Running Windows software on Mac

Many people in universities have a Mac. Yet, the world still for the most part runs on Windows. This can be an issue when you wish to collaborate or make use of certain applications. Here are some pointers to think about when tying the two together.

Locally Transferring Files

Sometimes you want to put some files on a USB stick or external hard drive, and give it to someone else to share a document (or thousands of files).

Important to know is that any hard drive, from the one in your computer to the one in your USB stick, stores all its files in a certain way. This way is called a  file system. Hard drives work best on Windows when formatted in NTFS, on Mac they work best formatted in HFS Plus, better known as Mac OS Extended. For interoperability, format your flash drive as exFAT. You can do this by plugging it into your Macbook and opening the application Disk Utility. How to do it from there is relatively straightforward and there are good descriptions to be found online if you don’t know what to do. Alternatively, you could format the USB stick or external hard drive in NTFS and install an application such as Paragon to be able to write to it. I would recommend this if you will use yours and others drives often to exchange files. NTFS drives can be read on a Mac but you cannot write to it. Having Paragon installed will be a great relief, not only for you but also for your friend or colleague who wanted to get some of your files quickly.

Running Al-Maktaba Al-Shamela / Noorsoft / etc.

There are some interesting applications that only run on Windows.

What I have done is to create a virtual machine. This is like a computer in a computer. I placed this on my external hard drive so that it does not eat up precious disk space. You will need virtualBox. (There are other options but this one is free). Simply read instructions about it to set it up. I created a virtual machine and installed Windows 7 on it, installed every imaginable Arabic package for it, and then installed all the software. If I want to use it, it will require the effort of connecting my external hard drive, opening virtualBox, starting the virtual machine, and then opening the application. This is a lot and I notice I hesitate doing it. But I do have the option and that is nice. It also is very demanding of your computer so you are better off closing it as soon as you are done. You may also wish to close other applications, especially those that eat a lot of memory like Safari and Preview. There are a lot of options you can choose from and I won’t go into them. I opted to sandbox the virtual machine as much as possible, so that I am sure that nothing on it can contaminate my actual computer.

Sharing (Arabic) Documents

We all know Office for Mac is pretty awful and its support for Arabic is insufficient.

So you will probably work with other word processors, like Nisus Writer Pro, Mellel, or (God forbid) Pages. In my experience, the files that you create cannot reliably be forwarded to others who will open it with Word on Windows. I recommend doing two things: 1) When you share a file that the other will only read, or only lightly comment, produce a PDF of your document and send the PDF. This way you are assured that the document will look for them exactly like it does for you. You can create a PDF by trying to print your document and then selecting PDF in the bottom-left drop-down box. 2) When the other requires an editable document, open your Nisus/Mellel/Pages document in Word for Mac, delete everything that Word messed up and make sure the Arabic and complicated formatting has been preserved correctly. If so, do Save As… and select .docx format. I give such files a timestamp in the file name. So instead of Article.rtf the file will now be Article-21JAN18.docx. This is an easy way to know which file to send. You will also know that this is a file you will not edit yourself; the Article.rtf remains the master document which is leading.

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