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Macs in Business: “Style and functionality? A Mac for that architect!”

By Chris Hunt (chris_h@macedition.com) and Tony Leggett (tleggett@macedition.com), 2 October 2000

[Editor’s note: The Brian Miller mentioned in this article has no association with Brian Miller, a MacEdition staff member]

Macs and architecture? It seems an unlikely combination, as one of the more powerful industry-standard tools, AutoCAD, runs only on Windows. This hasn’t stopped Brian Miller, who set up his Milwaukee-based firm, the Miller Architectural Group (MAG), in 1995 using Macs.

Given AutoCAD’s popularity, and Apple’s gloomy prospects in 1995, one would have to ask from a business perspective, “Why not AutoCAD on NT?” For Miller, the answer is quite straightforward. “AutoCAD is a dog,” he states candidly, “It’s like the Word 6 of CAD programs.” Miller used AutoCAD briefly but found it unintuitive and the technical support overpriced.

Instead, Miller uses VectorWorks and says the switchover was painless and fast. VectorWorks, formerly the Mac application MiniCAD, is a powerful and popular cross-platform CAD package. In the year since MAG started using VectorWorks, they have converted completely from hand drawing to CAD for production drawings, and have made limited use of the modeling and flythrough abilities of the program.

So, what was it about the Macintosh again?

Given that VectorWorks is cross-platform, one still has to ask, “Why Mac?” Personal preference is one element, but Miller cites several tangible benefits, including lower support costs and better productivity. “No client will pay us any more (or less) because we use a different platform,” says Miller. “The loss of one workstation in productivity can destroy a delivery date in a small firm like mine, which would actually lose money for me due to loss of clientele.”

Architecture is about style as well as function. On the style end, Miller believes Macs “project the image of our office better.” Who’s to argue when a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh is one of the first things to greet walk-in customers?

Wireless networking is another factor – the offices are AirPort-enabled. Miller says, “I love AirPort; it’s a trip to meet with clients by walking over with my computer, and accessing everything from the conference table without wires.”

The decision to stick to the Mac platform has so far paid off. The company had humble beginnings – a PowerBook 145 and a Performa 6220. It now has a whole stable of Macs on active duty. A Motorola StarMax does duty as a document server, serving two B&W G3s (with matching 21" Studio Displays), a 300Mhz “Wallstreet” PowerBook G3, a G4, and a Grape iMac as workstations. A loaded 500Mhz “Pismo” PowerBook G3 is used for running the business end. There’s also a Tangerine iBook that employees take home to do training on.

What about the rest of the business?

The firm uses Photoshop for working with images of buildings, and converts their CAD files, including specs, to PDF for distribution. Canoma, a 3D package from MetaCreations, is a favorite in Miller’s toolkit for creating preliminary models of existing buildings. [Ed. – Canoma is currently being transferred to Adobe.] Scheduling is done on AEC FastTrack, and almost everything else on Appleworks, which Miller describes as “the Swiss Army Knife of computer software.”

A lonely Acer PC, used for a brief flirtation with AutoCAD on NT, sits holding down papers in the office. “We don’t use it anymore for checking compatibility of files before sending them out,” Miller says. “Now, we just fire up AutoCAD using Virtual PC.”

Like many businesses, life as an all-Mac shop has not been a total bed of roses. They swapped to MYOB’s accounting package after Intuit all but dumped its Apple support for QuickBooks. [Ed. – Intuit still offers some token Mac support with QuickBooks Pro 4.0]

For anyone contemplating making the swap to MYOB, Miller has this advice. First, make the swap at the start of the financial year and second, you may want to brush up on basic accounting. And don’t be afraid to ask MYOB for help – “I am very happy with MYOB’s support,” says Miller. “I hope they continue to see the value of supporting businesspeople like me.”

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For the Miller Architectural Group, a Mac solution has meant lower support costs, greater productivity, and machines that enhance the presentation of the office. Innovations like Airport have also proven to be much more than a simple gimmick. “All in all, I cannot imagine trying to do all this stuff half as effectively using anything but our Macs,” says Miller. “And a lunchtime net game of Diablo or Marathon doesn’t hurt either.”

The MAG website is still being constructed but if you need their services Brian Miller can be contacted at miller1661@aol.com.

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