Article Focus: Sure it's possible, but why would anybody want to run Windows on a Mac? There are a bunch of great reasons for people using either OS -- and plenty more for people who have to use both. The Cow's Tim Wilson takes a look at some of the options for working with 2 --or even more-- operating systems on the same computer. Sometimes, even at the same time!
From the Windows side, it's easy. Even though they dropped “Computer” from their name, Apple makes pretty good computers. REALLY good computers, actually. So why not run the OS you want to, or have to, on really good computers?
Now then, Mac zealots, with your “I would NEVER do that to my Mac” snickering, or horror or whatever. I'm going to wait while you get all that out of your system.
Shall we continue?
The thing is, there are still many, many apps, including some represented here at the Cow, that don't have Mac equivalents: 3D Studio Max, Camtasia, Softimage XSI, Sonic Scenarist, Sony Vegas, Adobe Audition, On Location and Ultra...you get the idea.
Stepping just outside of the Cow corral, you'll find apps like AutoCAD and many other visualization packages, Adobe Framemaker, and front ends for servers that play out all kinds of media actually MADE on Macs – all Windows only.
That's not counting all the science and enterprise business computing environments that comprise the majority of the world's computers, like secure access to corporate networks..where you'll often find Mac software hosted.
And not counting the dual platform software that runs faster, has more features and works better on PCs, say, Outlook or Quicken.
That's also not counting the ability for migrators to use already-purchased Windows apps in the Mac OS.
But games? We're definitely counting games.
Here's my favorite game commercial – in fact, one of my favorite commercials of all time.
Here's where I'm coming from. I've been a Mac user since before many of you were born. Back in the day, I built my business exclusively on Macs, ran a Mac user group, the whole deal.
So how did I become a dual-platform guy? Well, a bunch of PC folks showed up at the door with big bags of money. Did I mention the big bags of money?
I've now used Macs 3 times longer than I have Windows, and I love using them together. I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro running Vista...at least until I reboot. I'll be using Leopard again soon enough. In my third decade of computing, these are my favorite 2 OSes yet.
So anyway, the DSL guy comes to hook up the new gear. He wants to load the access software. I hand him my computer, running Windows Vista Ultimate. When he notices it's running on a MacBook Pro, he turns white as a sheet.
“I don't know anything about Macs,” he says.
“Don't worry, man,” I say. “It's a Windows machine.”
Now the sweat is shooting off his head so hard that I duck. “But I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT MACS!!” he says.
“Buddy, relax. It's a Windows machine. Forget you ever saw the Apple on the case.”
So he calls headquarters. “I don't know anything about Macs,” he says to them. “What do I do?” The tech on the other end of the line asks what version of the OS he's looking at.
He turns to me, whispering now, “I don't know anything about Macs. What version of the OS are you running?”
I look him right in the eye, and speak very slowly, but loudly enough for the tech on the line to hear: “I'm running WINDOWS VISTA ULTIMATE.” I hear the tech laughing. She gets it. I'm holding a Mac in my hand, running Vista. For all practical purposes, it's a PC.
Of course I think my boy here is going to barf from the strain. That is, if the top of his head doesn't blow off first. I might have been able to help him if I'd added a simple sticker to cover the glowing fruit on the back of my MBP....
...but it might have made things worse.
You Must Be This Tall to Ride This Ride
You probably already know this, but just to be sure: Intel Macs only.
Strolling the Cow meadow, I see that the vast majority of Windows-on-Mac crowd is doing so on MacBook Pros. There are a number of desktop-specific options to talk about later, but everything here applies to both desktops and laptops.
If you're one of the millions of Mac users who find themselves needing or wanting to use Windows applications, or one of the millions of Windows users who are buying these super-slick Mac computers strictly to run Windows, you already know about the Boot Camp Assistant.
It's not an application, of course. As the name suggests, it's an ASSISTANT, to make it easy to get Mac hardware drivers onto a PC partition that it also helps you create. It also installs a Windows control panel with a VERY few options for you. Here's a typical screen:
Don't spend it all in one place, kids.
The beta versions of the Boot Camp Assistant were annoying to install, to put it charitably. So if you tried it and didn't want to bother again, or if it sounded like too big a hill to climb, I understand. But the release version that you have today in Leopard? Ridiculously easy. In fact I created a partition and installed Vista even faster than I UPDATED to Leopard.
