Virtual Machines

One of the main sticking points for running Macs in a school is that there’s still a lot of educational software out there there which is Windows-only (and indeed XP only, especially when CD-ROM software is still being sold that was written in 2003). Should this anachronistic clinging to the past hold back teachers from experiencing a virus-free and ‘just-works’ computing experience in their classroom? Perhaps not.

The solution lies in the fact that, since 2006, Macs now run on the same Intel x86 processors that Windows PCs do, meaning that you can easily run Windows on a Mac. And with the technical wonder of ‘Virtual Machines’, you can run Windows as an application on the OSX desktop. Nelson Handwriting Software here we come!

However, it’s not quite as simple as that: which VM (Virtual Machine) software do you use for this noble task? At our school we are running VMWare Fusion 3 on some Macs in Key Stage 2, which seems to work pretty well.

Pros:

  • Lets you run Windows programs in ‘Unity’ mode, which means they look and act pretty much like Mac apps
  • Pretty easy to setup and use

Cons:

  • Not cheap (around £30 per licence – the same as a Windows 7 licence from Ramesys!)
  • Doesn’t quite play nicely with Lion (paid upgrade required)

What are the other options? Well, Oracle offer a free program called VirtualBox, which lets you install whatever OS you so desire. It seems to work well and fast, with lots of configuration options for the more geeky ones out there. However, it’s rather more fiddly to set up and doesn’t offer the same integration with OSX that Fusion provides. It has a ‘seamless’ mode, which tries to mesh Windows and OSX together on the screen, but this results in having the task bar and Start menu across the bottom of the screen! That might be one step too far for a teacher who just wants to model the the letter ‘A’ and print off some handwriting worksheets. You get what you pay for, and my feeling at the moment is that Fusion is worth the price.

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