Using VMWare Fusion for Windows 7 on a Mac

September 20, 2010

My recent conversion from a Windows 7 Professional Desktop PC to an Apple iMac has been a painless transition, where I’m close to shutting down my PC for good. There are only two PC-based applications which I currently still need to run on my desktop: (1) Password Manager Application, (2) Paint.net graphics application.

Fortunately, there exists a product called CrossOver which allows me to run certain Microsoft Windows applications inside of Mac OS X. CrossOver is based on the WINE WIN32 emulation and basically emulates the Windows calls for most of the Microsoft Windows system functions. So you aren’t running the full-blown Windows OS but still can run Windows applications. As such, running such apps with CrossOver is fairly quick on the Mac. CrossOver is a commercial product that normally sells for $40 US, but after the trial period ends they sent me an email offering the product for $20 US which I thought was a deal, so I purchased it.

Now, CrossOver worked fine for running my Password Manager application, as it was based on standard WIN32 calls and control libraries. So, I can start up my Password app very easily by just selecting the app’s icon from the Mac Applications Folder. I have to note that the buttons, and other various Windows controls look very Windows XP-ish (not Vista or Windows 7), and some of the fonts used in the app are a bit off, but neverthless the app runs quite well.

Unfortunately, I can’t run the Paint.net application using CrossOver since this application heavily uses Microsoft’s .NET technology. Apparently, CrossOver doesn’t have a way of emulating the latest .NET libraries so I’m out-of-luck with running my favorite graphics application on the Mac.

After searching through all the available native Mac graphics apps, I still can’t find anything that can do everything I need to do easily as with Paint.net. So, I tend to run back to my Windows 7 Desktop PC (using a Remote Desktop Connection from my Mac) whenever I need to do some graphics image editing. Since at some point I want to turn off my Desktop PC forever, I need to find a solution to this issue.

So, I decided to explore using Virtualization Software which will emulate the x86 hardware virtually, basically simulating a Desktop PC. I can then install Windows 7 in that environment and run Windows and Windows-based applications through this emulation.

There seems to be three big players in this field to choose from: (1) Parallels, (2) VMWare Fusion, and (3) VirtualBox. Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are commercial products that go head-to-head for this application, and both cost around $80 US. VirtualBox is freeware offered by Sun Microsystems which has similar virtualization technology. I’ve used VirtualBox for my Palm WebOS development (the Palm Emulator runs inside of it) and it seems to work fairly well. I’ve also used VirtualBox with Windows 7 and it also worked fine, but seemed a little slow when starting up the applications.

Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are designed for a smoother and transparent operation running on the Mac when compared to VirtualBox, in my opinion. Both of these products offer the ability to run a Windows App on the Mac such that it appears to be a Mac application. So if I run my Paint.net application it will popup in a window on my Mac and operate just as it would on my PC in it’s own window.

So, I decided to download the VMWare Fusion software and use their 30-day trial period to test it out. After jumping through their hoops to get a temporary activation code, the installation of VMWare Fusion and the Windows 7 OS was a piece of cake. Very easy to install, as I simply inserted my Windows 7 OS install CD when asked for it from VMFusion, and away I went.

I used the default settings for the virtual environment of 40 GB of simulated disk drive space, along with 1 GB of RAM. This should be sufficient for running Windows 7 and my Paint.net application. After the Win 7 installation and the various Microsoft Updates, I was all ready to do. No need to fuss with internet connections, etc.

I then installed Paint.net in this virtual world and was able to run it using VMWare’s “Unity” mode which makes the app appear to be a Mac application (running in it’s own window). So I don’t see the Windows 7 Desktop, just my Paint.net app running in a window on my Mac’s desktop screen. Sweet!

I was surprised at the responsiveness of Windows 7 running in this environment, as it appears just as snappy as running it on my Desktop PC. I especially like the Unity-mode, which allows me to run a single app on my Mac. In fact, there’s a drop-down menu from my Mac’s menu bar which allows me access to all the installed apps in the VMWare Fusion’s Windows environment, so I can effectively run any installed app very easily. Note, that Parallels has a similar feature called “Coherence”, so you can probably do something similar with that product.

Another cool thing is that I can configure VMWare to share my Mac’s desktop, and as such all the files currently on my Mac’s desktop appear on the Window’s desktop as well. I can also place an icon of a Windows application on my Mac’s Dock bar so I can launch it very easily.

Now the real test, is how quickly can I start up VMWare Fusion on my Mac when I want to run Paint.net? It would be a real drag if it took 5 minutes for the entire system to boot up for me to run a single application. So I did a quick test on my iMac quad-core i7 machine to see how fast I can bring up the Paint.net application with VMWare Fusion not running in the background.

