Running QuickBooks for Windows in a virtual machine (VM) on your Mac is often the best way to get all the advanced features of QuickBooks that are only available in the Windows version and still have fun using your Mac the way nature intended, running OS X Leopard. If you choose to go this route, here are a few tips and tricks to help you run QuickBooks smoothly inside a VM.
Clean Installs Are Always Best
I know it’s tempting to just run VMware Converter or Parallels Transporter and just suck the contents of your current PC into a VM. For many of us, we only really need to run one or two critical Windows applications and everything on our old PC is way more than we really need. In that situation, you’ll thank me later for telling you to take the time to set up a clean and lean VM that does exactly what you want it to do, without all the cruft and junk that often creeps into a Windows install. Load Windows, load your anti-virus software, and load QuickBooks.
Always Quit the App
Suspending your VM is a fantastic way to cut down the time it takes to relaunch later. Suspending a VM is a lot like putting your computer to sleep; the current state is saved and the VM is ready to pick up right where you left off. In order to do this for a VM, the contents of RAM for the guest OS are written to a file and then restored when the VM is opened again. The problem is that sometimes restoring the contents of RAM doesn’t work right. In this event, you must restart the VM and whatever you were working on (that hasn’t been saved to disk) is lost.
While I often suspend a VM when I’m done with it, I always quit my running applications so that they have a chance to write their data files to the VM disk file and close them properly. This is especially important with QuickBooks. You really don’t want a problem with restoring a suspended VM to hose your company file. You are always better off to quit QuickBooks so it can close its data file properly and then suspend the VM. If the OS cannot be restored, at least the QuickBooks file in the virtual disk is still good and you have a much better chance of rebooting your VM and finding that all is still perfectly fine with your accounting info.
If you want to access your virtual disk from the Mac side when the VM is not running, then you will probably want to shut down the VM too so you can use VMDK Mounter for VMware Fusion or Parallels Explorer to mount the virtual disk to the Mac desktop.
Use Shared Folders for Backups
Backups of QuickBooks company files are so important that the ability to create them can be automated to run every time you quit the application. I can’t stress enough how important it is to enable this feature and make a backup copy every time you use the application. Here’s my absolute favorite trick for using this feature in a VM: point the backup location to a shared folder that is visible on the Mac side. I usually recommend that you create a folder called “backup” or “quickbooks” in your Documents folder on the Mac side. Configure your virtualization software to allow the guest OS to have read/write access to this folder. Now you can tell QuickBooks to write its backup file to this shared folder every time you run the app. Don’t let Windows have read/write access to your entire Home folder though. A virus may cause Windows to randomly delete or rewrite files and you want to limit the potential damage.
Why do this? Well, now you have a backup of your company file that is accessible to the Mac side of your computer. Because the virtual disk itself appears as a huge monolithic file to the Mac, you may want to exclude it from Time Machine so that you don’t save copies of this 6-8GB file every hour. If you have a copy of your company file in your Documents folder, your Mac will take a snapshot of this file every hour and make another copy on your Time Machine drive. If you have MobileMe, you can configure the included backup application to routinely make a copy of this company file to your iDisk storage. This is a great way to take advantage of all the ways your Mac protects your files for you and apply that to your critical Windows files as well.
Best of Both Worlds
The real key here is to use the benefits of virtualization and avoid the pitfalls. These simple tips and tricks will help you enjoy running QuickBooks for Windows on your Mac and really leverage the advantages of the approach.