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.