Dec 27, 2008 10:32 PM PT

How to switch to the Mac without losing your Windows lifeline

The ads are everywhere these days – switch to the Mac for a safer, more stable computing experience.  Many people have taken the plunge; some people have done so due to Vista frustrations while others have done so based on promises of less frustrating computer time.  Personally, I use both a Mac (a MacBook laptop) and two Windows desktops (both Dell Precision workstations – one at home and one at the office.  I will admit that I’m much more inclined to use Windows and started using the MacBook a few months ago in order to better familiarize myself with the platform.  About twenty of our sixty or so faculty at Westminster College use Macintosh computers so my staff and I need to get up to speed.  So, I decided to lead my example and at least start to incorporate Mac OS X into my daily routine; believe it or not, I do use my MacBook at some point every single day, so I am getting a workout.

However, even when I’m in “Mac mode” I need Windows tools from time to time.  For example, my VPN client is currently Windows-only, so when I need to connect to the office, I need Windows.  I could get a Mac client, but haven’t done so yet.  Further, most of the technical writing that I do is Windows in nature, so having a portable Windows platform is pretty important to allowing me to stay current on writing projects from wherever I happen to find myself.

These days, I can take both my Mac and Windows laptops with me and still take only a single laptop on the road.  There are two main products on the market that enable simultaneous Mac OS X and Windows programs to run at the same time on a Mac – VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac.  While both are fine products, I’ve been using VMware products for years on the Windows side, so I stuck with them to meet my Mac/Windows hybrid needs.  That is the product that I’ll focus on in this writing, but I encourage you to give the Parallels product a close looks, too.

VMware Fusion, current at version 2.0, is VMware’s answer to the Windows-on-a-Mac dilemma.  While there are other ways to run either Mac OS X or Windows on a Mac, doing so simultaneously requires virtualization software.  In short, I’ve installed Windows XP into a virtual machine running under Mac OS X on which I’ve installed VMware Fusion.  If you’re familiar at all with Virtual PC or VMware Workstation or any of the other Windows virtualization products out there, VMware Fusion will be old hat.

VMware Fusion runs the Windows virtual machine either in its own window or in full-screen mode.  Another option – called Unity – gives you the option to completely integrate the programs running in your Windows virtual machine with your Macintosh-based desktop.  You can actually add Windows programs to your OS X dock.  Behind the scenes, when you run one of those programs, they’re actually run through the Windows virtual machine, but you see only the window for the Windows application, not the full Windows desktop.  It appears that the Windows program is actually running on your Mac.

If you don’t want to use the dock for your Windows programs, you can open individual Windows programs right from the Mac-based Fusion application.

A product such as VMware Fusion can be a boon for organizations that need or want t use Apple computers but that are reliant on Windows for things like ERP software.  Now, you can have your ERP software and your choice of platform – no compromise necessary.

Now, if I can just get Apple to send me a maxed out desktop, I might consider replacing a desktop as well!