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Nigel Harris's Mac Diary: Who wants Windows on a Mac?

22nd Jun 2009
Partner Burton Sweet
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Apple Macintosh For nearly two decades, accountants have given a wide berth to the Apple Macintosh, favouring the more mainstream PC. Encouraged by some of his clients, Nigel Harris decided to buck the trend. This is the story of his new computing life.

Windows on a Mac? Not for me, thanks

One thread which has come up many times in the comments posted on this blog and in my initial research on Macs is whether or not to run Windows on the Mac (by creating a virtual Windows machine on the Mac using something like VMWare) as well as Mac OS. The question I suppose is why? The beauty of the Apple Mac is that you have hardware and software specifically designed for each other, working together in perfect (well, almost) harmony. Start running Windows on it and who knows what will happen!

Of course, if you need to run Windows applications you haven't got much choice, especially if you need them to support clients running Windows. But it seems to me that in that case you might as well save yourself some hassle - and a stack of cash - and just buy a Windows PC. For me the beauty of the Mac is that it's a Windows and Microsoft-free environment, and for the time being my iMac is going to stay that way, so I'm not installing VMWare and Windows any time soon! Fort he time being I have all the MS Office-compatible programs I need, and once I get online no-one cares whether I'm using Windows, Mac OS or Linux, so I can run things like Google Docs and any online accounting package equally well from my office PC or my Macbook mobile. And despite reviews I have read elsewhere, the Apple Safari browser is fine for accessing the firm's online Outlook so when I'm away from my desk I can still access the same essential data.

Of far greater urgency is my huge iTunes library on my PC. Apparently you can't just migrate it from one machine onto another, but a quick Google search reveals that there are lots of cheap utilities that by-pass Apple's restrictions and enable you to copy iTunes files between machines of all sorts, so I'll have to try one out. Anyone got a favourite one? Is there a free iTunes utility that enables you to copy the contents of your iPod onto a new computer?

* * *

Office needed - but which one?

The next decision is software for day-to-day use. I need a Microsoft Word-compatible word processor, but which one? I’m not a power user by any means but I need to be able to exchange Word documents with PC users, and use features such as change tracking and comments.

1. The obvious choice would be Word itself. As far as I can make out, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is not simply a Mac version of the PC program but something that has developed in parallel. Reviews seem to suggest it’s slow and prone to crashing, and – more importantly – it is not 100% compatible with Office 2007 for the PC. Entourage, the Mac version of Outlook, doesn’t seem to be fully compatible with Outlook either, so I think I’ll avoid this option.

2. If I’m going fully down the Mac route I ought to look at Apple’s own iWork ’08, which has similar components to MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It is cheaper than Office, but then it lacks Outlook. It certainly looks good, although reviews seem to suggest it is more suited to home users since it has far fewer features. In exchange you do get full Mac integration, which has to be worth something. One to think about.

3. For the moment I’m going with Open Office, since it’s free and gives me time to assess the options. On the plus side the Word Processor looks and behaves like Word on my PC and I have had no problems exchanging files with PC users – all the formatting and editing features seem to be compatible, although I am having trouble with the word counter. I suspect that when I ask Open Office to track changes in documents the word counter is counting both the original text and the changes – I have just been editing down a draft article and as I delete stuff the word count keeps going up!

So I’m open to suggestions – what would readers recommend?

* * *

The Mac is back!

Sorry Alistair and other readers, the Bank Holiday turned into a week off! But when I returned there was my shiny new Macbook. Even better, it's the latest 2009 model and not an older 2008 model (not sure what diference that makes!). I did pay a bit extra for 2GB of RAM in the replacement, seemed like a false economy to cut corners, especially if I decide to try to install Windows.

First things first, I plugged it in and left it, and, yes, the charger works fine and the battery is up to 100% and happy to run the Macbook out in the garden away from the mains, so that's solved.

The next job was to run the inevitable updates - took about an hour to get everything up to the latest versions, but that's also fixed.

So let's see what we've got here. The display is certainly bright and crisp, no complaints there. I can see it's going to take a while to get used to the desktop and finding everything, but the keyboard looks like the first big hurdle. There are no delete, home or end keys, which I use frequently on my PC so looks like I'm going to be using a lot of function key combinations to mirror tasks I'm used to.