Okay, some sleight of hand there – pretty much any fresh install is faster than pretty much any full-scale update. But it was still fun to observe.
Here's how easy it is to configure your Mac to run Windows.
Partition. Install Windows on the new partition. Use the Option key on start-up to choose your OS, and set your default so you can do this a little less often. The End.
Not quite 3 steps, but still a breeze.
Don't succumb to the temptation to format your Windows partition as FAT32. It might seem easier because each OS can both read and write to it, but you're going to pay a whole lot in performance and file management pain. Do it right; go with NTFS.
Better to spend a few simoleans on a couple of utilities...and the fact is that you probably need 'em both. The first is MacDrive. It's a simple Windows app that allows you to read and write to every kind of Mac volume, and format too – hard drives, removable drives, you name it. It's so indispensible that, more often than not, you can find it bundled with Windows on Mac software like VMware Fusion or Parallels.
(FWIW, there's also TransMac. I used it years ago...until I saw MacDrive. I prefer it, but I'd always rather have options than not. Wouldn't you?)
Paragon NTFS Mac from does the same thing in the other direction: Mac folks can read and write PC-formatted media.
For an interesting free option, take a look at the Mac Developer Playground at Google Code. There's a bunch of cool stuff there that's useful to non-coders, including MacFUSE. The description is mighty code-y: “makes it possible to implement a fully functional file system in a user-space program on Mac OS X, 10.4 and above.” Run it through Google Translate and you get: run Windows and other stuff on a Mac.
Here's why MacDrive and NTFS Mac are so cool, and so important. It's easy to overthink how to divide the partitions on your dual-booting Mac. You can't change 'em either. But with these two apps, it doesn't really matter as long as you leave yourself enough room for the applications and OSes on each side of the boot. You can use the other volume as file storage.
I don't suggest you make a habit of it, but I was able to use the other half of my volume as a video storage drive using these tools. I spent more time with the application running on the Windows partition and the media drive on the Mac partition. Love it.
Of course, you might know exactly how much space you need for each partition. If you only need Windows for a few applications or games, a partition of 30 gigs or so might do just fine for you. And if you're a Windows user who'll never use the Mac side of your computer, give yourself all but 15-ish gigs for the the Windows side. Your math-age may vary, and you're golden.
So why go through all this for the privilege of REBOOTING from the Mac side to get to Windows? Because that's the best way to use media applications like Audition, Vegas and the like. And Windows folks, this is how you avoid ever having to look at the Mac OS again after you've set up your system.
Again, you can't easily resize the partitions you've allocated for each OS. Especially with the limited space on a laptop drive, take a few easy easy steps to stay out of trouble. Depending on your relative OS needs and the size of your partitions, you may only need one of MacDrive or NTFS Mac...but you'll be glad to have at least one of them.
There's the dual boot method that you set up with the Boot Camp Assistant. There's the virtualization approach that Fusion and Parallels take, and which I'll look at right after this. Because THIS is cool: Codeweaver CrossOver Mac
Unlike dual booting, and unlike virtualization, you don't even need to buy a copy of Windows. It's like magic. Seriously. Install your Windows apps with one click, then run 'em through OS X. You can even doubleclick any Windows doc or file, including an email attachment, and shazam, you're up and running inside the Mac OS.
Click for larger, courtesy of codeweaver.com
Especially since there's no copy of Windows, there are some compatibility issues. Codeweaver has a regularly updated list of supported applications, along with the specific ways that these apps work, and don't work.
One of the ways that CrossOver established itself was as the performance leader for games, including some of the most popular PC games of all time, such as World of Warcraft and Half Life 2. Our pals at Wikipedia remind us that “Maximum PC awarded Half-Life 2 an unprecedented 11 on their rating scale which peaks at 10, and named it the "best game ever made."
Other apps that Crossover Mac runs include AutoCAD, ACT!, Quicken, Visio, LotusNotes – even CS3, for folks who have the Windows version and want to use it on their shiny new Macs.
And pretty much all of them run at darn near native speeds.
Oh yeah, and Crossover Mac runs Linux too, a theme to which we'll be returning.
VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop
Parallels Desktop came first for the current generation of Windows on Mac virtual machines. That's what this section covers – software that creates a software environment that looks to Windows like a piece of Wintel hardware. It's not just for running Windows applications either, but some genuine integrations. Here's an image of mirrored folders for Pictures on Mac, and My Pictures on Windows.
