From Windows 10 to Mac OS Sierra without admin privileges

Hi everyone, lately thanks to my manager and my new employer I was able to switch from a Windows 10 laptop to a shiny mac book pro  and I want to share with you some tips and tricks that probably you will encounter if you will do the same. First let’s start with the basics: why I have chosen to switch? Well I always (since 2009) had only Apple devices at home and I always loved the consistency and the “stability” of the Apple devices, but I never had the opportunity to actually “work” with a Mac , so this is also a learning for me. If you actually never used a Mac the first obstacle will be shortcuts like CTRL+C and CTRL+V , the mouse clicks (actually the right click on the track pad), the scrolling with 2 fingers on the trackpad and now the shiny and mysterious touch bar. Passed this first shock, you will quickly get used to the magic search experience of spotlight, the backup for dummies of time machine and the well known experience of the App Store.

Now let’s focus on the work related stuff: you can finally have on a mac also office 2016 but it is miles and miles away from the functionalities and easy of use of Office 2016 on windows, not super evident differences but if you use office professionally you will quickly find the missing pieces.

Solution ? Go the App Store, purchase Parallels Lite and enjoy Linux and Windows Virtual Machines. You will have VMs without being admin because Parallels Lite uses the native hypervisor available on Mac since Yosemite.

Thanks to this I was able to have back also several “life saving” applications that I use daily like PowerBi Desktop, SQL Server Management Studio and Visual Studio 2017. To be honest they have their versions in the mac world but the functionalities that are missing in those versions are too numerous to live only with that.

So I ended up having a windows 10 VM full of software, so why don’t use directly windows? Well , with the windows VM i can exactly use windows for the apps that are running great on that platform and if the system starts to be unstable I can still normally work on my mac without losing my work while windows does his own “things” 🙂 .

When needed I leverage an ubuntu VM with docker  and vs code with the same segregation of duties principle (main OS fast and stable, guest OS with rich and dedicated software).

Now I work several times in this way : sql server hosted on linux, I do import/export of external data easily with Sql server management studio from windows and I run pyspark notebooks on docker accessing the same data and finally I do visualizations with power bi desktop on windows.

In case, like me, you have strict policies around admin accounts , I want to share with you this: do you remember the concept of portable apps in windows? Well on the mac you can do the same with some (not all) the applications that are outside the App Store (you can install almost all the apps in the App Store without admin privileges).

The technique to have an application on mac “portable” is simply the double extraction of the pkg files and Payload files to one folder that you can access (like your desktop), you can check the details here and here and basically run those applications from the locations that you like.

The exceptions will be :

  1. Applications not signed by a recognized and well know developer or software house
  2. Applications that on start up will ask you to install additional services
  3. Applications that before being launched require the registration of specific libraries/frameworks

There are cases (like azure machine learning workbech ) where the installer it’s actually writing everything in you user account folders but the last step will be the copy of the UI app to the Applications folder and this will fail if you are not admin. The solution is to look a bit inside the installer folders and find inside the json files the location of the downloaded packages . Once you find the URL of the missing one (use the installer error message to help you to find the package he was not able to copy) , download it locally and execute the app from any location, it should work without problems.



Fintech for real in your pocket!

You probably heard thousands of times this word “fintech” floating around in newspapers, forums, websites, etc… Last month before going to U.S. for a 7 days trip , I read an interesting article about this young fintech company called Revolut and I decided just to install the app on my phone to play with it a bit….well from that moment and until I come back home from U.S. I made ALL my payments with Revolut, if you are interested in the details here the full story…

Day 1

Curiosity killed the cat we use to say, so I installed the app with all the precautions of this world, in other words I was ready to uninstall it at first sign of requiring my credit card details , bank account or something like that (paranoia mode on). Well the app just asked my cell phone, sms to confirm that actually it was me, some basic details (name, address, city, and country) and in less than a second I see appearing on my screen a…. brand new master card….WOW!!

I mean a real one! Just to verify that all of that was real, I went to my Amazon Web Services account and I set up this card as payment method and it worked like a charm! I immediately received a notification saying that 0 EUR where taken from my account that actually contained 0 EUR.