So clicking on my Paint.net icon on the Mac dock launches VMWare Fusion (which started up the VMFusion virtualization software and booted up Windows 7 inside of it) and my Paint.net application appeared in a self-contained window on my Mac in 30 seconds. That time is actually pretty good, since VMFusion is booting up Windows 7 from a cold start!

Another feature with VMWare Fusion is that you can save a Windows session as “Suspended”, which stores the current Windows environment in a file for faster startup. So I initiated the suspend mode and then Quit the VMFusion application. Next, when I clicked on the Paint.net icon in my Mac’s Dock bar the Paint.net application appeared in 10 seconds! That was astounding, and perfectly acceptable for my needs of running a few specific Windows applications on my Mac. Who knows if VMWare is achieving this because it’s using the multiple core processors on my i7 iMac, but in any case I’m really liking this!

The only downside to all of this, is that you need a Windows 7 license for your virtual world. That shouldn’t be a problem for me, as I can always decommission one of my retired PCs and use that license. Also, you’re tying up a certain amount of system memory (in my case, 1 GB) and a small amount of disk space on your Mac system, but I think that is perfectly acceptable for what I’m getting in return.

So there you have it. A perfect solution for running much-needed Windows Apps on your Mac. VMWare Fusion seems to run fast and allows easy and convenient access to my Windows Apps. I just need to fork over $80 and get a full license. 😉


Week 4: Apple Mac Update

September 14, 2010

It’s been over 3 weeks now since I purchased my Apple iMac, and I’m still loving it. The system is running strong and fast, I haven’t had the need to reboot it for any reason (except for an OS update), and it just works. I still have my Windows 7 Quad-Core Desktop PC running in my home office, but I only use it for recording my TV shows and converting them for my Zune HD media player.

Surprisingly, it was relatively easy for me to make the switch from Windows to the Mac. I’m finding the “muscle memory” of doing an CTRL+C to copy has been replaced by CMD+C rather easily. In fact, I catch myself now trying to find the CMD key on my Dell Win 7 netbook! The one thing I miss on my Apple Bluetooth keyboard is the equivalent of the DELETE key and the HOME/END keys. Otherwise, I seemed to have adapted well to the Mac OS X environment.

What’s still a big bummer for me, is finding a replacement for my Paint.net graphics application. I absolutely love that app, and I can’t find an adequate replacement for OS X.  I’ve tried Pixelmator, Pinta, Seashore, Gimp, and a few other obscure apps and nothing is as easy to use as Paint.net. Unfortunately, Paint.net will never be ported to the Mac so I’m out of luck. The Pinta app was developed to mimic Paint.net, but it seems to have some glaring bugs when I use it and also doesn’t have all the features that I require from Paint.net. Gimp has been around a long time and has a lot of features, but it is not a native OS X app and requires the old Unix X11 overlay to run it. Pixelmator is the obvious replacement choice, but in using that app I had some unexpected crashes and some difficulty doing basic graphics editing (e.g., making rectangular boxes, etc.). So, nothing is perfect I guess.

I think what’s helped in my transition is the fact that so much of what I do is on the Internet and is web-based. Most of my activities involve a web browser, whether it’s doing online banking, searching for infomation, reading news and articles, checking email messages, creating a map with driving directions, etc. As such, I’m less reliant on having dedicated applications installed on my personal computer to do these activities. So, moving to a different computer platform isn’t such a shocking transition.

I’m certainly glad I made the switch, and over the course of the upcoming months and years I’ll probably continue my migration towards using Apple products. First an Apple iPod Touch to replace my Microsoft Zune HD, then maybe a 13″ Macbook Pro to replace my Dell 11z Notebook, followed by an iPad, and from there who knows?


My new clutter free desktop!

August 25, 2010

One great advantage to switching to an integrated system like my iMac, is a big reduction in cables. With a wireless keyboard and mouse and built-in WiFi, the only cable I have is the power cord! Before I made the switch, I had tons of cables stretching from my desk over to my side table (where my main CPU box resided). Two DVI cables for my dual monitors, two power cables, a speaker cable, several USB cables, etc. were all tangled under my desk. Now, I removed all of them and just have my lovely 27″ iMac sitting center stage on my desk.

As of now, I’m totally off of my Windows 7 PC. The only reason why I still have it turned on, is for recording TV shows using its built-in TV Tuner card. Also, I still have a Zune HD that I use to watch my recorded TV shows, so I need my Windows PC to run the Zune syncing software (Microsoft doesn’t make  an equivalent syncing software for the Mac). Nevertheless, I removed my keyboard and monitor for the Windows PC running it “headless”. I can always connect to it via a remote desktop software package from my iMac.