Geezers like me remember that the first virtualizer in our neck of the woods was Virtual PC – dog slow, but it was the only software way to fly. OrangePC made an add-in hardware emulation card. It suffered the fate that many acceleration cards do – couldn't keep up with the pace of CPU development.
And integration? WHAT integration?
So what happened to Virtual PC? MSFT bought it, and refined it to run...Unix. That theme again. If you live in the world of servers, Linux is never very far away.
Anyway, hard on Desktop's heels came VMware Fusion, bringing some twists.
One of the first to note is that VMware is a company that has established itself as the entrenched incumbent in the virtual machine world, supporting DOZENS of OSes – Linux yes, but also Red Hat, Windows ME (uhm...), Ubuntu (why would you NOT say that word if you have the chance?), Novell, Solaris, and, through a clever tweak, the BeOS.
(BeOS!! Where have you gone, Jean-Louis Gassee? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.)
Like CrossOver, Parallels and Fusion allow you to run Windows at the same time as the Mac OS, no reboot required. When you visit their websites, you'll see feature sets with different names that largely resolve to the same set of features: drag and drop between the OSes, copy-paste, shared folders, assigning apps from either OS to open any file by default, Expose support for Windows windows, Windows apps living in the Mac OS dock, and on and on.
Note that Fusion had Windows apps living in the dock from the beginning, and Parallels has it in beta as we speak. Ah, competition! Each company driving the other to do better! A beautiful thing. Everybody should have a rock-solid competitor on genuinely equal footing, don't you think?
Here's a teensy tiny peek Fusion running a clearly Windows version of Outlook in Mac. And I gotta tell you, this is a classic example of an app with sooooo many more features on Windows. Really good ones too. Anyway, click it for the rest of the story.
Note that I'd have used bigger images for Desktop if they'd posted 'em. Maybe competition will change that too.
Although it came later, I give the nod to Fusion, for its heritage as much as anything else. The company has a long history of bullet-proof virtualization built on servers – no failure allowed. Fusion also supports 64-bit OSes and a second processor. No pokey performance under virtualization allowed, either.
Not that Desktop is without its charms. I really like Parallels Explorer, which gives you access to Windows folders and files without launching Windows.
Both applications offer a tres slick feature for folks who'll never use the Windows OS outside the Mac OS: you don't have to create a dual-boot partition use the Boot Camp Assistant, along with a separate installation of Windows. Instead, you can install Windows from within Fusion and Parallels...and if you've already installed a dual-boot partition, both applications can use it for their virtual machines.
The nod for slickness once again goes to VMware: you can import VMs from other products like Parallels, Virtual PC, and Office (recent Mac versions have offered virtualization options), and make them Fusion environments. Hey, and guess what? As I write this in March 2008, they're offering a competitive rebate. Gotta love that too.
Balance is all
It's easy to go overboard on these comparisons, though. The two apps often have different names for the same feature, then ding each other for "missing" it. Yes, there are differences, but they're sometimes more subtle than you'll care about. So take a look at each company's website. Both apps are in motion, so don't sweat the details. Just pick the one that makes the most sense for you TODAY.
Like Crossover, Fusion and Parallels offer free trials. I don't recommend installing them all, mostly because I have no idea what will happen if you try -- and I wouldn't be surprised if your computer has no idea what's happening either. But if you want to go for it, maybe check out Fusion last, since you can import your Parallels volume into it.
Asking whether a tricked out MacBook Pro is faster than a tricked-out Windows-only laptop isn't at all interesting to me.
If you have a laptop on either platform that you're happy with and meets your needs, no need to mess with any of this. A Windows user who needs a new laptop will find the Mac a big improvement over their old Windows computer – because the new one is NEW.
That said, you can find plenty, plenty reviews in the PC mags saying that Vista on MacBooks is the way to go. Lots of performance testing to back it up, but also a lot of talk about how much fun it is. For example, MobileTech says, “We were shocked at how well Vista Ultimate ran on the 1.6GHz MacBook Air.”
So you've got your copy of Windows on your dual-boot partition. You'll still need to do a separate installation inside your virtual machine created with Fusion or Parallels if you go that route. Two machines, two Windows installs. No worries – virtualization is esplicitly allowed in the Windows EULA, so even though you need to do a separate installation, there's no need to buy a new license.
