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A common reason for running the Windows operating system (OS) on a Mac computer is to bypass compatibility issues. Virtualization is the only way to efficiently install OS-specific software on any machine, so let’s go over some of the ways this solution creates synergy between the two platforms.

Configure an entire machine with a few clicks

With programs like VMware and Parallels, installing Microsoft’s OS on your Mac is almost as easy as creating a new document in Office. The process varies between vendors, but it’s usually akin to clicking File and New and then choosing between Windows XP, 7, 8 or 10, and typing in your product key.

Deciding how much hard drive space and RAM get devoted to your virtual machine is also simple and user-friendly. For example, allocating memory to your Windows partition is done by sliding a marker along a scale that is color-coded based on the recommendations of your virtualization software.

Once you've completed these simple steps, click Finish and the rest will be configured for you.

Picture-in-picture computing

Older OS virtualization solutions forced you to choose which platform you would use by presenting the options while the computer was still booting up. Once you picked one operating system, there was no way to switch without restarting the whole computer.

Now, you can open Windows as if it were just another desktop application. This is especially useful when you need to work in both OSs simultaneously. Just adjust your Windows screen to half the size of your monitor and use the other half for MacOS applications.

Another reason this is so important is because it allows you to run multiple versions of Windows at the same time. Half of your screen could be running an outdated application in Windows XP while the other half is working in Windows 10.

Touchbar support

The customizable touchscreen that was added to Apple’s most recent line of laptops is a great way to create shortcuts and increase productivity. Virtualization applications have added Touch Bar support so you can use it to interact with Windows applications.

For example, a Touch Bar button for opening Cortana -- Microsoft’s AI assistant -- is included in the Parallels virtualization software. Alternatively, you can also use Apple’s keyboard touch screen to toggle between virtual OSs or interact with your Mac while still working in Windows.

Single Application Mode

Containers are a popular subset of virtualization solutions that allow you to give users access to a single application rather than an entire OS. Unfortunately, they are incredibly difficult to set up and manage. Updates to Mac virtualization software have simplified the process with a “Single Application Mode” whereby administrators can grant employees access to preconfigured Windows partitions with only one program installed.

Snapshots

Regardless of whether you’re a certified virtualization professional or a consumer trying to make it work with low-cost software, everyone makes mistakes. With saved configurations of Windows installs known as Snapshots, you can start over without having to set up everything from scratch.

If one of your Windows partitions becomes infected with malware, loading a Snapshot rolls everything back to its original state so you don’t have to configure the virtual hardware or retype the Windows product key. Best of all, restoring a Snapshot is much quicker than a fresh install.

Taking advantage of everything virtualization has to offer involves a lot of IT planning and maintenance. Fortunately, it’s all within reach for small- and medium-sized businesses that partner with a managed IT services provider. Contact us today to learn more!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's flagship operating system, was released in July 2015, and millions of people have already received their copies of the tech giant's newest piece of software. While there are plenty of good reasons to upgrade, Windows 10 isn't necessarily for everyone.

Here are a few issues to consider when choosing whether or not to get Windows 10:

1. It's Free (for Most People)

Microsoft is offering free upgrades to Windows 10 for anyone with a genuine copy of Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows Phone 8.1. The free-upgrade promotion — which expires on July 29, 2016 — will entice a huge number of Windows users to make the switch.

However, the offer doesn't extend to Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, Windows RT, and Windows RT 8.1. That being said, Microsoft started selling Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education on August 1, 2015.

2. Improved Performance

Windows 10 features several performance upgrades. It boots up faster and its better hardware acceleration means that the operating system is a bit quicker when in use. The OS's power management system has also seen some improvements that tend to extend the life of mobile devices' batteries.

Additionally, the Refresh and Reset functions were reimplemented so that they work without the need for a recovery image. This reduces the amount of system resources that the OS requires, and makes it easier for users to remove any unwanted software that hardware manufacturers might have bundled into their copies of Windows.

3. Better Security

Security was clearly an important consideration for Microsoft's developers when they were creating Windows 10. The new OS provides automatic updates, which can make things easier for some users, but may make system administrators cringe. It also has a number of features designed to keep users and their data secure.

