This is the third installment of The Mac Moment, where we provide advice and insight for Windows-oriented IT support professionals to help you manage the Macs in your organization. Click here for our first installment or click here for our second one. This time, I want to give an overview of what Mac and Windows hardware have in common, and how you can actually deploy Windows software titles on your users’ Macs.
From a hardware perspective, a modern Mac is not much different than a modern PC. They use common, standard components for CPU, RAM, hard drive and expansion, and are based on Intel board designs. All modern Macs are powered by a single Intel Core CPU (a Core 2 Duo in most cases), with the exception of the Mac Pro, which is based on two Intel Xeon multi-core CPUs.
Older Macs with “G4” or “G5” in the name are based on the very different PowerPC chip made by IBM and Motorola, and these Macs are not nearly as well-suited to running Windows software as the Intel-based machines are. The surest way to know what’s in a Mac is to look under “About This Mac” in the Apple menu; all will be revealed. The rest of this article will assume we’re talking about Intel-based Macs.
Because the CPU in a Mac is the same as the one in a PC, there are lots of ways to run Windows software on a Mac. The two common reasons for doing this are: 1. an in-house or specialty application which only runs on Windows, or 2. an internal or external Web site can only be used in Internet Explorer for Windows. (For example, some Mac users run Outlook in Windows-either because they don’t like the limitations of Entourage or because Outlook Web Access is unavailable or considered inadequate.)
The options for running Windows software on the Mac fall into three categories, which I’m going to call Run Windows, Emulate a PC, or Support Windows Software. Let’s discuss each in depth.
Category No. 1: Run Windows
Apple Boot Camp is a feature of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) for users of Intel-based Macs. With Boot Camp, the user is either in “Windows mode” or “Mac OS mode,” and the mode is chosen at startup by holding down the option key. There is no integration between the two worlds; it’s simply two computers in one.
The primary advantage of Boot Camp, apart from the fact that it’s included with Mac OS X (and therefore free), is that it gives you a “pure PC”-you’re booting straight into Windows, so it supports pretty much anything an actual PC does, including most hardware. Boot Camp supports Windows XP 32-bit and Vista, either 32-bit or 64-bit (though getting the 64-bit drivers can be tricky; read on).
How to Set Up Apple Boot Camp
How to set up Apple Boot Camp
To set up Boot Camp, you will need a Mac OS X 10.5 installation disc, either a retail version or one that came with a Mac. Set it aside for now. Open Boot Camp Assistant in the Utilities folder of the Applications folder. Boot Camp Assistant non-destructively partitions the boot drive in preparation for the Windows installation; once you’ve done this, you don’t need to again, even if you need to reinstall Windows. You will then initiate a standard Windows installation from a standard Windows installer disc. Note that Boot Camp formats the partition as FAT32; if you want NT File System (NTFS), you should reformat it from within the Windows installer.
Immediately following installation, you must install the Boot Camp Additions which provides drivers for all the hardware in the system. These are found on the Mac OS X 10.5 installer disc, and unfortunately can’t be downloaded. Furthermore, if you need Vista 64-bit drivers, you’ll need to either find a newer retail disc (which installs 10.5.4 or later, rather than 10.5.0), or an installer disc from a fairly recent Mac. Be sure to install Apple Software Update when the installer prompts you. While the drivers are installing, you should ignore any Windows hardware installation wizards which pop up.
When complete, you should restart, then go to All Programs and invoke Apple Software Update to update Boot Camp Additions to the latest version. You can also set Software Update’s behavior, and be sure to check the settings in the Boot Camp control panel to ensure they are best suited to the user.
Finally, here’s something you and your user will need to know about Boot Camp: to right-click in Windows on a MacBook laptop, you’ll need to hold two fingers on the track pad and then click the button. (This may vary by model, so if it doesn’t work, check the Boot Camp help.) While in Boot Camp, Windows has no access to the Mac partition without third-party utilities, though your Boot Camp volume will be visible when booted into Mac OS X (read-only if the volume is formatted as NTFS).
Emulate a PC
Category No. 2: Emulate a PC
This is the best approach for most users, since it means that they don’t need to leave the Mac world to use Windows software; instead, Windows runs in a virtual machine. However, there are downsides: the software costs money, you don’t get the 99.99 percent compatibility of Boot Camp, you need lots of RAM (2 GB is a minimum, 3 is better and 4 is comfortable), and there’s more complexity for the user as a result of running two operating systems at the same time.
There are two very good, reasonably-priced emulation packages, VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop, which permit Mac users to use Windows applications right alongside their Mac applications. Their feature sets and general functionality are very similar, and they keep leapfrogging one another in terms of capabilities, with both having recently released major new versions. While either product will get the job done quite nicely, the conventional wisdom suggests that VMWare has somewhat superior performance and hardware emulation abilities, while Parallels Desktop offers better overall integration into the Mac OS X environment.
Either product will guide you through a streamlined Windows installation and leave you with a fully-functioning virtual machine. To really integrate with the Mac, get everything set up for the user in either single-window or full-screen mode. Open any common applications the user will be using and they will appear in the Mac dock. Right-click on them and choose “Keep in Dock.”
Then activate Coherence mode (Parallels Desktop) or Unity mode (VMWare Fusion), which will hide the Windows desktop, and instead allow Windows’ windows to sit freely on the Mac desktop, alongside the Mac windows. The user can just click on his Windows shortcuts in the Dock to get to the Windows apps. (If the user feels uncomfortable not being able to see the Windows desktop, then he should stick to single-window or full-screen mode.)
Both products also offer the ability of treating a Mac folder as a network drive, and designating a drive letter for it. I highly recommend setting this up for the user’s Documents folder and advising that all documents be saved to it, rather than the C: drive. This way, all documents are accessible on the Mac side as well, and not “locked” inside the large hard drive file which represents C:. Further integration capabilities of both VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop are impressive, deep and beyond the scope of discussion here, but you’d be well advised to spend some time on your own machine getting to know each product. Both offer fully-functional trial demos for download.
I should note that other PC emulation products exist, including the recently-released, free VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems. However, Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion are the most mature and widely used. But if you’re feeling adventurous, by all means feel free to try another product.
Category No. 3: Support Windows software
An interesting option is CodeWeavers Crossover Mac, which is a polished version of the Wine emulator often deployed by Linux users. Rather than emulating a full PC, Crossover Mac instead emulates the Windows application APIs, allowing Windows applications to run on a Mac without actually running under Windows. The advantages are that it’s simpler than emulation and you don’t need to install Windows at all.
The downside is that compatibility under Crossover Mac is dramatically less than the first two options, making it better suited for running applications that are known to work (for example, Outlook 2007). CodeWeavers maintains a compatibility list on their Web site. But if an application doesn’t appear on the list, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, so you might want to try it out.
The moral of the story here is that your Mac users don’t need to be left out from the world of Windows software. No longer will your organization’s customized Windows software be the reason your users can’t switch from Mac to PC. There are many options that enable you to provide them with the best of both worlds.