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Two for joy

Two for joy
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First Published: Wed, May 30 2007. 12 06 AM IST
Updated: Wed, May 30 2007. 12 06 AM IST
With technology becoming obsolete faster than the speed of thought, change also brings with it uncertainty. It’s the same when you talk of computer operating systems (OS). With newer programs being introduced every other day, it is imperative that you keep up with the developments. So, how does one handle the change? The answer is: two OSes in one computer. Welcome to the world of dual booting.
Largely confined to the world of techies or computer experts because of the complex processes involved, dual booting has become a lifesaver for many ordinary users especially since the launch of Windows Vista. For users who were comfortable with Windows XP and the programs used on that, Vista poses new problems: It still does not support some old programs.
Theoretically, it sounds simple to load two OSes on a computer. Technically, there are a lot of issues. Managing all the different partition types, figuring out how to lay out the partitions so they can boot, are among the issues not many users want to be bothered with or can handle.
Thanks to newer software such as VMware and Boot Camp (for Mac), this process has become much easier. A program that allows users to achieve this is known as the boot loader.
Let’s take a look at some of the popular and easy-to-use ones.
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
A Microsoft product, it is believed to be very stable and has good integration capabilities for running two different Windows OSes on the same computer. Virtual PC lets you create separate virtual machines on your Windows desktop, each of which virtualizes the hardware of a complete physical computer. In short, you have two computers on one hardware set-up.
This software is different from dual booting in the sense that you don’t need to reboot to switch between OSes. Simply known as ‘virtualization’, the process allows you to switch between OSes at the click of a mouse since they run two (or in some cases three) different OSes off the same hard drive. So, you are not switching from one OS to another, but simply changing a drive in theory.
The functionality is not hampered, provided your hardware is up to the requirement. It is difficult to suggest or recommend hardware set-ups since it depends on the kind of software you plan to use and how much space you need for your data. But it’s always safer to err on the side of excess hardware than to realize that you don’t have enough firepower.
In theory, such a set-up also allows you to have multiple users on the same computer. Microsoft recently developed a software in India that is aimed at reducing costs of hardware by letting two users access one computer simultaneously.
Sure, there is a limit to the number of people who would opt for a multiple-user system on one computer. But it is useful in learning environments such as schools and colleges where costs for hardware acquisition are often too high.
One of the more popular services for virtualization of your computer is VMware. The free converter software allows users to make their physical machine into a virtual one. What it does is create a virtual drive where you can load the second OS of your choice.
A virtual machine is one that you can use as if it was on your desk. The virtual machine could be in another part of the world, but for you, it is accessible like your local machine. The obvious advantages of this are for people who are travelling and have a desktop back home or in the office they need to access, or for IT professionals who need to control and work on servers located half a world away.
But for the average user in an office, it can mean having only a monitor, keyboard and mouse and using a computer with another user, thereby cutting down on costs for the company. And if no functionality or security is compromised, the pay-off is surely worth it.
Mac Boot Camp
There was a good reason for Apple to employ Intel chips, and one of them was the possibility of loading and running Windows OS off a Mac. Bundled with OS X Leopard is something called Boot Camp that allows you to install Windows on your Mac and run it natively.
Why you would do it is another question, but the option is now available.
Simply put, there are users who want to switch to Macs but can’t do so because most of their work depends on a Windows machine, thanks to the software they have invested in or need to use. But with Boot Camp, they can partition their hard drive and run Windows natively off their Mac without needing a second computer.
You can install any of the Windows versions (Microsoft Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 2, Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate) provided your hardware is good enough to run them. One thing to always remember when doing this on a Mac is that Apple does not support Windows and anything that goes wrong needs to be fixed with the help of Microsoft support.
The installation procedure isn’t too complex, but there are some points to remember:
You need to have Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.6 or higher with all necessary software updates.
You need at least 10GB free space on your hard drive.
Your Mac must be Intel-based and not PowerPC.
Apple recommends that you print out all instructions before starting with the procedure and we agree with them.
When you start the procedure, Boot Camp burns a disc with all necessary Windows drivers that help it run on Apple hardware. This is a critical step and should not be missed.
Using the Boot Camp software, you can decide how much space you want to set aside for your Windows set-up. This will not move around your Mac files, but create a partition for your Windows OS. Be careful, though, and choose the right partition (virtual drive) or you could lose all your Mac data.
At the moment, the Boot Camp software is still in ‘Public Beta’ stage, which means there may be problems with it and using it should be done after a lot of consideration.
Once you are done with the installation, you can choose Mac OS or Windows when starting up. If, however, you should need to switch from one OS to another, you will need to reboot. The 138MB download is free from Apple (at http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/), but, as we mentioned before, is still in public beta.
Virtualization of your computer or enabling it to dual boot offers a range of advantages. But be careful as it also makes the computer vulnerable. In case of a dual boot Mac with Windows, you are opening up the Mac hardware to Windows viruses. In case of dual booting a Windows machine, you could make yourself susceptible to virus and hack attacks. Spend time on understanding the security issues that could crop up with this.
The advantages are tremendous as well. If you have one licence of Photoshop for Windows XP, for instance, you may want to continue using it despite upgrading to Vista. And dual booting or virtualizing your Windows XP OS would allow you to do this.
There are also issues with Vista not yet supporting all your software and instead of buying a second computer to keep running your old stuff, you could just partition one computer and have it multitasking.
Most of the software that lets you dual boot and virtualize your computer is free, but trust only names that are well known.
Do your research and use forums to get answers to specific questions you may have. The installation for most dual boot software is easy, but it’s the things after that you need to be careful and aware of.
Ensure you partition your hard drive before installing a second operating system
Make sure there is enough hard drive space available to install a whole new operating system and not slow down your operations
Check the RAM you have on your system and the requirements of both OSes you plan to install
If you have any doubts about what you are doing, abort
Back up your data before you start with the procedure. This is not optional
Ensure both operating systems you have are licensed copies since it will ensure company support if required
Hardware requirements will vary based on the operating system you are going to install. Ensure you have the necessary specifications in place
Make sure you know a professional who can help you if required. Better still, leave it to the professional
(Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com)
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First Published: Wed, May 30 2007. 12 06 AM IST
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