BitDepth 583 - July 03

How I use Windows on a Macintosh...
Best of both worlds

Photos in Picasa, running in Windows 2000 sit in front of iPhoto on Mac OS X. Virtualisation solutions like Parallels Desktop make it possible to install and use Windows and other software coded for PCs, such as distros of Linux on a Macintosh simultaneously.

There are two kinds of people who will want or need to run Windows on a Macintosh, business users who need to run Windows to work with software that doesn't exist on the Mac or folks like me, who occasionally need a Windows installation to test or use some Windows specific software occasionally.
There are no hard figures on this, but my own experience with folks who run both operating systems on a Macintosh is that they tend to be laptop users, whose mobility of computer use seems to dovetail with a certain nimbleness of OS selection.
Right now I'm talking to a former HP laptop user who is interested in a Mac running Windows as their next computer, and it's becoming clear that considering a multiple OS capable computer isn't just a matter of what the computer can do.

If you're a Windows user considering a Mac, the only advantage is being able to go back and forth between the two operating systems because Apple's equipment is just different enough from a standard issue PC that it really doesn't make a good replacement for a Wintel box.
For one thing, the keyboard doesn't have some of the keys that a hardcore Windows user would expect, most notably the Windows key (Macs have their own key with the Apple logo called the command key) and the Alt key, the keyboard modifying functions of which are handled on the Mac by the Option key.
On a laptop, there's just one button on the trackpad, which is actually a pain in the butt now that OS X makes more decisive use of a second mouse button. On Windows, however, that second mouse/trackpad button is essential to navigating Microsoft's OS effectively.

For the Windows user who wants to enjoy living in both worlds, perhaps booting into Windows during a day's work and then kicking back in the Mac OS to muck around with iPhoto or Garageband, the solution can be as simple as buying a good two button mouse. 
Any Intel equipped Mac desktop will have shipped with a Mighty Mouse, a two button job with a tiny rolling button that wags have dubbed a "scroll nipple," but I find even this grudging acquiescence on Apple's part to the advantages of a second button and scroll wheel inferior to even a cheap sub-$100 (TT) two button mouse with scrollwheel.

The other item most folks who want to run Windows on a Mac will have to get is an installation of Microsoft's operating system. Apple may provide a way to install the software on their computers with the freely downloadable Boot Camp (scheduled to become part of Leopard, the next OS revision), but they disavow any responsibility for what happens if you do run Windows and they won't even sell the product in their stores.

Note that the fine print on Microsoft Vista specifically disallows the use in virtualisation software of any version of the new OS below the Business Premium package.
Mac folks taking a dip in the Windows world will also have to come to terms with the reality that a Macintosh running Windows is just like a traditional PC running Windows and prophylactic precautions will be needed. Vista ships with Windows Defender, but earlier versions of the OS will need third party anti-virus and spyware blockers. I've been using Grisoft's AVG Free products, and occasionally booting my virtual Windows 2000 installation during its downtimes to download updates and run scans in the background.

Serious Windows users will probably need more comprehensive protection than that, so consider the upgrade to Grisoft's commercial products or pick a copy of Norton Anti-Virus when you're out shopping for your Windows CD.
I wouldn't consider a Mac the perfect replacement for a Windows system for anything but light use. But if you run a graphics business and your accountant demands that you use Quickbooks Business, need to work with an Access database or Exchange mail servers or even test a website on Windows browsers, a virtual machine in a window solution like Parallels Desktop, the most mature of the solutions available today is unbeatable way to enjoy the best of both worlds.
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