While the trackpad is neat and plain, there's ONLY ONE button! - so no right mouse clicking. I'll have to see what a difference that makes. There seems to be an awkward drag and click combination that sometimes accesses extended menus though. Scrolling is great, just run two fingers up or down the trackpad - in fact it's so easy I already keep trying to do it on my Dell laptop in the office! Definitely a feature they should add to Windows PCs. The scroll area along the right edge of some trackpads doesn't seem to work all the time and just frustrates me.

Next job - try to do some real work on the Macbook.

* * *

False start

I was like a child opening a Chrismas (Ed - are we still allowed to say that in the UK? OK then, Holiday) present. Nice white shiny MacBook, comfortingly brand new in the original Apple packaging and security tapes all in place. Fired it up and it looks great...but wait, the battery still says 0% and it has been charging for hours! Yep, it's a duff machine.

Ran the recommended diagnostic tests and Ebuyer have agreed it's a hardware problem, so a courier will collect it next week and with any luck I'll have a replacement by the Bank Holiday. Ho hum!

* * *

How it all started

I have an increasing number of clients in the creative and music industries, and one thing they all have in common is the Apple Mac. I was visiting a recording studio recently and during a break I wandered round and spotted musicians and engineers using 14 MacBooks for various jobs, and all looking pretty smart (the MacBooks that is, not the musos).

Meanwhile I have been struggling with my Asus EeePC as a portable note-taker and Web browser and have been considering dumping it for a proper laptop.

Discussing this with my musician friends I was persuaded to consider a Mac as an alternative, and was bombarded with tales of how great they are: reliable, never get viruses, easy to use - and dead gorgeous to boot. In the end I was won over and decided to start this journey from PC to Mac, and to share it with you. Will it be a romance like the story of Peter Andre and Jordan, but with silicon chips instead of implants? Perhaps that's not a good comparison after today's news of their break up. I'm hoping for a happier ending with my new relationship.

The first obstacle you face when you visit the Apple website is, of course, the prices. A basic MacBook starts at over £700, and the ultra thin Air model is some £1,300. You need a £1,400 Pro model to run Windows - something in excess of twice the cost of a decent Microsoft-powered notebook PC!

I had a quick flirtation with mini PCs and larger netbooks, but some of these are as expensive as the MacBook and come with all of the disadvantages of a desktop PC in terms of Windows and hardware problems. No, I'm going to stick to the Apple plan.

Problem solved by the excellent where I managed to find a 'last year's model' 13-in MacBook for just over £600, nearly £100 less than Apple's price for the current equivalent becasue its only got 1GB of RAM, which isn't going to be a problem for the uses I have in mind. It does have an Intel Core 2 Duo chip, 120GB hard disk, DVD re-writer and the latest Mac OS X. Looks like a bargain, and as a regular shopper at I feel pretty confident that it will be exactly as advertised, not some refurbished rubbish.

So the order has been placed and I await the arrival of the kit that will see me take my first tentative steps in this brave new world. I'm going to let you know how it goes in this blog, so watch this space.

* * *


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Replies (22)

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By AnonymousUser
15th Jun 2009 10:58

Viruses and (not viruses) Linux
I must admit I am one of the people who ascribed the number of PC viruses to the ubiquity of Windows. When Mac evangelists suggest otherwise I have (since the advent of the iPhone, a triumph of marketing over functionality) taken their claims with a massive pinch of salt. I confess, though, that I have no proof that their claims about security are wrong, merely that their claims about Apple products seem to be based on a love of Apple rather than evidence.

With regard to Linux, I have dreamt of dumping MS for years, and have occasionally tried Linux, but have always had trouble with some aspect or other, whether it be networking, some other issue or just finding software to run on it. the last time I tried it, I could use LogMeIn (remote desktop access software) but it was just not as smooth as with Windows, for which LogmeIn specifically design their software.

I currently use Digita and Moneysoft Payroll Manager (among loads of others). Could I easily get these to work with Linux?

in addition, I often have to work on clients' machines with MS Windows, and I worry that if I use OO too long, i will forget how to use Windows. I accept that this last issue might sound a bit silly.

I do have OO, but really only use it to correct Excel formatting errors.

Sorry if I have gone a little off-thread. Ed. any chance we could have a Linux article?

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By ambroser
13th Jun 2009 17:56

Try oOo - you may be pleasantly surprised...
I have no hessitation in recommending Writer, the Word Processor in Open Office. I have been using Open Office for some time now, along side MS Office. It's a great product which is is intuiative to use and certainly has all the functionality that you need for day-to-day office use.

