Switcher Sensei: Opening the door to Windows

David Braue
12 July, 2010
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If you bought a Mac recently, you were no doubt reassured by a salesperson or trusted advisor telling you that you can always install Windows on your Mac if you need your old applications or desktop. Looking at the Mac desktop, however, it may not be immediately obvious how to do this. Here’s how to make it happen.

    The first thing you’ll need is a copy of Parallels Desktop, VMWare Fusion (commercial solutions available as 30-day free trials), or Sun’s free VirtualBox.

    These applications let your Mac run ‘virtual machines’ (VMs) – large files that contain all the information that would normally live on your Windows machine’s hard drive.

    You’ll also need a copy of Windows 7 (if you’re doing a fresh install) or a tool to ‘scrape’ an image of your existing Windows machine. VMWare Converter and Parallels Transporter (included in Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac Edition) both offer this capability. The free Converter produces a VM file that can be loaded into Fusion and run, or converted into Parallels format by Parallels.

    In this example, we’ll install a fresh copy of Windows in Parallels 5 (the process is quite similar using Fusion 4 and VirtualBox).

    Start Parallels, then click New Windows installation. Insert your Windows 7 disc, then click through to enter your Windows 7 serial number (which will be automatically registered) and to the ‘Specify the virtual machine name and location’ screen.

    Give your virtual machine a name, tell Parallels if you want to change its location, and choose your Sharing level.

    This controls how easily Windows can access files on your Mac, and vice versa. If you’re concerned about security – remember to install Windows 7 antivirus software, even basic protection like that at free.avg.com – consider restricting your VM to documents in your Home folder.

    Redirecting Windows’ My Documents and other folders to their Mac equivalents creates a more seamless experience but leaves your Mac documents at Windows’ mercy.

    Click through, and Windows 7 will start to install; in our tests, installation took around 15 minutes, as it would on a normal Windows machine.

    There you have it: a few clicks, and Windows is up and running. Windows applications will show up on your Dock; if you use a specific application frequently, you can right-click on them in the Dock, then choose Options > Keep in Dock to launch it with a single click, in its own window on your Mac OS X desktop.

    Virtual machine files are large and live in Mac OS X’s Documents > Virtual Machines folder. Our base install of Windows 7 consumes around 8GB of disk space, but commercial applications, swap files, personal documents and so on can push it into the tens of gigabytes.

    No discussion of Windows on Macs would be complete without mentioning Apple’s Boot Camp application (Applications > Utilities > Boot Camp Assistant).

    Boot Camp takes a different approach by reserving a ‘partition’ – a chunk of your hard drive – to run Windows. You can’t run Mac OS X and Windows simultaneously using Boot Camp, but have to reboot to switch between them.

    Boot Camp is popular with Windows gamers who want maximum performance, but casual switchers who just want a safety net will find the above options easiest.

    This article originally appeared in the June issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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