TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Mac Consultant's Guide To Managing Windows Product Keys

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 09
Column Tag: Macs and Windows

The Mac Consultant's Guide To Managing Windows Product Keys

Do your customers (and yourself) a favor with our best practices

by Joe Froehlich

It's all in your mind

In spite of an ever increasing need to live, work, and play in a cross platform environment, the rift between PC and Mac users often appears to be widening rather than narrowing. Mac users cherish the simplicity of the Mac while PC users seem to almost relish complexity. After all, if a computer isn't difficult to use and maintain, it can't possibly be a serious business tool, right?

Having switched primary platforms several times over the course of my career, I've learned one important lesson–people don't like change, especially when it threatens their comfort zone. To survive a change successfully, you need to "adjust" your mindset. Typically, this means learning (and ultimately accepting) new and different ways of approaching things.

Sleeping with the enemy

With the advent of virtualization products such as Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, consultants and support professionals alike are facing new challenges. The key to turning these challenges into opportunities lies in learning how to respond appropriately to client requirements (without saying "Ugh, it's Windows" to yourself). In this article, I'll provide some best practices for getting started with supporting Mac users who want to run Windows, regardless of whether it's on a physical or a virtual machine.

Get with the program

One of the best ways to bring yourself up to speed on Windows-related technology is to get your hands on the actual operating systems and applications you'll be supporting. Fortunately, Microsoft provides two specific programs that you should consider joining, depending on your objective.


Figure 1: Microsoft Partner Program at http://partner.microsoft.com

Microsoft Partner Program

The Microsoft Partner Program, shown in Figure 1, consists of three distinct membership levels:

* Registered

* Certified

* Gold Certified

The Registered level is free (after a one-time registration process) and best-suited for people who support clients in single-office home-office (SOHO) or small and medium-sized business (SMB) environments. The Certified and Gold Certified levels require a substantial annual fee and proof of certain technical and business competencies. You can find a comparative summary of program benefits at https://partner.microsoft.com/US/program/programoverview.

Once you sign up for the Registered Microsoft Partner Program, you're eligible to purchase the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription. This subscription includes quarterly mailings that provide technical and business resources appropriate for consultants and value-added resellers (VARs). It also includes a comprehensive collection of Not-For-Resale (NFR) software for the major Microsoft operating systems and applications. While licensing varies somewhat across titles, in general, you'll receive license keys that allow 10 client activations and 1 server activation per title.

Microsoft TechNet


Figure 2: Microsoft TechNet at http://technet.microsoft.com

Whereas the Microsoft Partner Program is designed for consultants and VARs, the Microsoft TechNet program, shown in Figure 2, is geared more toward technical support professionals in enterprise environments. There are simply too many program benefits to describe fully in this article, but they include items such as planning and deployment tools, complimentary professional support incidents, managed newsgroups, virtual labs, and e-learning courses. And finally, TechNet subscribers receive a free subscription to TechNet Magazine, a hands-on monthly publication containing articles written by Microsoft's engineering team.

Arguably, one of the most compelling benefits Microsoft TechNet offers is access to full-version commercial products (without time limits or feature limits), including all Windows operating systems, all application software, and all server products. Again, licensing varies somewhat across titles, but most license keys are valid for 10 activations.

TechNet subscriptions are available under three different distribution schemes:

* Direct (download only)

* Single User (single workstation install)

* Server User (single server install)

For a detailed comparison of these subscriptions, point your web browser to http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/.

You have the tools, now what?

Aside from the value of the business and technical information you receive as part of the Partner and the TechNet programs, your real learning starts with installing and configuring the software you acquire through these programs. Before you launch your first Setup Utility, however, you need to think about how you're going to manage your license keys. While 10 activations may seem like a lot at first, you can easily expend them, especially if you need to do frequent re-installations or configure the software differently for specific projects.

For example, as a technical documentation developer, I often need to set up different software environments so I can take screen captures describing the tasks I'm writing about. Similarly, as a consultant or support professional, you may need to set up environments that mimic those of your clients. Or, you may simply need to test applications running in unique operating system environments. In any event, the point of thinking about license activation in advance is to make sure you use your license keys wisely without activating them unnecessarily.

Remember my introductory comments about mindsets? You're working with Windows here not Mac OS X–you can't just nuke and repave at will (at least not without requesting a reactivation key from the mothership). In the upcoming sections, I'll provide some best practices that have worked well for me over the years. I believe they'll serve you well, too.

We're going virtual, baby!

Thanks to virtualization software, you can install and configure operating systems and applications to your heart's content–all without needlessly wasting licenses. However, when you create a virtual machine, don't think of it as the machine you'll use for everyday tasks. Instead, think of it as a master (a pristine configuration) that you can clone for specific tasks as needed. The guidelines presented next work well for client installations you support as well as project-based scenarios.

