN support usually boils down to Macintosh versus Windows. But of the two, there is only one OS clearly up to the task, our expert maintains.

When it comes to professionally supporting wireless network environments, it's easy to fall into a number of traps...

that lead to staff not having the best laptop for the tasks at hand.

Do you buy support laptops based on whatever model the latest organizational bulk refresh gets you? Maybe your purchases are limited to one OS because, "We're a Windows shop," or your techs favor one OS over another.

If any of these sound familiar, you're probably doing a disservice to your WLAN support capabilities.

Field staff simply has to be versatile

Before I talk about the laptop paradigm itself, there's a related issue to address. Time and again, I run into situations where support workers charged with figuring out what's happening in a trouble situation can't find their way around an OS because they are not used to it. Wireless connectivity has become far too pervasive. No one can afford to be without the basic competency necessary to support network settings and behaviors of Windows, OS X, iOS and Android.

If you can make your way around the more common Linux variants, as well, all the better. But bailing out on troubleshooting because you're "not really a Mac guy" is inexcusable. Get your support folks trained on all common device operating systems; it's an investment in your most important tools.

Find a laptop with the capabilties needed for WLAN support

About that laptop: It's complicated -- but not really

Regardless of the brand, I want the best equipment for the task, and I don't want to get gouged on price.

Regardless of the brand, I want the best equipment for the task, and I don't want to get gouged on price. I see the good and the bad in all operating systems, and I have no issue saying I generally find Apple products to be overpriced -- we all have our opinions. But when it comes to daily, professional-grade WLAN support, my mind is crystal-clear on the best laptop: I recommend the beefiest MacBook you can afford, with the most memory and biggest hard drive. I also recommend you use the built-in Boot Camp utility to partition the hard drive to allow for a robust installation of Windows 10, turning your new platform into a dual-boot, best-of-both-worlds powerhouse.

I've come to believe Apple generally has the best built-in WLAN support adapters that are well-integrated with the OS on the market. From the OS X side of the laptop, you'll be able to do native wireless packet capture in Wireshark, benefit from a range of built-in WLAN utilities that expose the granularity of the Wi-Fi connection and run the low-cost tools built by Adrian Granados. Even tools like Ekahau's Site Survey are finding their way to OS X.

Do you have favorite licensed tools that only run in Windows? The Boot Camp MacBook lets you keep them. And when you use the Windows OS on this platform, it becomes easy to forget you're on an Apple product. There just doesn't tend to be any issues in the Windows software running on contemporary Apple Mac hardware.

With this combination in hand, you can also do comparative troubleshooting of other devices that are built on either OS. The dual-OS paradigm plays extremely well on Apple's latest laptops, and it's the absolute best way to proceed as wireless professional.

It's very empowering to get the best of both sides of the box for WLAN support, and the simple truth is you don't have to choose OS X over Windows anymore.

This was last published in March 2018

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What laptop and operating system do you prefer for WLAN support?
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Unless you are a Freelance, any organisation standardise their laptops based on O/S and applications. Some organisations accepts to support both Windows and MACs while others select the O/S that fits the organisation's mission. It's usually not up to the users to switch from Windows to MAC because it might require different applications such as office, anti-virus, backup, CRM clients, etc... However, to troubleshoot WLAN you are better off with a specialized Fluke device which can stands on its own while the support specialist performs other tasks with his laptop.
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