Tips for support technicians booting Windows on Macs with Boot Camp

Erik Eckel shares several tips for support technicians who work with Boot Camp-powered Windows systems, including issues with USB peripherals and NTFS partitions.

Erik Eckel shares several tips for support technicians who work with Boot Camp-powered Windows systems.


As Apple's Mac enterprise presence increases-one analyst predicts Apple will sell 2.2 million Macs in the third quarter 2009-IT technicians typically accustomed to supporting Windows machines will need to brush up on their Apple knowledge.

The topic of dual booting always raises a debate. Since Apple switched to Intel-powered processors in 2006, several methods for booting Windows on Macs have arisen, but Boot Camp remains among the most cost-effective.

Here are several tips support technicians should remember when working with Boot Camp-powered Windows systems.

Windows upgrade licenses won't work

When installing Windows using Boot Camp, a full Windows software license must be used. Upgrade licenses will not work. Further, Windows XP 64-bit is not supported, although some Macintosh computers are capable of running 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. Apple has more information here.

NTFS Windows partitions prohibit dual access

When installing Windows on a Mac, formatting the Boot Camp partition using NTFS prevents Mac OS X from writing to the partition. While Mac OS X can read files from the Boot Camp partition, Mac OS X will be unable to make changes to the Windows files.

USB issues occasionally arise

Occasionally, specific peripherals will not work properly, or Windows will fail to detect these peripherals, when using Boot Camp to start the operating system. Unfortunately, there's no single list that accurately collects an authoritative list of potentially troublesome USB peripherals, but Blackberries are often among the frequent culprits.

Function key use is customizable

I've met many IT professionals and end users who are unaware that the Mac's function keys can be used as standard function keys. When booting Windows using Boot Camp, open Control Panel and double-click Boot Camp. Click the Keyboard tab and check the box that reads Use All F1, F2, Etc. Keys As Standard Function Keys. The laptop's function keys will then perform as regular function keys instead of special feature keys. For example, with the box checked, pressing F1 results in the Help application opening, whereas when the box is cleared, pressing F1 results in the screen dimming one gradient. When the checkbox is enabled, special features are still available using the function keys (users need only hold down the Fn key to access a key's special feature role).

Changing the default OS is easy

End users need only press the Option key during Mac startup to access the menu that enables switching the OS that boots. To change the default OS, access either the Startup Disk applet found within the Windows Control Panel or the Mac OS X Startup Disk (found within Preferences). Users can specify the default OS using either of those utilities.

Track Pad use is customizable

Some users wish to tap the Mac's Trackpad to perform the typical left-click mouse action. Others will find it a nightmare experience when the Trackpad is set to enable clicking, as numerous inadvertent clicks can occur if a user is unfamiliar with the setting. This option is easily adjusted using the Trackpad tab (found by double-clicking Boot Camp within the Windows Control Panel). A secondary click (right-click) option is also listed within the Two Fingers section of the Trackpad menu. Enterprise support technicians, however, may find that right-clicking (by tapping the Trackpad using two fingers) is hit or miss using Mac laptops (that's been my experience as an IT consultant).

Image backup capability is built-in

Organizations often invest in software applications that enable creating image backups of computers. When using Boot Camp to run Windows on a Macintosh computer, Apple OS X includes partition cloning software. Enterprise tech staff can boot into Mac OS X, open Disk Utility (found within Applications | Utilities), and create copies of the Mac OS X, Windows (labeled Boot Camp), and/or both partitions to an external hard disk. There's no need to purchase additional third-party software.

Support staff and end users can create image copies of the Windows OS partition by following simple steps: boot Mac OS X and open Disk Utility (again, found within the Applications folder), selecting the Macintosh hard disk, then highlighting the BOOTCAMP partition, clicking the Restore tab, dragging the BOOTCAMP partition to the Image field, dragging the backup partition (typically users should select an empty partition on an external hard disk) to the Destination field and clicking Restore.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...


I am running Windows XP Pro in Boot Camp on my 24" iMac. I am not able to access an external hard drive that can be connected via USB or Firewire. It shows up in the Mac OSX partition as a FAT formatted drive. On the Boot Camp partition, it can be identified from the control panel device manager, but I cannot save to it. It does not appear on My Computer. The problem appears to be that I need to initialize the drive in Windows. How do I do that? Thank you.


OS X CAN make changes to the NTFS partition through VM Fusion (machine built on the BootCamp partition) with real-time updating of the Windows partition as work is done on the virtual machine. It does require authentication.


I have not been able to get Windows XP Pro running in Boot Camp to properly recognize an external hard drive. This drive can be run in USB or Firewire. It shows up in Windows as a removeable drive and asks to insert a media when trying to save to it. The external hard frive is FAT formatted and is properly recognized when running Mac OZ 10.6. Any suggestions?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

My next notebook may be a Mac and I need this ability. I appreciate the information.


There is a 3rd party prefpane for Mac called MacFUSE... a loadable filesystem driver that includes read/write access to NTFS drives. This will allow the user to mount the NTFS Bootcamp partition from within OS X and have full access. Additionally, not only does Fusion allow real-time access to the Bootcamp partition, so does Parallels, the other major commercial player in Mac virtual machine software (this capability doesn't exist in Sun's free VirtualBox). I've never used Fusion, but I presume it's similar to Parallels in that the Windows bootcamp installation can be run as a virtual machine while in OS X, almost as though you were running a standard VM.


Disk Utility is good for backing up NTFS drives, but it doesn't do a good job at restoring bootable NTFS drives. Winclone is much better at that - and you can save them as disk images as well. But a very good article.

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