Create the virtual machine manually

Whenever possible, avoid using the installation assistants that VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop offer. Instead, create the machine manually, as doing so gives you more control over its initial configuration.

Tweak the virtual hardware

Before booting the virtual machine, edit its configuration to tweak the virtual hardware as desired. For example, I like to point the virtual CD/DVD to an ISO image of the installation media, as shown in Figure 3. I usually keep that image in the same folder as the virtual machine. This way, I don't have to go looking for the CD/DVD if I need to install additional operating system components.


Figure 3: The Configuration Editor in Parallels Desktop

Perform a basic installation

Boot from the installation media (physical disc or ISO image) and follow the Setup Utility's prompts to complete a basic installation. In doing so, however, avoid as much customization as possible. You'll want to customize the clones (later) not the master machine.

Install critical updates

After the Windows operating system is installed and the virtual machine boots from it the first time, run Windows Update services to download and install only critical updates. Always reserve recommended updates for clones of the virtual machine.

Scrutinize your work

Take a break and ask yourself if the virtual machine is in a state that you want to use as the basis for cloning? Depending on the software title and its license, you have either 30 or 60 days to activate it. Depending on the project you're working on, you may not need to activate the license key at all because it's a short-term scenario.

Activate the product

Your master virtual machine isn't ready for cloning until you complete the Windows Genuine Advantage verification. However, you can't do that until after you've activated the product. So, when you're ready to proceed (you're certain, right?), activate the product, run Windows Update again, and complete the Windows Genuine Advantage verification process.

Back it up, then clone it

At this point, restart the virtual machine one last time (to make sure it starts up without problems), and then shut it down completely. Now, back up the entire folder containing the virtual machine (minus the installation ISO if you have one in the same folder). Then, to clone the machine, simply duplicate its folder. Before launching the clone, however, you may need to modify your virtualization application's preferences so it knows you want to work with the clone rather than the master.

Just one more thing

I generally like to create at least two virtual machine masters: one with just the base operating system, and one with the operating system plus my primary applications (MS Office, for example). I first activate the operating system, as described above. I then clone the virtual machine and install my applications. I activate the applications, and then clone the virtual machine a second time. This technique allows me to revert to a clean installation of just the operating system, or the operating system plus my applications.

Let's get physical

You can use a similar process to protect your licenses on physical machines, including those hosting Apple's Boot Camp. Of course, you'll need a different toolset for that task.

To clone a physical installation, you need to be able to image the PC's boot drive–both the boot sector and the primary boot partition. One of the tools I've found useful for this job is Acronis True Image Home, shown in Figure 4. This product allows you to create a bootable CD/DVD that contains both hard disk and network drivers so you can generate a full image backup of the boot drive, store the image on the appropriate backup device, and restore it when needed.


Figure 4: Acronis True Image Home

In this scenario, you can take the same general approach described earlier, i.e. do a clean installation without any customization, install critical updates, activate the operating system, and go through the Windows Genuine Advantage verification. Next, install Acronis True Image Home, create your boot rescue media, and then image the boot drive. If you need to reinstall the operating system, simply boot the machine from the rescue media, and then restore the image.

Conclusion

Having a practical method for protecting Windows license keys make sense for both you and your clients. While we focused on you in this article, there's no reason you can't implement the same practices at client sites. After all, they need to protect their keys as well.


Joe has extensive experience in the IT industry, serving as a technical trainer and instructional designer as well as personally authoring several IT certification titles. He's a member of the Microsoft Partner Program, the Apple Consultants Network, the IEEE Computer Society and holds several industry certifications (A+, Network+, i-Net+, Security+, CNA, MCP, ACHDS, ACTC). You can reach him at froejoe@gmail.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

GIMP 2.8.14p2 - Powerful, free image edi...
GIMP is a multi-platform photo manipulation tool. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP is suitable for a variety of image manipulation tasks, including photo retouching,... Read more
Sandvox 2.10.2 - Easily build eye-catchi...
Sandvox is for Mac users who want to create a professional looking website quickly and easily. With Sandvox, you don't need to be a Web genius to build a stylish, feature-rich, standards-compliant... Read more
LibreOffice 5.0.1.2 - Free, open-source...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
f.lux 36.1 - Adjusts the color of your d...
f.lux makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow? Or wake... Read more
VirtualBox 5.0.2 - x86 virtualization so...
VirtualBox is a family of powerful x86 virtualization products for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers... Read more
File Juicer 4.43 - Extract images, video...
File Juicer is a drag-and-drop can opener and data archaeologist. Its specialty is to find and extract images, video, audio, or text from files which are hard to open in other ways. In computer... Read more
Apple MainStage 3.2 - Live performance t...
MainStage 3 makes it easy to bring to the stage all the same instruments and effects that you love in your recording. Everything from the Sound Library and Smart Controls you're familiar with from... Read more
formZ 8.5 - Solid and surface modeler. (...
formZ pro is a powerful 3D design application featuring a variety of modeling personalities and tools with an easy to use interface to express and communicate your imagination. It is based on... Read more
PopChar 7.2 - Floating window shows avai...
We're also selling a 5-license family pack for only $25.99! PopChar helps you get the most out of your font collection. With its crystal-clear interface, PopChar provides a frustration-free way to... Read more
FileMaker Pro 14.0.2 - Powerful, easy-to...
FileMaker Pro is powerful, easy-to-use software used to create custom solutions for your business that run on iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac and the web. Use FileMaker Pro to manage and share information... Read more

