Truth be told, I’ve used PCs and Windows since what seems like the dawn of time. I wrote papers in college using WordStar in DOS, took my Master’s degree Comps in Word for DOS…and then finally moved in to Windows. For the past twenty years, I’ve used Windows machines and products – and have dealt with crashes, BSODs, etc, for just as long.

As a tech writer, I was never in an environment to use FrameMaker so it was Word all the way. And Word meant Windows. I was growing tired of the things that come with Windows. So, as a birthday surprise, my husband bought me a MacBook a little over 2 years ago. It was a thing of beauty. Sure, adjusting to a Mac environment took some time…but it was like going home again even though I’d never been there before. Gone were the crashes, the BSODs (the repetition is intentional – I’ve been traumatized), the viruses despite the scans.

But I was faced with a problem – my bread and butter, MadCap products, were only made for Windows.

I knew about Boot Camp but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of booting up either one OS or the other. So, I talked with a friend who knew Macs well, disliked Windows as much (if not more) than me, and had an idea: A virtual Windows machine on my Mac. Hmmm….intriguing. I’d heard of virtual servers and virtual reality – but never a virtual machine, a different OS altogether, on a computer.

So, said Mac friend recommended that I try VirtualBox, a free product that would partition my Mac harddrive and create a virtual Windows computer on my Mac. I wouldn’t have to boot one or the other – I could have both running at the same time. While ‘free’ carries its own set of risks, it’s also an excellent price for a test-drive. So I installed VirtualBox, a licensed copy of Windows, my MadCap products, and MS Office (only because most of my clients use it exclusively) and tested it out. It was wonderful…to a point. It did everything I needed except that I could never get it to reliably read a jump drive or a CD. To solve this, I had to finagle things, google answers…activities that took time away from working on my clients’ projects.

Then the nightmare happened – I pushed a button (take a snapshot, I believe) and then something else – and VB wiped everything back to the original install. All my Flare files were gone, Office was gone, everything. Luckily, I had backed up stuff (discussed in another post). But I was pretty much burned off of VirtualBox. I blame myself for the error – but the damage had been done.

I talked again with my Mac Friend, and he too was researching alternatives to VirtualBox. He suggested Parallels, a paid virtualization tool. At $79 for a license and use of a fully-functional ten day trial, I was in. Mac Friend had spoken highly of Parallels explaining that switching from one to the other was easy – Parallels simply read and transferred over the info upon installation. It was really was that easy.

  • I was concerned that it wouldn’t bring the Windows OS license info over so I was prepared to invest in another license of that. No problem there.
  • I was worried that switching from the Windows side to the Mac side would be clunky…again, no problem. Parallels has something called a Coherence Mode where your Windows box, including all open apps, shows in your Dock on the Mac side.
  • Would I be able to view files on one side in the other? Again, no problem.

After the 10 day trial, I gladly handed over the license fee (I got it discounted to $65 through an email offer) and I’ve been a happy camper ever since. I can run MadCap products on my Mac and get the best of both worlds.

Update 7/25/2013

I was happily using Parallels until Mountain Lion from Apple was released. I gladly upgraded and then hit a brick wall when I went over to Parallels.

Given that I had a tight deadline for a client, I had to figure out the problem quickly. I searched the Parallels forums and found that this version of Parallels wasn’t compatible with Mountain Lion – but the developers were hoping to have the next version that would be compatible soon.

I couldn’t wait that long!

So, I downloaded a trial of VMWare Fusion 5. The website claimed that their latest version was compatible with Mountain Lion so I took a chance. (I had no choice, truth be told.)

The transition was seamless…although I did need to get a new license key for Windows, and a new license for Office…and I had to transfer all of my MadCap keys. But really, that was a small price to pay to get back to work.

Update 10/19/2013

I’ve been very happy with VMWare Fusion. No hiccups, no disasters…in fact, I think my monster Flare project (5000 topics) runs faster in VMWare Fusion than it ever did with Parallels.

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