In fact, Microsoft recently extended this. Originally, it was only the 2 most expensive flavors of Vista that could legally virtualize. Not that there was any technical limitation, just a legal one – and I KNOW you kids follow the rules laid out in EULAs, right? The end user license agreement? Of course you do.
It should just work, and you likely won't have any trouble. But if you have problems, you can easily solve them by phone. MSFT phone support by humans is actually pretty good, among the best I've encountered. (Insert your own joke about getting better with practice.) You can also activate the second installation through an automated phone process. The number's on the back of the box. Bring your serial number and a pencil: you'll give them your numbers and get a whole bunch of new ones back.
You need this, and it's free.
Both Windows and Mac users should download the free utility “Input Remapper.” As the name suggests, you can remap keys to make your keyboard behave more like the keyboard of your favorite OS. But there's a whole lot more, including controls over fan speed! This is what Apple's Boot Camp control panel should have been. This is a small portion of one of the screens. Click it to see more -- like the real-time monitoring of all the functions that Input Remapper controls. Many more options where this came from, too.
As our man Mr. Flav would say...
Don't believe the hype. Or the anti-hype.
I keep mentioning Vista. I like it a lot. It's as fast and as stable as any OS I've used, including Leopard. The migration challenges are totally overblown, because Windows users never had to go through the pain that we Mac users experienced going from OS 9 to OS X.
Or perhaps the most heinous transition ever, from System 6 to System 7.
Or maybe from Apple II to Mac. Ahhh, good times.
All of these were far, far more disruptive than Vista. And all were wobbly at the beginning. And all got unwobbly in the fullness of time. And all were eventually better than what preceded them.
More on brushing aside the fog of anti-Vista hype in another article.
A final word about platforms...
...including this flying one from 1956.
I've said for years that if you're playing for keeps, you have to play on Windows. Certainly not ONLY on Windows, but it's a rock-bottom requirement. The Mac OS is pretty and powerful and creative. Windows can make you rich.
Yes, you can be very, very happy making 5% of the world very happy. But EVERYBODY's happier if more like 95% of the world is happy, right? And even if that's not the point, you CAN get richer from that, right?
There are some folks who lamented that Apple dropped the word “Computer” from their company name. I'm not saying I expected it, but I've certainly felt for years that the word “Computer” was too limited for what they were actually doing.
The first major Apple OS component to make its way to Windows was QuickTime.
Then Airport, Apple branded hardware for connectivity.
Next comes iTunes. It started playing music and movies, evolving into large-scale media DISTRIBUTION.
After that came iPod. More Apple hardware, managed with iTunes from Macs or PCs.
Then Mac computers themselves, now able to run Windows better than just about anybody else.
Apple TV. Hardware that combines both connectivity and media distribution, again managed with iTunes from Macs or PCs.
Then Safari. Connectivity and distribution.
Then iPhone. Connectivity and distribution.
I have these in the wrong order, and I'm leaving out a few, but is the picture starting to come together? We live with Mac as a creation platform that Apple's not giving up on...but connectivity and consumption know no platform. Or, in Apple's case, they're building platforms independent of OS. Outside the world of computing itself, Apple's 5% market share of computer sales means nothing.
This new, transcendent platform is where Apple is playing for keeps: a platform built on the foundation of shiny objects –yeah yeah, including computers -- and cool stuff to play on them.
Many of these shiny things, and the way to play cool stuff on them, came out exclusively for Mac users first – so maybe you could say that Mac users are the beta testers the other 95% of the computing world.
I'm just saying.
And so, my Mac-using brothers and sisters, let us freely step onto the transcendent platform, and into the world of Windows as we must.
My Windows-using brothers and sisters, we step boldly onto the transcendent platform where Apple is truly playing for keeps. Step into light, my computing brothers and sisters, and feel the warmth on your skin. I'm thinking it's somewhere around 95 degrees.
If you liked the Gears of War trailer earlier in this article, feel free to check out the full version, about 3 minutes long. A beautiful short film, really, directed by Joseph Kosinski. The music is Gary Jules's cover of Mad World (originally by Tears for Fears) that was used in the movie Donnie Darko.
This has been an overview of a handful of ways and whys to run Windows on a Mac, but here on earth, it's never as simple as it looks. Next time, we'll look at shooting the troubles you may encounter along the way. We'll also look at some of the keys to success that others have found. If you can't wait, you can find out more in the Cow's Apple: Windows on Mac forum.
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