Its Device Guard tool blocks unauthorised applications from accessing Windows 10 computers or the networks that they are connected to. The OS's Passport and Windows Hello features protect accounts by changing the way that people approach user authorisation. Instead of relying on a password, these features let users launch Windows 10 devices by using biometric characteristics like their faces, irises, or fingerprints.

4. The Return of the (Limited) Start Menu

One of the main criticisms against Windows 8 was the loss of the Start menu. This clear and easy-to-use menu was a staple of previous Windows versions, and many users were upset when they were unable to use it. Thankfully, Microsoft learned from its mistakes by bringing the Start menu back with Windows 10.

The new version of the Start menu will be familiar to Windows 7 users, but it also features a customisable side panel with live tiles similar to the ones used in Windows 8. You can reorganise this panel as you like, combine and re-size live tiles, and create shortcuts to your favorite applications. Alternatively, if you don't like the live tiles, you can delete them and go back to the basic Windows-7-style menu.

5. A New Web Browser

The release of Windows 10 also served as the debut performance of Microsoft Edge, the company's latest web browser. Windows 10 users will still have the option to use Internet Explorer, though. This will help companies that need to keep using the 20-year-old web browser for compatibility reasons.

Microsoft Edge is designed to be faster, more secure, and more user-friendly than Internet Explorer. Users can customise the web browser by picking a background or choosing a set font size. It also has several new features, like the ability to convert to a streamlined format that removes sidebars and is easier to read. There is also a tool that lets you make notes on web pages, and then share screenshots of the pages through email or a social network. Note, that Windows Edge does not yet allow plug-ins, so some websites won't work yet.

6. A Universal Approach

Windows 10 is a universal operating system that works on every Windows machine, whether it's a computer or a mobile device. Any app bought through the Windows Store will work on all of a user's machines, and will feel familiar regardless of the device that it is being used on. Users can also switch from one device to the next without losing any of their work. If you start working on a document on your computer, you can easily switch to your tablet and pick up right where you left off.

Microsoft's Continuum also facilitates this broader versatility. This feature changes the operating system's interface based on the status of the device. For example, if you plug a keyboard and mouse into your tablet, the operating system will recognise the change and switch to desktop mode.

7. A Digital Personal Assistant

Cortana is Microsoft's answer to Google Now and Apple's Siri. Originally connected to Windows Phone, the digital personal assistant can now be used on any Windows 10 device. Users interact with Cortana by speaking or by typing in questions. The digital assistant learns about users by keeping track of the things they like, and is integrated with Microsoft's calendar and email clients. This means that it is able to answer more personal questions like "How long will it take me to get home?" and recognise specific issues that might affect you, like a traffic jam or travel delay.

8. Virtual Desktops

With Windows 10, you can create multiple different desktops and choose which apps to run on each one. This helps you keep your work life and your personal life separate, and allows you to share desktops with your colleagues.

A Few Words of Warning

Although Windows 10 does have a lot of advantages, there are a few things that you should be aware of before you upgrade. As noted above, Windows 10 users will get automatic updates. In some cases, this can be a good thing, but some users, and especially organisations that need consistent desktops for all staff, like to maintain more control over their updates. For those people, Microsoft has noted that Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise let you avoid this automatic updating process.

Additionally, the Windows Media Center is not part of the new OS, so if you use this application a lot — by watching DVDs, for example — then you will need to find a suitable replacement online.

Lastly, compatibility with existing, older and custom software may be an issue. If you have applications that are only compatible with a certain operating system, check with your IT staff or service provider about the possibility of migrating to Windows 10. By the same token, if you have older hardware or peripherals (like printers) that don't have updated drivers, then Windows 10 could be a problem and it might be time to buy newer pieces of equipment.

We have also seen issues with particular computer displays (particularly in laptops). You must ensure that your hardware manufacturer has released tested drivers for Windows 10 for your exact model hardware.