At some point, I’ll probably switch to an iPod Touch and use the EyeTV HD to record my TV shows directly on my Mac. In that case, I can completely shutdown my desktop PC and have a nice, quiet office to work in.


Getting old perpherials working with my iMac

August 25, 2010

It seems that as time goes on various standards just become obsolete. For example, some of the new LCD monitors with the DVI inputs use a slightly different cable connector than the LCD monitors from just a few years back (I discovered this when I bought a 2nd monitor for my old PC). Also, video card slots in PC motherboards seem to change every year, so upgrading a PC for a DIYer usually means upgrading more components than you may want.

In my case, I have a very old HP Laserjet 4000N printer that has been my workhorse printer for over 10 years. For the longest time I used it with my various PCs making a connection to it via a parallel printer port (remember those?). A few years ago I upgrade my PC’s motherboard and it didn’t a parallel port, which made sense since most printers now use USB connections. As such, I was stuck until I found a Parallel Port-to-USB conversion cable that allowed me to extend the life of my HP Laserjet printer (yeah!). It did require a special PC driver, but after finding the right one on the web I was back in business.

Flash forward to today, I now have a nice shiny new iMac sitting on my desk with just a few USB ports on the back. Of course, the kludge I use with the Parallel Port-to-USB cable won’t work with my iMac. So what now? I hate to dump this laser printer since it still works (and I have an extra $100 toner cartridge for it in my closet). Fortunately, this is a network printer and has an ethernet port on the back of it. If I can connect the printer to my home network I can just print to it using its fixed IP address. Also, since it is a postscript printer I can print to it from my iMac… sweet!

The only problem, is that my home office is upstairs and the wireless router is downstairs in my wife’s office. I would need to keep the laser printer downstairs near the wireless router since I would need to physically connect it to the router using a network cable. Ugh!

Fortunately, I came upon a solution using a wireless network adapter that is used primarily for gaming machines (Xbox, Nintendo Wii, etc). The device I chose was a TrendNet Wireless N Gaming Adapter which has a CAT5 ethernet port for connecting to a network-ready device.

Basically you configure this device to connect to your wireless router and you can then connect whatever you want into it (via the ethernet port). I tested it using my laptop PC and it worked great, allowing me to surf the Internet in a web browser.

Getting this device connected to my D-Link wireless router was painless using the new WPS method (where you click on a button on the router and then click on button on the wireless adapter device). All the WiFi security WPA2 security stuff was completely taken care of.

I then configured my HP Laserjet to “Network Mode”, connected it to the wireless adapter and viola I was in business! On the Mac side, I just added a new line printer and entered the IP address of my HP laserjet printer and I was able to print out test pages. To make sure the IP address doesn’t change, I configured the D-Link router to assign a static IP address.

So, with a little luck and some ingenuity I was able to get my workhorse laser printer working again with my new iMac. Who knows how long it will last, but for now I’m able to continue using an ancient peripheral with my futuristic iMac computer.


Why do switchers love their Macs?

August 24, 2010

When you ask a recent PC-to-Mac switcher why they love their Macs, they usually can’t give you a definite answer. You hear responses like, “… it’s great!”, or, “… it runs so well and fast”. Nothing very definitive. For me, it was the advanced hardware (27″ LED screen with Intel i7 Quad-Core processor, 64-bit OS) that lured me in, but what’s really exciting me are the little things you find in the Mac OS X.

For example, when you highlight a file name in Finder and tap the spacebar, you get an instant preview of that file. Whether it’s a PDF file, Word document, text file, JPG image, etc. a preview is rendered in seconds on the screen. A very handy and helpful feature. You can also setup Finder to preview your files in “Coverflow” format, where you can scroll or flick through them very quickly (like in the iTunes app).

The fact that everything seems to work out-of-the-box without any significant fiddling with dialog boxes and drivers is refreshing also. The installation of software is a breeze, often just requiring you to drag the single application file over to your Applications Folder. Viola!

If I find an image on a web page that I want to copy, I can simply drag that image from the web page to my Mac’s desktop and it is saved instantly. No need to right-click, select “Save As…”, give it a file name and location, etc.

One really cool app that I’ve got loaded is called Growl, which is a notification system for various apps installed on my system. So for example whenever I get an email message I get a banner rolling up from the bottom of my screen notifying me of the new message. Sure, MS-Outlook has a similar notification box, but Growl’s notification looks much more polished. Again, it’s the little things that makes me like the Mac OS X.

To compress or zip a file, I just right-click on the file (or folder) in Finder and select “Compress”. A zip file is created instantly, and I didn’t need to find and install some Zip compression product.

