What if you could run all your Windows programs inside OS X? It's very handy if you're making "the switch," or just want flexibility. Watch the video on CNET TV to see how it's done. Then read on for the details in print.
I've previously showed you how to run Windows on your Mac in Boot Camp. What we have here today is slightly different. It's called virtualization. Virtualization software actually pretends to be a computer and, in this case, it runs the whole Windows operating system as a program in OS X.
The first thing you need on the road to Windows virtualization is a legal copy of Windows XP or Windows Vista. Next, you need to download a virtualization program. Two of the most popular are VMware Fusion and Parallels. Since I shot the video, I've also been made aware of VirtualBox, an open-source virtualization machine.
Download your choice and install it in OS X.
The next step is to install Windows into the virtual machine. But, as I mentioned earlier, I already installed Windows on a Boot Camp partition on my machine. If you have done this, too, you need do nothing! Your virtual machine can run Windows off the Boot Camp partition giving you the option of booting solely into Windows if you wish.
You lose a few features if you use Boot Camp as your virtual machine. So you have to decide whether the extra trouble of Boot Camp is worth the flexibility to boot solely into Windows. For me it was. It saved my life on CNET Live a couple times.
Whether you're installing Windows as a virtual machine or running it off the Boot Camp partition, you will need to go through Windows Activation, because Windows sees the virtual machine as a whole new set of hardware.
If you've only installed Windows once, or never, activation should happen seamlessly online. But if you, like me, have played with more than one virtual machine plus Boot Camp, you may have used up your activations. Which means you may have to call Microsoft to activate.
The automated system will ask you a few questions. You don't need to lie, just answer as if you've rebuilt the computer, replacing everything but the motherboard.
Another note here for Boot Camp lovers: Make sure to install the tools provided by your virtualization software before you boot into Windows directly from Boot Camp. Otherwise you may end up in an activation loop. You may still have to activate online, but it should only happen once if at all. Also, Boot Camp or not, be prepared to reactivate Microsoft Office as well.
OK! We finally have Windows rolling on our Mac. Kind of cool but it's all trapped inside a little window. Let's set it free, shall we?
In Parallels there's something called "Coherence Mode." In VMware Fusion it's Called "Unity mode." Whichever one you're using, turn it on, and watch the magic. The Windows taskbar shows up on the bottom of your screen! I moved my OS X dock to the side so they don't compete. Programs you run from Windows show up in their own Windows just like an OS X application.
You can even cut and paste between Windows and OS X programs! Essentially, you have Windows and OS X running side by side.
A few notes, though: The Windows programs do a run a tad slower than the OS X programs. They're also limited to being in one monitor even if you have two monitors going, although the beta of the new VMware Fusion has added multiple monitor support. Also, if you're running off the Boot Camp partition, you have to shut down Windows from the Start menu before you close the virtualization program.
If you're not using Boot Camp, you can take snapshots of the system and start from the same place next time you run it. That's just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but enough to get you going. Don't forget that neither VMware Fusion nor Parallels is free. You can get free trials, but they each cost about $80 to keep.
Oh and Windows isn't the only OS you can virtualize. You can also do Linux and other OSes. And no activation issues!