Open Office is free in more ways than one and, of great importantance, your data is not locked into proprietary file formats so you are free to move again later. Microsoft Office now includes support for ODF (although a third party plug-in is reputed to do a better job).

The fact that it is free, should not put you off: make no mistake, this is a well developed, maintained and supported product. Sun Microsystems has an impressive track-record with many well respected products.


~~~ ~~~ ~~~

In reply to an earlier comment on viruses: it is interesting that Microsoft users seem to think that the number of viruses affecting Windows relative to other operating systems is some sort of quantification of success.

The concluding paragraph in this article (from almost 6 years ago) still rings true:

"Security is, as we all know, a process, not a product. So when you use Linux, you're not using a perfectly safe OS. There is no such thing. But Linux and Mac OS X establish a more secure footing than Microsoft Windows, one that makes it far harder for viruses to take hold in the first place, but if one does take hold, harder to damage the system, but if one succeeds in damaging the system, harder to spread to other machines and repeat the process. When it comes to email-borne viruses and worms, Linux may not be completely immune - after all, nothing is immune to human gullibility and stupidity - but it is much more resistant. To mess up a Linux box, you need to work at it; to mess up your Windows box, you just need to work on it. I know which one I'll trust. How about you?"

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By HarrySharp
12th Jun 2009 12:07

Three years later after switching
Microsoft Office is fine on the Mac and in fact handles graphics and PDF production better than it's Windows counterpart. Essential to have when collaborating with the rest of the world.

Apple's Pages (part of iWork) also is pretty compatible on its own feet and really excellent for page layout (DTP) work as well.

Finally for on the go-work and where sharing is concerned, check out Google Docs. It's excellent for straightforward documents and spreadsheets and the ability to share and collaborate effortlessly with others is brilliant. It can also (which a lot of people don't realise) work off-line when there is no internet connect and then re-sync when you get back on line. And it's free.

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By cerij
12th Jun 2009 11:58

Office 2008
I use Office 2008 for Mac and find it totally compatible with Office 2007 on the PC. I work on the same documents on both Mac and PC all the time. I can't comment on iWork but having seen it briefly it looks like a steep learning curve.

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By Anonymous
11th Jun 2009 09:36

Mac - iBotnet & security matters ...
Mac botnet -

Suggested reading on Mac security

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By AnonymousUser
03rd Jun 2009 10:50

"For right click menu options, two finger click on the mouse/tra
Is the word "genius" really appropriate here?

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By XeroMark
03rd Jun 2009 08:55

Right Click option...
I made the switch to my MacBook about 20 months ago, as you know Nigel, and have not looked back...
Handy tip for you - For right click menu options, two finger click on the mouse/tracker pad. Genius, simple and Easy!


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By AnonymousUser
29th May 2009 09:53

what happened next?
Did the replacement Mac arrive?
How is life with it?

aaarrrrrgggghhhh the suspense is killing me

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By batemap
17th May 2009 20:25

windows software on a mac
I also transferred back to a mac this year after increasing problems with crashing pcs. However, I promptly ran into troubles with Macros in Office 2008 on my Imac as they run under applescript and not VBA. My local Applestore suggested I installed Parallels Desktop 4.0 for mac which seems to be a bit quicker than VMware Fusion 2.0, with windows XP and office 2007. (It comes with kaspersky internet security full version, plus free disk partitioning software and backup and recovery software for windows.). Office 2007 seems to load much faster than on the PCs I also use at clients. Plus you can access Windows files off the Mac desktop without having to launch windows and copy and paste text or share files between windows and osX.

I haven't found a problem yet... Throw in the apple timemachine backup system which enables you to go back to specified times or days, and even if you do have problems (which I haven't) you can quickly go back.

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By fcamba
15th May 2009 12:14

MacBook convert
I have been using a MacBook for the last 2 months, having made the decision to switch.

I use VMware fusion to run Windows XP for my old software: easy to set up and use. My initial annoyances related to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac: editing large and heavily formatted reports transferred over from the PC caused Word to crash many times, and the latest version of Excel for Mac does not support macros. So I could have saved myself the cost of the Mac version and just continued using the PC version of Office with VMware Fusion.

And I did have a battery problem in the first week, but one phone call and Apple immediately authorised a replacement machine.

