Virtualizing My World on an iMac

Having recently acquired an iMac, I find myself torn between the familiar Vista machine I use as my development machine vs the slick, shiny, performance-enhanced 24″ iMac. And I am wondering if this is what schizophrenia actually feels like.

Its hard to let go of so many years of sometimes painful Windows-based experiences, and the feeling (no doubt totally illusory) that I have somehow “mastered” PCs, and am therefore  optimally productive when I use one. And on top of that is the fact that so many of my essential and favorite software development and productivity tools are available only on Windows. But I do need the Mac to build iPhone applications. Can you see my dilemma?

So the glaringly obvious solution here is to move fully onto the Mac, and run a virtual copy of Windows as and when needed for the Windows-only stuff. But will it fly? What are the pitfalls? Is it a pipe-dream? Well I guess its time to find out!

First I installed VMWare Fusion onto the Mac. Quick and painless. My next step was to install VMWare Converter onto the PC, and use it to attempt to virtualize the entire PC, including 80GB used disk space. This bit already seem rather ambitious to me. Firstly I wasn’t sure whether an 80GB virtual machine could run with reasonable performance at all. Secondly I was using a wireless 802.11g network which could be something of a bottleneck in moving the virtual disk image onto the Mac. The latter issue was easily overcome by using an Ethernet cable to link the PC and Mac directly (no hub) – although I could only get this to work after I switched off the wireless link on the Mac. But it did increase the throughput by a factor of 10 – so well worth the experiment.

I set up VMWare Converter to run on the PC, convert the physical machine into a Mac compatible VMWare virtual machine file and write it via the network connection directly into the Documents folder on the Mac. Well, off it went, and (after a couple of hiccups caused by me foolishly switching the wireless connection back on during the process, and having to switch it off again and restart) the full conversion and data transfer took about 2hrs for the full 80GB file to be placed onto the Mac.

The next step was to start up VMWare on the Mac, and see if it would run. I should point out here that I only had 2GB RAM installed on the Mac (to get a quicker delivery), with the intention of upgrading to 4GB later if and when I needed it. Now was obviously that time, but being the impatient and perhaps over-adventurous person that I am, I gave it a go after setting the VMWare allowance to 512MB for the Windows virtual machine.

I was gratified to see that it did (quite slowly) start up. However, there were some glitches. For example I was informed that there was no known driver for device “IDE01” – perhaps the fingerprint reader? But basically it worked. The only problem was memory usage. Despite having installed 4GB physical RAM, and allocating 2GB to the virtual machine, Activity Monitor showed that things were getting very tight with only minimal applications open.

So my next move was to install a new OEM version of Windows XP Professional as a virtual machine. This started up and ran just fine even with 500MB memory allocation. Ramping that up to 2GB should allow me to run all the apps I need at once.

So now all I have to do is install all the development tools and utilities I need and am used to. However I will only install what I really need on Windows, and start to use more and more on the Mac. That will all take a while though – so I will report back later on to see whether the dream is becoming a reality or not.

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