Windows 10 has a lot of privacy and bandwidth settings that you may not want to have enabled. Many of these are automatically turned on by default during the installation process. As a precaution, be sure to look over the settings in case you want to change them. Talk to your IT provider if you have any questions on the effect of enabling or disabling a setting.

The Big Finale

The media has claimed that the new OS could be the last version of Windows. Setting aside the speculation, the basic premise behind this statement is that Microsoft may be moving to a so-called Windows-as-a-Service model in which it will push out frequent updates to its current operating system rather than release a new version every few years.

Regardless of the hype, the fact of the matter is that Windows 10 will be here for years to come. Microsoft has already committed to a 10-year support cycle for it. Windows users will, in all likelihood, have to adapt to it at some point. Deciding when that point will be is something that you can do with the help of your IT staff or service provider.

In our testing to date, it appears that if you are currently using Windows 8.x successfully, Windows 10 is a fairly seamless migration. In fact, Windows 10 is what Windows 8.x should have been.

But note: It's fine for Microsoft to release a new operating system and assume everyone should just get it. But you need to make good decisions about your business.

This is a great time to rely on a professional Microsoft certified IT consultant to make sure you have a smooth transition and who has already tested it in a business environment. Ask them to arrange a demonstration for you.

Microsoft have an FAQ on this upgrade process (from their point of view) :http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-10-faq

On July 14, 2015, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows Server 2003 products. In technical terms, this is the "end-of-life" date. Servers won't spontaneously combust, but for business users, the results could be just as grave.

For a few years after the release of an operating system, Microsoft provides users with updates and extensive customer support options. This stage of the operating system's lifecycle is known as the mainstream support period. After the mainstream support period, the operating system enters an extended support period. At this point, Microsoft only offers extended customer support and key security patches. As a general rule, both the mainstream support and extended support periods each last five years, although Microsoft will sometimes extend them.

After the extended support period, Microsoft stops providing security updates for the operating system. These updates are crucial for cyber security since they patch security holes. Customers who are still using a Microsoft product after the end of support often find themselves in a difficult dilemma. They must find an alternative to the product or risk cyber security breaches.

Learning from the 2014 Microsoft XP Crisis

As of July 2014, an estimated 24 million servers worldwide were using Windows Server 2003. Unless action is taken, these servers will be vulnerable to cyber attacks when support for the operating system ends.

A similar situation occurred before the end of support for Windows XP. Businesses across the world scrambled to keep their systems safe before the deadline. Many rushed to find an alternative operating system. Others entered into expensive custom service agreements with Microsoft. Custom service agreements can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are little more than stopgap solutions as businesses eventually must upgrade.

The end of support for Windows XP also presented problems in terms of hardware and software. With regards to hardware, Windows XP drivers were unlikely to be available again. New hardware would either not function, or function in a very limited way using old drivers. Moving forward, software would also fail to support Windows XP, and even worse, old software could become an entry point for malware.

The best course of action in these situations is to find an alternative operating system, preferably well before the deadline. This process, of moving from one operating system to another, is called migration.

Migration

Migration is a multi-step procedure that can take several months to complete. According to the Microsoft Migration Planning Process, the main phases include planning, preparing, coexisting, and finally, migrating. Each of these phases contains numerous steps.

During migration, a company must select an alternative to their existing technology. Newer server operating systems like Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2 are viable alternatives to Windows Server 2003. Shifting services into the cloud is another option, especially for companies looking to move away from physical servers.

Choosing the right approach to migration is tremendously important. After all, this choice will guide a company's direction for years to come. As such, decision-makers should look to IT professionals for guidance and help.

Businesses that do nothing at the Windows Server 2003 end of support will increase their odds of facing a cyber criminal attack. Nevertheless, there are some measures that can be taken to mitigate the security risks. These include isolating weak points, preventing infiltration, and minimizing the impact of security breaches. While such efforts are not as effective as migration, they can limit cyber security dangers.

Conclusion

The end of support for Windows Server 2003 presents a challenge for many businesses. However, the key to managing this situation is developing a course of action that minimises both data loss and impact on the business.

Contact an experienced IT service provider to get started as soon as possible.

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