But let’s step back for a moment, why I’m talking of EUR if one of main reason I decided to experiment Revolut was my trip to U.S.?

Well Revolut gives you one account linked to your new master card and this account is divided in 3 subaccounts: one in EUR, another in Dollars and finally another one in Pounds, and you exchange money from one to another and the fee is actually ZERO! Yes they apply a very convenient exchange rate that is actually the same that you see on the exchange market (to be fair I verified that several times there is a minor discrepancy but we are talking of really cents over hundreds of dollars exchanged, but we will discuss this in detail later). 

Ok and what will happen if I have 100 EUR on my Revolut account and I pay a Shake Shack Burger (if you go to U.S. you have to try it, they are AMAZING!!) ? 

Well Revolut will automatically “on the fly” convert the right amount of EUR into dollars (again actual exchange rate no fees) and pay the burger!

All this conversion on the fly with no fees is valid also for a bunch of other currencies (see the Revolut website) so, for example, you can pay in CHF (swiss franc) in Switzerland for example and never worry about exchange fees.

Finally I saw the option: do you want to receive your Revolut master card at home (for free!)? Hell yes!

Day 3

After a couple of days, I received the shiny new master card and also the packaging it was incredibly well done (Apple style).

So after having a new digital master card, amazon approved, and also a new physical card delivered at home, I decided that I could put a minimum of trust on the platform and start to put some money on the Revolut account in order to cut all the usual exchange fees (usually everybody has been hit by these fees twice : a bad exchange rate that favors the bank plus the additional fee around 1-2 % of the transaction value).

Now here some bad news:

  • You can top up your Revolut account only by debit card or bank transfer so NO CREDIT CARD allowed , this because credit card fees are too high for Revolut
  • You can transfer to your Revolut account only EUR, Dollars or Pounds, no other currencies

In my case I opted for the bank transfer (SEPA transfer with split of cost) and probably due to my super expensive bank I had to pay a 5 EUR commission on the transfer.

Another issue during the bank transfer, was that my bank wrote the reference number of the payment (a code that links your transfer to your Revolut account) in a field that was not recognized by the Revolut banking system (the bank behind the scenes that manages your money is Barclays and they have 3 real bank accounts for your 3 subaccounts in Revolut).

A call with Revolut support sorted out the reference number problem and I was able to see money in my Revolut account.

Day 4-8

Here experience I had using the Revolut app and the Revolut master card during my trip in U.S.

The Good:

  • Every transaction arrives immediately as notification on your phone
  • Card accepted more or less everywhere (hotel did not accept it , probably because they wanted to block some money not for a real transaction but just in case there were additional expenses not already paid in advance)
  • You can also grab money from ATM but be careful because Revolut will not take any fee but several U.S. banks are (they took 3 Dollars on a 250 Dollars )
  • Exchange rate/fees really are the ones advertised

The Bad:

  • Refunds will arrive to your Revolut account with some days of delays
  • In case you pay a restaurant bill with an additional tip (quite common in U.S.) you will see on your Revolut account 2 times the same transaction: first the one without tip and after some days the other with tip and after another week or so finally the transaction without tip will be automatically deleted (but at one point in time your account will be charged with the two!)
  • Invalid transactions (like the one I had in U.S. metro station paying a ticket –> no ticket coming from the machine) will always grab money from your account and only after a while (1 week or so) you will see your money come back (transaction deleted)
  • Support (but this is well written in the Revolut support page) only works during U.K. working hours so if you are in U.S. actually nobody will answer to you during the day..
  • Support chat is not really working well on slow connections (like some wifi on the planes).

Final Recommendation

Once you are aware of the tricky things explained before, you know that soon or later all your money will be always safe and the system works, for first time users like me it was kind of heart attack every time I was looking at money disappear or not arriving or taken 2 times.

So in a nutshell I recommend it especially for travel purposes, on 1000 dollars spent in vacation I estimate a 30-45 dollars saved on exchanges fees and 30-45 dollars are a free lunch that you were paying to your bank.