published Friday, June 17th, 2011

Jenkins: Converting your Mac to Windows


by Donnie Jenkins

Q: I own a Mac that I purchased last year. I’ve read several places that it’s possible to run Microsoft Windows on a Mac, and that there may be more than one way to do so. Can you advise me on the best approach?

A: You are correct that you can now run Windows on a Mac computer.

There are two basic ways of doing this. The first is by using the BootCamp program included with every Mac. BootCamp accomplishes this task by dividing your hard drive into at least two sections, then allowing you to install a version of Windows onto the new one. You must own a Windows disc to do so, and it will need to be one that is not in use on any other computer.

Once Windows is installed you can use the Mac standard convention of holding down the Option button as you start your Mac. Once the computer begins booting, it will display the partitions or sections on your Mac, assuming these are the only sources with operating systems from which you can boot the computer. To run Windows you select the drive that has this operating system installed on it, called your BootCamp or Windows drive. The Windows OS will then boot up as if it were the only OS on the computer.

BootCamp is great but it does have its problems. It is very buggy and unpredictable when running many Windows audio and video programs, and it’s especially problematic when trying to use many audio interfaces that should be easily compatible with any version of Windows. I find that it’s best to use a BootCamp installation primarily for Internet access and perhaps for watching Netflix and YouTube content. It seems to be generally OK so far for these applications and for a few others. Not everyone may agree with me on this, so be willing to experiment a bit and find what will work for you.

The other method of running Windows on a Mac is by using what’s called a virtualization program. This creates a virtual environment in which you can run Windows — a computer within a computer you might say. This is done by allotting a portion of the system’s hard drive space and memory to the operating system to be loaded on the computer.

These programs create what is called a virtual machine on the host computer that acts like a separate system once it is opened. The user can work within this virtual machine with the new operating system, then close it at any time to return to the original OS.

The three primary players in this space are Parallels Desktop, Virtual PC, and VirtualBox. VirtualBox is free while you must buy the other two. All three get good and bad reviews, and any of them will probably fit the bill for this purpose.

It’s important to realize that virtual machines share your main system memory, meaning you must have enough memory to support both your native and virtual environments at the same time. Too much is not enough when it comes to memory and virtual machines.

E-mail Donnie Jenkins at donniejenkins@yahoo.com

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