Windows on the Mac 2007

When Apple began moving its hardware to Intel chips, it opened a lot of possibilities, as I have discussed before. The magic of virtualization and native hardware continue, though, as Apple’s Boot Camp beta software transitions to Leopard this spring and Parallels Desktop adds even more useful features.

The Best of Both Worlds: Boot Camp with Parallels

The fastest way to run any software is on native hardware, as Boot Camp (and presumably Leopard, OS 10.5 later this spring) allows. The most convenient way to run Windows on the Mac for most folks, though, is in through a windowed environment such as Parallels. Shortly after Boot Camp was updated to allow installation of Windows XP Home with Service Pack 2 (instead of just XP Pro SP2), Parallels Desktop was also updated to allow that software to use the same drive as Boot Camp. This means that one can install Windows (including hardware devices) on Boot Camp for maximum hardware compatibility and then use the same installation as a Parallels disk image, saving the hassle of two different Windows installations and also allowing for better isolation of the Windows NTFS environment.

My recommendation for folks looking to install Windows on their Intel Macs is to do the intial installation and update with Boot Camp and then later to download and install Parallels Desktop for $80 to use the same partition. Since one is more likely to actually USE the Windows environment this way (and Boot Camp does not allow simple resizing of partitions) I usually suggest that people make this partition 10GB or so, providing a little bit of headroom.

Hardware and RAM

Crucial to a good Windows experience in Parallels is having plenty of RAM. I had originally installed Boot Camp and Parallels on my MacBook with 512MB of RAM (the bare minimum) but performance improved dramatically when I upped my physcial RAM to 2GB: so much so that I now recommend at least 2GB of RAM to those clients of mine who will be doing more than a few small things in Windows.

For all but hardcore gamers, my experience is that an Intel iMac, MacMini or MacBook works equally well when given enough RAM, and basic configurations for machines at the highest possible prices are still in the $1200-1800 range, before Windows

  • MacMini with 2GB of RAM and SuperDrive from Apple Store with Apple Care is $1,198
  • MacBook with 2GB of RAM and SuperDrive from Apple Store with Apple Care is $1,723

A copy of Windows XP will run $200-$300 at the highest possible retail price, and are frequently available online through eBay or as OEM copies for $100 or less, while older copies of Microsoft Office 2003 range in price from under $100 to $200, mostly depending on whether they include Access or not. Full installation, updating and configuration of this usually takes between two and four hours with a high-speed connection.

If you have previously purchased a version of Windows XP as part of Microsoft’s Virtual PC, my experience so far has been that this installation code will work with a standard OEM or retail WinXP media, and the release of Microsoft Vista earlier this year means that there are also various legal second-hand licenses available from folks who purchased retail copies of XP but have now upgraded.

Sharing Folders Between Mac and Windows

There are a variety of ways to move files between the Mac and Windows environments, depending on what one’s goals are. The safest and simplest for many people to understand is a Windows-formatted USB flash drive and an extremely local version of what we used to call “sneaker net.” When booted into Windows insert the flash drive and then eject it like a floppy disk to load into the Mac OS later. Another option is to configure shared folders within Parallels or to enable Windows File Sharing on Mac OS X and access it as a Windows Service from within Parallels. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but more conservative options are usually safest.

Securing Windows XP

Once Windows is running, one will want to secure it on Apple hardware as one would under other circumstances. Download safer programs such as FireFox rather than Internet Explorer (to avoid a variety of ActiveX attacks) and use email programs such as Thunderbird for email rather than Outlook or Outlook Express. To simplify Windows printing I download and install the free CutePDF Writer software and bypass various Windows Media Player attacks by installing QuickTime with iTunes, as well as doing the standard things such as installing anti-virus programs and free programs such as AdAware SE Personal Edition. In combination with automatic Windows updates (which are released on the second Tuesday of each month) I have round Windows XP with SP2 to be quite safe so far, especially if one is careful not to visit “honey pot” baited malware sites such as free porn sites, online gambling or file sharing services.

Coherence in Parallels

One of the coolest things for Mac folks who need to run only one or two Windows programs, though is a new feature in Parallels Desktop called “coherence.” What Parallels Coherence does is to hide the Windows desktop entirely, while placing a Windows start bar just above the Mac OS X dock. Windows programs that are running under Coherence appear as Windows windows much as they would in a WINE environment, making the entire experience much less jarring. This has been a huge advantage to folks who need to run just one or two programs such as Outlook or IE6 for MLS or QuickBooks Enterprise, and involves much less cognitive work for the ordinary user.

Ready for Prime Time

For the first time in my professional life I find myself unafraid to tell clients that their Macs can really run Windows programs as well as Windows hardware, and it is a great relief to us all. Older, legacy hardware such as serial-port devices and parallel printers are still rather difficult to use, but the basic software works as well on Apple hardware as any other.

If you would like help in configuring your Intel Mac to give you the best of both worlds, please consider phoning Mac Rory at (360) 695-6929.


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