by Jennifer Paire

New software and hardware are helping orthodontists to be flexible when it comes to computers

Like many in the orthodontic profession, Alan Jones, DMD, of Huntsville, Ala, has faithfully used his Mac-based Quick Ceph® for years alongside his PC-based office computer system.

His Macs and PCs coexisted, and his Quick Ceph data could be shared with his Windows® server through open file sharing. It certainly worked, but it wasn’t the most flexible system: His Macs and PCs weren’t the comical acquaintances represented by recent Apple Computers commercials. But that has changed.

“If, like me, orthodontists have felt Quick Ceph would be their preferred diagnostic software but have doubted or wondered if the Mac platform would ever work seamlessly with a PC, that day has arrived,” says Jones, who uses Windows-based Ortho II ViewPoint as his practice-management system.

Using virtualization technology, Windows XP will operate on the newest Intel® Core™ Duo Macs simultaneously with the Mac OS X operating system, giving orthodontists the ability to run applications side by side on a Mac regardless of platform.

“Now, using a MacBook coupled with a VPN [virtual private network], I am able to access my office server and my private office PC from my home and work as if I were at the office,” Jones says.

Macs and PCs

The popularity of Apple’s iPod® line has elevated the Mac, as have two other developments: In the hardware department, Macs ship with a processor based on Intel Core technology—new processor innovations packed into an incredibly small space that conserves power. A third-party software program, Parallels® Desktop for Mac, uses Intel Core Duo Virtualization Technology to operate Windows XP on a Mac simultaneously with the Mac OS X operating system. Another company, VMWare, Palo Alto, Calif, has released Fusion, a beta for a similar product, VMWare Desktop Product for the Mac.

After test-driving Parallels last year, Wall Street Journal Columnist Walter S. Mossberg, an expert on personal computing, summed it up this way: “It’s like having two computers in one, the best of both worlds.”

It’s true that there are more PCs than Macs in the orthodontic profession, but Macs do have a strong history. Most of the software available in orthodontics runs with Windows, but two programs continue to be true to their Mac roots: Quick Ceph® Systems, a 20-year favorite in imaging, and topsXtreme™, an orthodontic practice-management system that has grown by word of mouth for 14 years.

“It seems like Parallels has opened a lot of new avenues for us, especially integrating new services,” says Quick Ceph Chief Technician Ton Luu. “A lot of our users in the past have used Invisalign® or OrthoCAD™, and those are companies that didn’t want to redevelop their products for the Mac.”

But Luu says that is not the most exciting change among orthodontists. “The biggest change we have seen is the ability to run practice-management programs right from their Macs, and they really love that. If they have a Windows platform, they can run that on their Macs using Parallels.”

Mark Sanchez, DDS, who developed topsXtreme, which was created for the Mac, says it was built to act as a digital hub in a profession that relies heavily on PCs.

“That model has given practitioners the freedom to pick and choose whatever applications they prefer for x-rays and imaging, and they have the benefit of the Mac, which is so important in a medical field that relies on visuals and security,” Sanchez says. “Parallels puts tops and all the rest on the same screen with incredible speed, cutting costs and increasing performance because of the Core Duo technology.”

Sanchez chose Mac hardware and its operating system for topsXtreme because the machines are plug-and-play, extremely sturdy, and virus-free.

“To me, it just made a lot of sense to have access to Windows-based programs, but to ultimately house crucial information in a system that is truly secure.”

Parallels in Practice

Orthodontists have wasted no time test-driving Parallels with orthodontic software. Keith Dressler, DDS, of Chattanooga, Tenn, finds it easy to set up and use. “Having a Mac would in no way hinder your PC use for the things you may like the PC better for, so it’s truly a wonderful combination of both worlds,” he says.

Dressler is mindful of his XP use, running Parallels for what is needed and closing it when he’s done. “From a security standpoint, we get on Windows XP and Parallels, and as soon as we are finished we close it so we don’t have to add any anti-virus software,” says Dressler, who uses Windows applications alongside his tops system. “Viruses would never affect the operating system of the Mac, but they could affect the operating system for XP. One of the things I love about the Mac is I don’t have to deal with any of that stuff.”

Other technology providers are noticing Parallel activity among users. Jay Phelps, Southeast sales director for OrthoCAD, expects Parallels to make it easier for Mac users to access OrthoCAD technology. “They don’t have to worry about having a separate machine on the side to run our software,” Phelps says. “As long as they have the newer Macs and Parallels, they are up and ready to go and they don’t lose any performance.”

New Twist on an Old Story

Robert P. Scholz, DDS, of San Leandro, Calif, an owner of the Windows-based practice-management system Ortho II, says users have run Ortho II on Macs for several years. “Our objective at Ortho II is to say, ‘I don’t care what imaging you use, we can interface with you,’ ” Scholz says. “We solved that problem a long time ago.”

Scholz says the polarized mentalities that used to push PC and Mac users apart are not so strong anymore, but the PC is predominant. “Before, you were a Mac guy or a PC guy, but you couldn’t be both,” Scholz says. “The average guy knows the basic fact that 95% of the world uses a PC and Windows is very user-friendly.”

All or Nothing

Some orthodontists simply choose to have a practice powered by one computer or another. Brett Olm, DDS, of Green Bay, Wis, recently opened a new office that he calls “PC-free.”

“I completely attempted not to have them. Knowing the hassles of all the updates, virus software, I didn’t want to deal with it. You should be able to just go to work and practice orthodontics and believe the technology is behind you.”

Olm says the best part about using Mac hardware is that the machines are loaded when they are purchased, so there is not a lot of configuring required to plug them in and begin working. “The worst part was the preconceived notions of what IT people think,” Olm says.

Edward Y. Lin, DDS, also of Green Bay, Wis, has about 100 PCs networked with Dolphin’s practice-management and imaging systems. He has a full-time IT manager tracking the systems among three offices.

“The problem I see with Macs is there aren’t enough applications in orthodontics,” Lin says. “I am all about using different technology and doing what’s best. We try to maximize everything.”

Having invested heavily in his systems, Lin says he has learned to wait and research new technology so that any quirks work themselves out. For example, he is waiting to see what happens with Windows Vista®.

Managing the investment and costs associated with technology is also important. Adding Parallels to a Mac requires the software, about $80, and a Windows XP license, which retails for at least $300.

“It makes me think I could put some Macs in, but then the question is compatibility and what kind of glitches could occur with updates.”

Parallel Universes

Lin’s concerns are the kind that Benjamin Rudolph is accustomed to. As marketing director and resident Mac geek for Parallels, Herndon, Va, he is working to dispel the notion that the program is anything other than what it is: virtual. It makes Windows reside in the Mac, virtually.

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An application will run in Parallels exactly the same way it will run on a PC, Rudolph says. He is not surprised that in some cases, orthodontic software vendors have been hesitant to talk to their users about their products operating with Parallels.

“This is a very common thing we run into,” Rudolph says. “It is entirely because there is a misconception of what Parallels is and how it works. When you run Parallels on your Mac, you are running in a virtual environment. It is running on hardware that is really not there.”

Virtualization is a tool that can eliminate computer frustration and increase productivity.

“It’s not up to us to push but to educate,” Rudolph says. “It’s not a question of which machine is best for this. It’s which application is best for the job. You just run the operating system for that application. You don’t have to be a Mac guy or a Windows guy.”

Jennifer Paire is the director of marketing for Cogent Design Inc, Marietta, Ga. She has written professionally for newspapers and magazines for 16 years, with an emphasis on business and technology. She can be reached at (770) 645-2488 or