This month’s The Legal Mac column from Law Practice Today, the ABA Law Practice Management Section‘s webzine, features an excellent discussion of the options available to those Mac-using attorneys who want or need to use Windows programs. I am pleased to present “Using Windows on Your Mac” by David Sparks:
One of the excuses that attorneys give for their reluctance to switch from PCs to Macs is that they “need” Windows for one reason or another. The good news is that Macs can run other operating systems, including Windows, whenever needed.
As a Mac-using attorney, I often raise eyebrows when people look over my shoulder to see Windows on my screen. They are even more surprised when they found out how easy it is to run Windows on a Mac.
In 2006, Apple moved the entire Macintosh line to Intel processors. This is the same hardware used by most PC manufacturers. While there are some small differences, Macs and PCs are all using compatible hardware. Almost immediately after this transition, Apple and third party software developers found ways to run Windows on Apple hardware. There are currently three primary methods:
Apple Boot Camp – One Operating System at a Time
Boot Camp is Apple’s own free virtualization application built into every new Macintosh computer. It allows you to make two separate partitions on your hard drive, one for Windows and one for the Apple OS X operating system. Once you enable Boot Camp, you are presented a choice when you boot up, Windows or OS X? You simply click the desired operating system and away it goes.
If you choose Windows, your installed Windows partition will load no differently than if it were a Dell or Lenovo. You can run any Windows application your hardware will support. If you click the button for Apple OS X, your computer boots into the Macintosh operating system. This, in essence, gives you two computers in one.
One of the biggest advantages of Boot Camp is that it allows you to devote the entire resources of your computer to whichever operating system you choose. If you load Windows, the entire processor, memory, and operating components are driving Windows. People who operate graphics intensive video software often prefer to use Boot Camp for this reason.
The fact that Boot Camp only runs one operating system at a time is also its biggest detriment. A lot of Mac users want to have the benefits of Windows and Mac OS X at the same time. That is not possible with Boot Camp. This leads to the second method, third party virtualization solutions.
Third Party Virtualization – Peaceful Coexistence
While Boot Camp provides a free and easy solution to run Windows on your Mac, some users prefer to run both Windows and OS X at the same time. Using virtualization applications such as Parallels or VMWare Fusion, both of which cost $70, you can install Windows (or Linux) to run as its own OS X application. These applications support any version of Windows from Windows 95 up through the recently released Windows 7 beta.
For instance, I use Windows-only Casemap in a Parallels installation of Windows XP. However, I do my presentation work and word processing in OS X applications. Using virtualization software, I am able to run Casemap right next to my OS X word processing application.
There are several additional benefits to using virtual machines. They are simply a disk image on your hard drive which makes back up and restoration a snap. My Windows XP virtual machine is a 12 gigabyte file and my Windows 7 virtual machine is a slim 8 gigabytes. If the Windows virtual machine becomes corrupt, you simply discard the file and replace it with a stable back up. No reinstalls involved.
Virtual machines also allow you to experiment with other operating systems, such as Linux. These alternate operating systems load into a virtual machine as easy as Windows does. This give Mac owners the ability to choose between OS X, Windows, and Linux.
Running two (or three) different operating systems can take a toll on your computer’s resources. These solutions require your computer to balance the system resources as the various operating systems and applications require. The effect of this on your computing experience has a lot to do with your computer’s capabilities and the complexity of your applications. If, for instance, you run video editing in OS X while simultaneously play a graphics based game on the PC virtual machine, your computer is probably going to slow down. On the other hand running typical business applications in the two different operating systems at once is more manageable and shouldn’t slow down most modern Macs.
Using Boot Camp, VMWare, or Parallels all require installation of the Windows operating system. If you are going to run Windows, it stands to reason you will also need the software and a license. This also requires a brief word about virus protection. Many Mac users are spoiled, and, frankly, sloppy about computer security because of the lack of successful virus attacks on the OS X platform. This makes them particularly easy prey when they run Windows through Boot Camp and other vitualization options. While viruses generally stay in the operating system they infect (I am not aware of any virus ever “jumping” from the Windows partition to the OS X partition), the Windows partitions on your Mac need to have good virus software or it will be subject to attack.
Crossover Mac – Application Specific Virtualization
A third solution to running Windows software on your Mac does not involve installing Windows but instead tricking the Windows applications into thinking they are on a Windows machine. Crossover Mac ($70), allows you to run certain Windows software natively in OS X without installing Windows. This application installs its own compatibility layer on your Mac and translates the programming calls for Windows resources into their compatible OS X equivalents.
For instance, when Microsoft Word for Windows is told to print a document, Crossover intervenes and sends the document to the OS X printing process. The Crossover programmers spend a great deal of time fooling the Windows applications into working without Windows. It doesn’t work with all Windows programs. For instance, Casesoft’s Casemap does not work under Crossover. However, it does work with the most common productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office.
Crossover Mac is the perfect solution if you are just looking to run a specific supported application on your Mac and don’t want to deal with the the expense or drive space involved with installing Windows. The Crossover Mac website keeps a running list of supported applications.
The good news is that now you don’t have to choose between Apple OS X and Windows. You can have the best of both worlds with multiple operating systems.