ReBoard: Revolutionary Keyboard (Utilit...
ReBoard: Revolutionary Keyboard 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Utilities Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Do everything within the keyboard without switching apps! If you are in WhatsApp, how do you schedule a... | Read more »
Tiny Empire (Games)
Tiny Empire 1.1.3 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.1.3 (iTunes) Description: Launch cannonballs and blow tiny orcs into thousands of pieces in this intuitive fantasy-themed puzzle shooter! Embark on an... | Read more »
Astropad Mini (Productivity)
Astropad Mini 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Productivity Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: *** 50% off introductory price! ​*** Get the high-end experience of a Wacom tablet at a fraction of the price with Astropad... | Read more »
Emo Chorus (Music)
Emo Chorus 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Realistic Choir simulator ranging from simple Chorus emulation to full ensemble Choir with 128 members. ### introductory offer... | Read more »
Forest Spirit (Games)
Forest Spirit 1.0.5 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.5 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Ski Safari 2 (Games)
Ski Safari 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The world's most fantastical, fun, family-friendly skiing game is back and better than ever! Play as Sven's sister Evana, share... | Read more »
Lara Croft GO (Games)
Lara Croft GO 1.0.47768 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.47768 (iTunes) Description: Lara Croft GO is a turn based puzzle-adventure set in a long-forgotten world. Explore the ruins of an ancient... | Read more »
Whispering Willows (Games)
Whispering Willows 1.23 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.23 (iTunes) Description: **LAUNCH SALE 50% OFF** - Whispering Willows is on sale for 50% off ($4.99) until September 9th. | Read more »
Calvino Noir (Games)
Calvino Noir 1.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: The film noir stealth game. Calvino Noir is the exploratory, sneaking adventure through the 1930s European criminal underworld.... | Read more »
Angel Sword (Games)
Angel Sword 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Prepare to adventure in the most epic full scale multiplayer 3D RPG for mobile! Experience amazing detailed graphics in full HD.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Tablet Screen Sizes Expanding as iPad Pro App...
Larger screen sizes are gaining favor as the tablet transforms into a productivity device, with shipments growing 185 percent year-over-year in 2015. According to a new Strategy Analytics’ Tablet... Read more
Today Only: Save US$50 on Adobe Elements 13;...
Keep the memories. lose the distractions. Summer’s winding down and it’s time to turn almost perfect shots into picture perfect memories with Elements 13. And get the power to edit both photos and... Read more
1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $449, save $50
Best Buy has the 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $50 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price for online orders only, in-store price may vary... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Gold MacBook on sale for $1149...
B&H Photo has the 12″ 1.1GHz Gold Retina MacBook on sale for $1149.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
27-inch 3.3GHz 5K iMac on sale for $1849, sav...
Best Buy has the 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac on sale for $1849.99. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if... Read more
Worldwide Tablet Shipments Expected to Declin...
Does Apple badly need a touchscreen convertible/hybrid laptop MacBook? Yes, judging from a new market forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, which... Read more
Continued PC Shipment Shrinkage Expected Thro...
Worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -8.7 percent in 2015 and not stabilize until 2017, according to the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker data. The... Read more
Imminent iPhone 6s Announcement Leads To 103%...
NextWorth Solutions, with its online and in-store electronics trade-in programs including http://NextWorth.com, reports that it has experienced a 103 percent surge in quoted trade-in values over the... Read more
Weekend Deal: 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros for...
Save up to $100 on the purchase of a new 2015 13″ Retina MacBook Pro at the following resellers this weekend. Shipping is free with each model: 2.7GHz/128GB MSRP $1299 2.7GHz/... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
Product Design Engineer - *Apple* Watch - A...
**Job Summary** Product Design Engineer Job Description As a member of Apple 's Watch product design team, you will help to create the next generation of the world's Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Software QA Engineer, *Apple* Pay Security...
Changing the world is all in a day039s work at Apple . If you love innovation, here039s your chance to make a career of it. You039ll work hard. But the job comes with Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.