On my PC I created a batch file that contained some cryptic commands to zip up files in a folder and then copy it to my DropBox folder for syncing to the Cloud. On my Mac, I used an interactive utility called Automator (comes with the Mac OS X) which allowed me to build up a similar script with easy-to-understand building blocks. I now have the same functionality of my previous DOS batch file, but it was much easier to create and use.

So as you can see there’s lots of small things that makes me more productive on the Mac, and thus justifies my move over to the Mac platform. It certainly is a big switch, and I’m surprised that I’m adapting so well in just two days. So we’ll just see if this enthusiasm continues… 🙂


The big Email migration

August 24, 2010

Email has become a very important part of our lives, for both past, present, and future. I’ve got years of emails archived in MS-Outlook which I often search for from time to time. Thus, I can’t just abandoned my old email files when moving from the PC to the Mac.

So how am I going to get my MS-Outlook emails from the PC over to Apple Mail? Unfortunately, Apple Mail can’t read the PST file format that MS-Outlook uses to store the emails, so I needed a way of converting my Outlook emails to a format compatible with Apple Mail. After doing a brief Google search, I came upon two possible solutions: (1) Use an intermediary email client app called Thunderbird to import the emails from a PST file, and then export them as a MBOX file for Apple Mail, or (2) Use a commercial app called Outlook2Mac which will convert the mail in the PST file to MBOX format.

I opted to pay the $10 US for Outlook2Mac and do the conversion directly, as I didn’t trust Thunderbird to handle the in-and-out conversion. So after several minutes of processing I had my emails from Outlook in a several MBOX files and was able to import them into Apple Mail. Yahoo!

It took me a while to clean up my emails and get them organized into folders, but that task was completed in very short order.


Day two with my new iMac

August 24, 2010

Today is my second day with my iMac, and I’m totally consumed by it. I mentioned to my wife that I feel like I’ve been transported 10 years into the future as the iMac with the OS X operating system seems so streamlined and futuristic. I’ve spend most of the past two days searching and installing apps which are equivalent to those I’ve used for years on my Windows PC machine. Here’s what I’ve converted to with going to my iMac:

Email: MS-Outlook to Apple Mail

Apple Mail is a very streamlined email client which on the surface seemed too lite for my needs, but in time I realized that it was totally sufficient. For a while it was a toss up between Apple Mail and the 3rd-party freeware called Thunderbird. Both apps look very similar, but the Thunderbird app had many more plug-ins and “themes” to help customize the application. In the end, I decided to stick with Apple Mail since it is designed to be integrated into the Apple OS.

Calendar: MS-Outlook to Apple iCal

I use my calendar for very basic stuff, so I didn’t need a “power” calendar app. What I did need, however, was a way to have 2-way syncing with my Google Calendar in the Cloud. With MS-Outlook on my PC, I needed to have a small background app running continuously to sync my Outlook Calendar with Google Calendar. Fortunately on the Mac, iCal can handle this two-way syncing automatically.

Web Browser: Firefox

I used Firefox on my PC and fortunately I could do the same on the iMac. All of my favorite plug-ins were available, however, the theme I was using on my PC wasn’t available on the iMac. Apple’s Safari browser is good, but I really like using the plug-ins from Firefox. And best of all, Firefox is still free!

Office Suite: MS-Office to iWork

Although I do have MS-Office for the Mac 2008 installed on my iMac, I prefer to use Apple’s iWork suite of products. For $49 US (after the $30 rebate), the iWork suite seems to be a good deal compared to MS-Office. Pages is the counterpart to MS-Word, Numbers to MS-Excel, and Keynote to MS-Powerpoint.

Palm WebOS Development: VirtualBox, Eclipse, WebOS

For my Palm WebOS development work, I’m using the exact same software as I did on the PC platform. So no changes there.

Text Editor: Notepad++ to Text Wrangler

I really loved using NotePad++ on my PC for code editing, and was lucky to find a similar product with Text Wrangler for the Mac. In fact, the Mac counterpart looked much better and fuller featured than NotePad++.

Media Player: Windows Media Player to VLC

VLC is a freeware video player which does a good job playing various windows formatted video files such as WMV. I tested it with some of my Zune-formatted WMV files and it worked great.

Notes Clipping App: EverNote

EverNote is the same for the PC and Mac, so this was a no brainer move.

So that’s a short list of the major apps I had to deal with during my Mac transition. I also installed apps for file compression (zip), remote desktop connection, screen capture, WiFi scanning, and cloud storage (DropBox). So I’m now at the point where I can be productive again.

In addition to all my apps, I also copied over my documents and files from the PC to the Mac. This was my chance to clean house a bit, and spent a few hours deleting old files which I wouldn’t need on my Mac. So I’m feeling good now with all of that over with, and I can now focus on exploring and learning how to use my new iMac!