But I have no regrets on changing to the MacBook.

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By simagnus
15th May 2009 11:49

Apples since 1980
Newton Magnus & Co have used Apple since 1980. We started with Apple 2s (remember Visicalc?) in 1980. We changed to Mac in 1990 and have used them ever since.
We have never had virus problems and apart from running Sage in emulation we have been able to do everything on Macs. We now have 25 Macs, mainly 20"iMacs and ibooks and Macbooks.
Accounts are prepared in MYOB and "typed" in Excel and Word.
We are Consultants for MYOB and support many clients on Mac or PC. The data file is universal and can be run on either platform. Our staff prefer Apple machines, the maintenance and training issues are 10% of the PC overhead!
Although the hardware cost might be higher, the machines are much more reliable, (I have never had a maintance contract in 30 years!) and last longer. We still use machines that are 7 years old. Breakdowns are rare.
We have a Mac server and backup systems and downtime on the network (gigabit ethernet) is approx 45 mins per annum.
We run a payroll bureau for 200 clients on MYOB and submit them electronically.
SA and CT returns are prepared on Mac using QMS software which is Excel based.
We are as far as I am aware the only firm in the Country 100% Apple Mac.
If anyone would like to contact me for advice on Mac [email protected]
Stuart Magnus

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By D T Young
15th May 2009 11:22

Running Windows Software on a Mac
As an expansion of my original posting, can I add a comment
I also run Windows XP .3 on a 20" IMac with Office 2003 installed via VM Ware as my main computer system, although I have PC's and PC laptops in my office.
I run Quickbooks Pro 2008 as well as VT Final Accounts plus TaxCalc Professional Suite. Online filing of accounts has never failed t
They all installed without any problem, and are updating automatically
Quickbooks loads at least twice as fast as any PC I have used anywhere.
I use Microsoft Outlook for E Mail without any hint of problems on the same system.
Like their adverts say - "It just works"

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By Anonymous
15th May 2009 11:17

Computers are only a tool ....
Not really fussed which machine to use - although, MAC users tend to be extremely loyal to Jobs and evangelical about the product

After all it is a tool and depending on your requirement and/or budget you 'pays your money & takes your choice'; although there is no doubt that for a basic main stream computer PC's are infinitely cheaper than MAC's. This is probably the determining factor when businesses purchase; certainly a few years ago at least one of the big 4 had MAC's for audit & PC's for everyone else (merge culture) - they dumped the MAC's & standardised on PC's

Interestingly, a few years ago tried to find software to emulate a MAC on a PC to test some applcations and was unable to find anything sensible - there were however, many offerings to run Windows based apps on the MAC!

Historically MAC's have been the domain of graphic based apps & design, however, all that is changing. Nevertheless there was a scare a few months ago when the market thought SJ was ill and would have to stand down. The reason for the scare was that Apple is a 'one man' company with no natural successor to Jobs; yes a number of those lower down could replace him in certain areas but no one had the breadth/scope of Jobs himself. Basically the perception is that all innovation has emanated from Jobs and if he went the company would stagnate.

Anyway with the advent of SaaS, Cloud etc the barriers between PC & MAC are being broken down

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David Ross
By davidross
15th May 2009 11:12

Macs are best
I have been using mine since 1 November 1984 (got it out of the box and fired off a letter). Have had Excel since 6 years before Windows 3.1.

Mac's don't have viruses because the programmers' don't let you mess with the System

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By Anne Fairpo
15th May 2009 09:08

Welcome to the light
Accounting/tax and Macs are a fine combination (been using it for years) and, as for the price differential, it's really not that different for genuinely similar-spec'd PCs - see pcworld US about two years ago:

"Once I did that, though, and tricked out the [Dell] M1710 with only those extras it had to have to compete with the MacBook Pro, I was surprised to see the Dell come in at a whopping $3,459, some $650 more than the Apple product. " (

Things haven't changed that much, it's that Apple use decent components - and they do last. I only recently replaced my desktop (now have a MacPro) but I'd had it's predecessor for five years; and I only replaced it because I've got a new camera which takes larger RAW file pictures and the aging G4 took forever to process them with Photoshop. For the usual money-earning purposes, the G4 was still fine.

Agreed on the security through obscurity point to some extent; the Unix basis of Mac OSX, and the fairly closed nature of the system, makes it a bit harder to get at than Windows but if someone's going to get a big enough payoff, they will crack it. Firewalls on routers etc are a useful way to go.

