Graphic Arts IT Guy Q and A

ImageQ – I want to use Windows on my Intel–based Mac, and I’ve heard there are different ways to run Windows. Which is the best method?

A – It is true that you can run Windows on a Intel–based Mac now that Apple is using Intel processors as their main CPU.
For all intents and purposes, any new Macintosh is now basically a PC—similar to those made by other manufacturers and also comparatively priced. The only real impediment to running Windows is that you have to purchase a separate Windows license to use both the Mac OS X operating system and Windows. I’ve run Windows using both Apple’s Boot Camp beta software and Parallels Desktop virtual machine software.

With Apple’s approach, you run the Boot Camp Installer to create a NTFS partition and then install Windows on it. Apple provides all the drivers needed to work with the hardware, mice, keyboards, network cards, etc. To run Windows, you must restart the computer while holding the Option key, and then choose to start up with Windows instead of the Mac OS.

You cannot see the Macintosh files while you’re in Windows, but you can use the network, install Windows applications and games, and experience all that Windows users deal with every day (including viruses and spyware). While you’re booted on the Mac OS, you can read the files on the PC side. (Your home folder is inside the “Documents and Settings” folder.)

So far the computer runs Windows quite well under Boot Camp, and all the Apple hardware runs without complaint. The only thing to consider is how much disk space you want to give up to run Windows. The default setting of 5GB is fine if you’re only running Windows XP and Office.

The other method I’ve worked with is Parallels Desktop, which runs on your Mac at the same time as the Mac OS X is running. You can even copy and paste between Windows and Mac.

The difference between Parallels and Boot Camp is that with Parallels, you are sharing resources, memory, and disk space between the two operating systems. Parallels provides its own drivers to make the system work. With Parallels, the trackpad on my lap top works the same in both operating systems, which is particularly handy while surfing the Internet. Under Apple’s Boot Camp you can’t use “two–finger” trackpad scrolling (yet). Parallels is surprisingly quick, and much faster than Virtual PC ever was (Microsoft Virtual PC was the way that Windows typically ran on PowerPC Macs.)

In both cases, corporate networking works as well. You can connect to file servers and printers and run Microsoft Office (including Access) in the Windows environment.

With Parallels you don’t necessarily dedicate a large portion of your drive to run Windows—the hard drive is a file that you can expand as needed. The down side of Parallels is that the drivers they provide are not fully Windows–compatible, and you may have problems if you need to install a large application.

I had to install Microsoft Flight Simulator X on an external drive because it requires 15 gigabytes of space. However, I couldn’t run the program because Parallels’ video driver wasn’t recognized as compatible by the game. It took two hours to install (and 45 minutes to uninstall) and, as with many Windows experiences, that’s time I’ll never get back.

If you need to run Windows, don’t hesitate to try either approach. In both cases, the Mac makes a fast and responsive PC. Parallels’ approach is more convenient for interfacing between the two operating systems, and Boot Camp allows you to dedicate yourself to Windows if needed.

When Apple releases Leopard, its next operating system release, it will have Boot Camp built–in and it will likely be an improvement upon the current beta release.    

Timothy Mitra assists companies in mastering information technology in prepress, print, and web design.
Do you have a question you would like answered by the IT guy? Please contact him at E: T: 416.278.8609