Windows Tips and Tricks for Mac Users
It has been possible to run Windows in virtual machines on Macs for many years. However, with the recent switch to Intel chips and the beta releases of Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation for Mac OS X, interest among Mac users in running Windows has expanded significantly. This article is intended to help new – and perhaps even long-time – users of Windows with a few tips I’ve learned over the years of suffering at the help desk of a Windows-using corporation.
Licensing and Activation — If you own an old Windows PC and hope you can move that computer’s Windows license to your shiny new Boot Camp-enabled Macintosh, or even a virtual machine, you may be out of luck.
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) versions of Windows XP, such as those that came with a system, have different end-user licensing agreements (EULAs) than the retail versions of XP. Many of these EULAs do not allow transfer to a different system.
To complicate matters, Windows XP has a mandatory activation process where the installation must be "approved" by Microsoft within 30 days of installation. If you install an OEM version of Windows XP on a Macintosh, the activation may not work.
Retail versions of Windows XP do allow transfers to new systems, although you will still need to run through the mandatory activation and may need to spend some time on the phone with Microsoft explaining what you are doing. You can view the EULAs for Microsoft’s products at the Web site below.
Installation — I have only three tips for installing Windows XP, and Mac users who are not used to the evils of the Windows world should pay particular attention to them.
Do not connect your computer to the network until you have Service Pack 2 installed.
Use a strong password.
Install remaining patches once connected to the network.
For a Boot Camp installation, leave your network cable disconnected. For a virtual machine installation, you should be able to disable the virtual network card manually in the machine settings (Virtual PC does this, I’m not sure about other products such as Parallels Workstation). If in doubt, disconnect the network cable from your computer.
Windows XP is notorious for being infected immediately after a new installation, before the user has time to install system patches. Windows XP Service Pack 1 installations have been reported compromised in as little as 4 minutes after being placed on a standard DSL connection.
If your Windows XP installation CD does not include Service Pack 2, use your Mac to download the standalone Service Pack 2 installer (a 266 MB download). You can use this to install SP2 prior to connecting to the network. If you use a slow dial-up connection, Microsoft will mail you a CD for free.
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Once you have installed Service Pack 2, be sure to visit Microsoft’s Windows Update to download the patches released after Service Pack 2. You may have to reboot and reconnect to Windows Update several times to ensure you have all the patches. Windows Update requires Internet Explorer.
If you will be doing numerous Windows XP installations, to many machines or just repeated installs on your own, you may wish to build a custom install CD with patches already included on it. The nLiteOS and Bart’s PE Builder are popular tools for building specialized Windows XP boot CDs.
Additional Security – Always leave a firewall turned on, whether that’s the built-in Windows one or third party software. This is a good idea even if you’re computer is behind a hardware NAT firewall. The Windows firewall acts more like Little Snitch on the Mac, informing you of each program that attempts to access the network. This is good for finding spyware that was installed with a downloaded application. Two popular third party firewalls are Zone Alarm and Kerio Personal Firewall. Both offer feature limited free versions as well as paid versions with more features.
Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool should have been installed as part of the Windows Update during installation. This tool is not a replacement for a full-featured anti-virus package, but it can be helpful in removing hard-to-purge malware. It is updated once a month.
Anti-Virus — Speaking of viruses, you definitely want to install an anti-virus package. With the thousands of Windows viruses in existence, anti-virus software is a mandatory requirement for all Windows XP installations. I am not personally fond of the packages produced by big name vendors such as Symantec and McAfee; however, if you work for a corporation that licenses one of these products, home use versions are frequently available for little or no cost. I prefer Grisoft’s AVG product; home users can get it for free.
Spyware Removal — Be sure to install spyware detection and removal software. Most anti-virus products and firewalls do not block spyware installations. Some spyware is maliciously installed via deceiving Web pages, but quite a bit comes bundled with free applications. Unlike the Mac world where most free applications are just that, in the Windows world free programs are frequently ad-supported software: they download ads from the Internet and display them to you. There is nothing wrong with this business model (Eudora has offered an ad sponsored version for a long time and never been accused of being spyware), but unfortunately some adware vendors install ad software that:
- Is not removed when its host software is uninstalled
- Hijacks your Web browser
- Can cause crashes due to bugs
- Displays ads all the time
- Tracks the Internet sites you visit
This type of abusive software can be difficult to remove. Two popular tools for removing spyware are LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware and Safer Networking’s Spybot Search & Destroy. The Personal edition of Ad-Aware is free of charge to home users. Spybot Search & Destroy is free for all. You may wish to install both products and keep them updated. Frequently one application will catch something the other won’t.
Also, be wary of other malware removal tools. Some are actually spyware installers rather than uninstallers.
Alternate Web Browsers — Internet Explorer is one of the biggest security holes in Windows XP. I highly recommend installing an alternate browser. Firefox is probably the most popular Windows browser after Internet Explorer. Opera, a popular browser on the Mac, is also available on Windows.
Other Utilities — So far, most of my suggestions have been about protecting and securing your new Windows installation. What follows are utilities I’ve found useful in actually accomplishing tasks in Windows. Although a ton of free utilities are available for Windows, many of them can be completely useless, or worse, buggy or infected with spyware. Finding software you trust can be tricky. Be sure to dig around for suggestions from other Windows users.
Working with Zip Files: Like Mac OS X, Windows XP includes built-in functionality for working with Zip files. However, if you need extended features like disk spanning you might want to look at some of the other Zip programs available. StuffIt is also available for Windows and can expand StuffIt archives created on the Mac (resource forks are skipped, but if the file is usable on Windows, like Word documents, the resource forks are probably unnecessary anyway).
Media Players: Windows XP comes with Windows Media Player by default. QuickTime is also available, but unfortunately Apple decided to make the default installation of QuickTime include iTunes. If you already use iTunes on your Mac, you may not want it running in Windows XP on the same Mac. If you dig around you can find a QuickTime-only installer from Apple.
Other popular media players include Nullsoft’s WinAmp for audio files and VideoLAN’s VLC for video media. Note that Windows XP does not include a DVD player by default.
Google includes the Google Video Player in its Google Pack software collection. The Google Video Player is required for watching videos purchased from Google Video.
Working with Photos: Also included in the Google Pack collection is Picasa, a free utility similar to iPhoto.
Working with PDF: Like the Mac, the free Acrobat Reader is available for reading PDFs on Windows. However several alternatives are available for both creating PDFs and reviewing and editing PDFs. The University of Wisconsin has made several PostScript and PDF handling utilities available under the GNU Public License. These utilities can be used for viewing, printing, and creating PostScript and PDF files. CutePDF offers a free PDF Writer tool for creating PDFs.
Brave New World — Thousands of Mac users are undoubtedly experimenting with Windows XP via Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation right now, but we all need to remember that Windows XP isn’t just Mac OS X with a different look and feel. In particular, it’s essential to maintain good security practices at all times, something that’s not second nature to many Mac users. I hope these hard-won tips will ease your initial explorations into Windows XP, and that you’ll be able to make the most of the additional flexibility of running Windows while being able to stick with the familiar face of Mac OS X for everything else.