eta: and yes, seconded on the VMWare Fusion suggestion. Bootcamp is alright, but it's a lot easier not to have to reboot to do something in Windows.

The other place to find discount Macs is on the online Apple store - look for the refurbished equipment link (usually down towards the bottom right hand side of the page somewhere, you'll need to scroll). There are usually decent discounts, and it's all fully Apple-warranty'd.

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By dialm4accounts
14th May 2009 16:53

I'll be watching too
"Muso"? That takes me back. I haven't heard that term since I was one myself (it was what other university students called those of us studying music).

I've been thinking of buying a Mac for months. Like John I make videos, but mine are screencasts (i.e. record what's happening on the computer screen), and I use Camtasia Studio, which at the moment is PC-only.

So the switch to Mac will come later for me, once Camtasia for the Mac is released. Existing users who run it on Macs using PC-emulation software say it's very clunky in that form.

But I'll read Nigel's reports with interest, because I've heard so much good stuff about the Mac and I'd really like one to replace my ageing PC laptop...


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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
14th May 2009 15:14

I'll be watching with interest
My partner & I are going through some similar soul-searching as our ageing desktop machine steadily gives up the ghost. I've been making little videos for personal interest (anyone want to see my Softworld documentary?) and was attracted to the iMac 20-inch desktop machine because iMovie is so much better than Windows Movie Maker.

Unfortunately, when I got up the courage to go into the local Apple Centre, the price had gone up by about £150 to reflect the new models they introduced recently. A £949 price tag is hard to swallow when similar spec PCs are kicking around for almost half the price.

Apple may be as sharp as Microsoft when it comes to sustaining its price points, but the Mac's more straighforward approach to operating system upgrades and relative seclusion from widespread virus infections could yet swing me in that direction.

I too would be interested to hear about Mac users' experiences with VMware and Windows applications... Meanwhile, I'm off to see if I can pick up an older model on

John Stokdyk
Technology editor

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By AnonymousUser
14th May 2009 10:51

Viruses for Macs
The only reason there are so few is that Apple has such a small share of the market so no-one writes them yet. They call it security through obscurity.

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By D T Young
13th May 2009 07:16

Windows on a Mac
I have been running Windows on the basic white MacBook for ages
You dont need a MacBook Pro, but it helps to have extra memory
You need a copy of VMWare to run Windows inside a Mac system without hassle
I have 14 separate Quickbooks sets of accounts installed, and use them on a regular basis
A really tremendous laptop with amazing wireless connectivity

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By thepayrollsite
22nd Jun 2009 13:16

Accounting software on Linux/Mac
"I currently use Digita and Moneysoft Payroll Manager (among loads of others). Could I easily get these to work with Linux?"
The issue on Linux is exactly the same as the issue on the Mac, and the solutions are the same too: VMWare, and Saas.

My main computer runs Linux, but I run VMWare within Linux so I can run the occasional Windows application. It's very slick and I can share files and printers and cut and paste between Linux applications and Windows applications on the same machine. You need to buy a Windows licence to do this, of course. You can do exactly the same thing on a Mac, running Windows in a VMWare virtual machine.

The other option is to ditch the Windows software in favour of a SaaS alternatives. Our system (The Payroll Site) works with Firefox on Linux, with Safari and Firefox on the Mac, plus some Windows options. I can't speak for the other SaaS vendors, but I'm sure if you ask them, they'll tell you which browser/platform combinations they support.

There are some cross platform accounting packages out there, but they are few and far between. The only company I'm aware of that supports Windows, Mac and Linux is Accountz.

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By chatman
26th Jun 2009 09:10

A few people have mentioned VMWare for running Windows on a Mac or Linux machine and I wondered:

If I wanted to test out Linux, without uninstalling Windows, would running VMWare be a good way of doing this?

I have tried running Windows and Linux on separate partitions but it means I cannot share files between OSs. Would a virtual machine get round this problem?

Are there any risks? I don't want to spend a day fixing a corrupted Windows installation.

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By Malcolm Veall
09th Dec 2009 12:06

D T Young

Posting on this old thread in the hope that you are to be updated when thee are new postings.

Your proactice/e-mail software mix is just what I am switching to, have you been able to link/synchronise between VT and or taxcalc and outlook for contacts etc?

if you can help/advise on that at all I'd be very grateful: [email protected]

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