Macintosh environment with Windows tools – user experiences

03/12/2014

Tapani Ronni

Nordic Division Administrator
I have been a committed Windows user since version 3.1. While Macs had a certain allure, their price was always a prohibitive factor. However, Apple displays started to look more and more attractive over time.
At the end of 2012, my trusted Lenovo laptop and the attached Samsung display started to show signs of age despite some updates I had done. Around the same time I wandered into an Apple store and fell in love with their new 27-inch Thunderbolt displays. They were simply the best I had ever seen. They were also the most expensive – around 1,000 dollars each.
I did some research and found out that I could still run all my old favorite software on a Macintosh OSX environment. So I bit the bullet and forked over around 2,000 dollars for an iMac with 32 gigabytes of RAM. It is an integrated system where the hardware is located inside a 27-inch Thunderbolt display. If you need to read and write CD-ROM discs or watch movies from DVD discs, you can buy a separate Superdrive that connects to iMac with an USB cord. I have one but have had little use for it. Later I also bought an extra Thunderbolt display which I hooked up to the first one with a Thunderbolt cable.
My first job was to install Parallels software. Parallels is a virtualization environment that allows you to run Windows (7 or 8) on top of the OSX. Since I had maxed out my available RAM memory, I was able to allocate 16 gigabytes of it to Windows 8. The installation went very smoothly and soon I had a Windows 8 happily running in a virtual box – for all intents and purposes Windows 8 is running in a normal PC. People seem to generally hate the Tiles in Windows 8. I don’t use them either, I click the Tile called Desktop to get to the familiar Windows 7-like environment.
The next step was to install Microsoft Office 2010 and my CAT tools (Trados Studio 2011 and MemoQ Pro). This also worked out without any issues. So far all my Windows applications have worked fine.
I have now been working with the iMac environment for almost two years. There are some positive and negative factors to consider.
Overall, I am happy as a clam. The hardware quality of Apple products is excellent. I have had very few problems with any hardware. I use my own Kinesis split keyboard for ergonomic reasons, and an Evolution vertical mouse. The Thunderbolt displays are superb and easy for my eyes. The resolution I use is 2560 x 1440 pixels. The display also has an integrated camera and microphone, and decent speakers. I can either use one display for Windows and one for OSX, or extend the Windows desktop to two screens. That has been a great solution for many translation projects when I have to keep several documents open at the same time. I can also put my Internet browser into the right side display so I can do online searches without cluttering up my main display.
There are three possible ways to run the Windows desktop in Parallels: Coherence, Full Screen, and Modality. In Coherence mode, Mac OS X Dock, Windows taskbar, and any applications are running on one desktop. In Full Screen mode, Windows 8 takes the whole screen and Parallels and OSX are hidden from view. In Modality mode, you can keep Windows 8 desktop in one window while still seeing the OSX desktop and you can access OSX software.
I haven’t had time or interest to really explore these options in detail. In practice, I use Full Screen mode, since I have no need for Apple software.
The virtual environment allows me to take “snapshots” of my Windows environment that I can revert to in case of problems. In practice I haven’t been using them.
A minor bonus of virtualization is that if only Windows needs to be updated, I can reboot it inside OSX without having to reboot the entire iMac.
What are the drawbacks then? I have to keep up with both Windows and OSX updates. If I have to reboot I have to remember to tell the Windows that it needs to connect to my external hard drive.
Also, in Full Screen mode I sometimes unintentionally activate hidden Parallels menus when I try to use Trados or Word icons in the upper left corner. This is a minor annoyance that I can live with.
The iMac I have only has three USB ports available. I could use one more, but it hasn’t been a big deal.
Even if you’re running Windows 8 in a virtual environment, it’s still possible to get malware (viruses etc.) infection from the Internet. I have been using Windows Firewall and Windows Security and have had no worse problems than occasional tracking cookies. Of course it pays to be paranoid about links and think twice before downloading any software from the Internet.
Overall I have been a happy user of this hybrid Mac-Windows combination. Two years later my hardware setup shows no signs of age whatsoever so I can focus on translating.