QuickBooks is one of those key business applications that many people who are considering a switch to the Mac are worried about leaving behind. While QuickBooks 2009 for Mac might be the perfect answer for many, others do not want to give up some of the key features of the Windows version.
Intuit provides a list of key differences, and I think the most important ones are the industry-specific editions of QuickBooks Premier, multi-user access, and the ability to create an Accountant’s Copy of your company file. If you need any of those features, then you’ll want to continue to run the Windows version of QuickBooks.
Fortunately, there are several good methods to accomplish this feat that won’t break the bank or leave you pulling your hair out. Just remember that you are still running Windows (with one exception pointed out below). You will need to make sure that you are protected from viruses and spyware. You might be tempted to turn off networking entirely to avoid the anti-virus tax, but QuickBooks receives frequent updates over the Internet and many people use the DirectConnect features to pull down their financial statements through the intertubes as well.
You can use Boot Camp, a feature of Mac OS X Leopard, to run Windows on your Mac. This solution allows you to shut down your Mac and reboot into Windows natively. You can’t use your Mac applications while Windows is running, though. In this scenario, you are running Windows on your Mac just like you would run it on a PC. Compatibility is excellent because you really are just running Windows. The downside of this approach is that you can’t take your Mac email and documents and easily copy and paste or import that information into QuickBooks. Likewise, it can be hard to get to the Windows files when you are in the Mac side unless you install MacFUSE to read the NTFS filesystem.
CrossOver Mac is a WINE project that tricks some (but not all) Windows software into thinking that it is talking to Windows XP and passes those requests along to Mac OS X. Because of this trickery, it doesn’t work for every application. If you search the compatibility list for “QuickBooks” you’ll see that CrossOver Mac is listed as “known not to work” for the most recent versions. It could be a good choice if you are running QuickBooks Pro 2004, but not if you have already upgraded to 2007 or 2009. Since it runs in Mac OS X, you can still pull information from your email or other documents on your Mac. And since it’s not actually Windows, you don’t have to worry so much about viruses and spyware.
CrossOver Mac is $40 for the Standard version and $70 for the Pro version. A free trial is available to download, but I can’t really recommend it until it is updated to work with the latest versions of QuickBooks for Windows.
Virtualization provides a way to create a virtual machine (VM) where another guest OS can run inside Mac OS X. In contrast to CrossOver, you are actually running Windows inside the VM.
There are three major virtualization packages — VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and xVM Virtual Box. The convenience of these virtualization solutions is great because you still have access to all your Mac OS X applications and features while the virtual machine is running alongside your other Mac software. You can even hide the Windows desktop and only view the QuickBooks application window itself and use Exposé and all the other cool windowing features of OS X.
While, virtualization is not a good solution for 3D design software or computer games (as these types of software want to talk directly to the hardware rather than a virtual machine), it works great for QuickBooks and is the solution that I recommend to most users. Because you are essentially running two complete OS installs on one machine, it’s best to have at least 2GB of RAM.
One potential benefit of VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop is that they both provide Windows software to convert the entire hard drive of your existing PC into a virtual machine file that you can use on your Mac. This is great if you have a nice, lean Windows install with only the files that you need to bring with you to the Mac. It’s not so great if your PC is having problems and Windows is not running well. You’ll bring all those problems with you when you create a new VM file. If QuickBooks is the only Windows software that you need to run, I would recommend a clean install of Windows, Anti-virus software, and QuickBooks in a brand new VM.
VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop are both $80 and free trials are available to download. xVM Virtual Box is a free solution supported by Sun Microsystems. Be sure to read TheAppleBlog’s take on VMware vs Parallels and our review of Virtual Box.
Remote Desktop Client
Another solution is to continue to run QuickBooks on a PC, but access it over the network from your Mac. Remote Desktop Client from Microsoft provides a simple way to remotely control a PC running Windows XP Pro or Vista Business or Ultimate and it works just like screen sharing in Mac OS X Leopard. The killer feature is local printing so you can make hard copies of QuickBooks reports using a printer that is connected to your Mac. This can be a great solution if you already have a PC running QuickBooks on a required version of Windows and you don’t want to spend any more money on virtualization software. You can still access your Mac applications and documents and transfer information back and forth between the remote PC and the Mac you are sitting at while you work. The downside is that it’s difficult to set up to use over the Internet if you travel away from the PC with a portable Mac. Remote Desktop Client is a free download.
I need to run the multi-user version of QuickBooks.
OK. You definitely need QuickBooks for Windows. What I recommend here is buying a cheap PC and installing QuickBooks for Windows with the “Install Database Server Only” option. This PC will then host your multi-user company file(s) which you can access over your office network from other computers running QuickBooks for Windows. Now you just need to make sure that you put your backup plan in place for the company file(s) hosted on that PC. For licensing, the host computer does not count as a user if it is running in “Database Server Only” mode. Of course, if you already have a desktop PC that is running QuickBooks, you can make that the host by configuring multi-user mode. Just make sure that you leave it turned on with QuickBooks running.
As an alternative, if you already have Windows Small Business Server 2008 in your office, you could set up a second machine as a Terminal Services host and use RDC to open sessions on that machine. That way you don’t even need to install QuickBooks on each computer, just on the terminal services host machine.
I want to backup my QuickBooks data to Time Machine (or MobileMe).
One of the amazing features of Leopard is Time Machine. If you want Time Machine to grab a copy of your QuickBooks for Windows data, then I recommend you use virtualization and then configure QuickBooks to save a backup copy of your company file to a shared folder on the Mac side so it gets picked up by Time Machine. Incidentally, this also works if you are using Backup.app to make offsite copies of critical files in the cloud.
I already have Boot Camp setup and don’t want to spend more money.
Alright, alright. I won’t force you to switch to virtualization, but this is probably the only situation where I would use Boot Camp. You would have a lot more benefits with virtualization (flexibility, convenience, snapshots, accessibility of files in either environment, etc.), but I will let you keep the Boot Camp setup you have already made.
If you need or want to run the Windows version of QuickBooks from your Mac, each of these four methods will help you accomplish that goal. CrossOver is hard to recommend because it will not support the latest versions of QuickBooks. Remote Desktop Client works great if your PC is working fine and is sitting in the same office as your Mac. BootCamp is simple and straightforward and included with Leopard. One important consideration is that Intuit is more likely to support a BootCamp or Remote Desktop solution because you are running Windows natively, either on your Mac with BootCamp or on a PC using Remote Desktop.
Virtualization is by far the most convenient way to take advantage of the best of both worlds. However, support can be hard to come by because you are running an Intuit product in a Microsoft OS inside a 3rd party virtual machine on an Apple computer. That’s four companies that might all try to pass the buck when you have a problem or failure. That said, I’ve found virtualization to be stable, relatively fast, and easy to manage. I love that I can hide the Windows desktop and just look at the application that I need. When I don’t need that application, I can quit the VM and continue to enjoy all the merits of Mac OS X.
Frankly, isn’t running OS X why you bought a Mac in the first place? Now you can still get all your work done and play with the shiny new toys from that store with the ginormous glowing fruit sign. Ahhh, such sweet joy to have your cake and eat it too. Or at least your Mac and QuickBooks for Windows.
Since I recommend virtualization for most users, I have some tips and tricks for you to use that I will share with you. Be sure to come back tomorrow for another helping of advice on how to run QuickBooks for Windows effectively.