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

ExpanDrive 4.3.2 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
RapidWeaver 6.0.8 - Create template-base...
RapidWeaver is a next-generation Web design application to help you easily create professional-looking Web sites in minutes. No knowledge of complex code is required, RapidWeaver will take care of... Read more
Artlantis Studio 5.1.2.7 - 3D rendering...
Artlantis Studio is a unique and ideal tool for performing very high resolution rendering easily and in real time. The new FastRadiosity engine now lets you compute images in radiosity-even in... Read more
MacUpdate Desktop 6.0.5 - Search and ins...
MacUpdate Desktop 6 brings seamless 1-click installs and version updates to your Mac. With a free MacUpdate account and MacUpdate Desktop 6, Mac users can now install almost any Mac app on macupdate.... Read more
BitTorrent Sync 2.0.82 - Sync files secu...
BitTorrent Sync allows you to sync unlimited files between your own devices, or share a folder with friends and family to automatically sync anything. File transfers are encrypted. Your information... Read more
Google Drive 1.20 - File backup and shar...
Google Drive is a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff. Whether you're working with a friend on a joint research project, planning a wedding with your fiancé, or... Read more
Simon 4.0.3 - Monitor changes and crashe...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
Vitamin-R 2.23 - Personal productivity t...
Vitamin-R creates the optimal conditions for your brain to work at its best by structuring your work into short bursts of distraction-free, highly focused activity alternating with opportunities for... Read more
iDefrag 5.0.0 - Disk defragmentation and...
iDefrag helps defragment and optimize your disk for improved performance. Features include: Supports HFS and HFS+ (Mac OS Extended). Supports case sensitive and journaled filesystems. Supports... Read more
PCalc 4.2 - Full-featured scientific cal...
PCalc is a full-featured, scriptable scientific calculator with support for hexadecimal, octal, and binary calculations, as well as an RPN mode, programmable functions, and an extensive set of unit... Read more

New Publisher Allstar Games Heads West w...
Allstar Games has announced its first mobile title designed for western audiences, Allstar Heroes. The game will be a massive online battle arena (MOBA) that offers dozens of heroes for you to collect and pit against your opponents. As each hero has... | Read more »
RAD Boarding Review
RAD Boarding Review By Jennifer Allen on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: NEARLY RADUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad RAD Boarding isn’t quite one of the greats, but it has potential.   | Read more »
Presenting the International Mobile Gami...
11th Annual International Mobile Gaming Awards ceremony, hosted by actress Allison Haislip, gathered mobile game developers and publishers from around the world. They chose 13 winners out of the 93 nominations. British studio USTWO won the the Grand... | Read more »
AG Drive Review
AG Drive Review By Tre Lawrence on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: FUTURISTIC STREET RACING.Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Futuristic racing… interstellar style.   | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Nightmare Guardians is an Int...
GDC 2015 – Nightmare Guardians is an Interesting Hybrid of MOBA and Lane Defense Posted by Rob Rich on March 5th, 2015 [ permalink ] I have to say that lane defense (i.e. | Read more »
Overkill 3 Review
Overkill 3 Review By Tre Lawrence on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: WHO'S NEXT?Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Cover system gameplay in the third-person.   Developer: Craneballs Price: Free Version Reviewed: 1.1.6... | Read more »
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment A...
Warner Bros. has some exciting games coming down the pipe! | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Star Trek Timelines will Prob...
GDC 2015 – Star Trek Timelines will Probably Make Your Inner Trekkie Squeal With Glee Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015 [ permalink ] Any popular fictional universe has its fair share of fan fiction – where belo | Read more »
Protect Yourself from an Onslaught of Ca...
Surprise Attack Games has announced a Cat-astrophic new physics puzzler called Fort Meow! In the game, a young girl named Nia finds her grandfather’s journal which triggers an all mighty feline attack! Why do the cats want the journal? Who knows,... | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Jelly Reef will be Game Oven’...
GDC 2015 – Jelly Reef will be Game Oven’s Last Hurrah, and it Seems like a Good Note to Go Out on Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015 [ permalink ] It’s sad knowing that Game Oven ( | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Roundup of MacBook Air sale prices, models up...
B&H Photo has MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 128GB MacBook Air: $799 100 off MSRP - 11″ 256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100... Read more
New Firstrade Mobile App Enables On-The-Go Tr...
Firstrade Securities Inc. has announced its new mobile app, which gives investors immediate access to the company’s trading platform on all mobile devices. The app was developed in-house and was... Read more
Sonnet Introduces USB 3.0 + eSATA Thunderbolt...
Sonnet has announced the launch of its new USB 3.0 + eSATA Thunderbolt Adapter for easy connectivity to USB 3.0 devices and eSATA storage, and USB 3.0 + Gigabit Ethernet Thunderbolt Adapter for easy... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 27-inch 5K iMacs f...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMacs for $2119 including free shipping. Their price is $380 off the cost of new models, and it’s the lowest price available... Read more
Free Clean Reader Mobile App Hides Swear Word...
The new Clean Reader app, now available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, delivers the opportunity of reading any book without being exposed to profanity. By selecting how clean they want their... Read more
Kinsa Launches “Groups” App to Monitor Illnes...
Kinsa, makers of the first FDA approved app-enabled smartphone thermometer thst won the 2013 Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Grand Prize and recently appeared in Apple’s “Parenthood” TV... Read more
iPad: A More Positive Outlook – The ‘Book Mys...
It’s good to hear someone saying positive things about the iPad. I’ve been trying to bend my mind around how Apple’s tablet could have gone from zero to bestselling personal computing device on the... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $279 off MSRP
Amazon has Mac Pros in stock and on sale for up to $279 off MSRP. Shipping is free: - 4-Core Mac Pro: $2725.87, $273 off MSRP (9%) - 6-Core Mac Pro: $3719.99, $279 off MSRP (7%) Read more
Sale! 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros for up to $...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $205 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1219.99 save $80 - 13″ 2.... Read more
Another Tranche Of IBM MobileFirst For iOS Ap...
IBM has announced the next expansion phase for  its IBM MobileFirst for iOS portfolio, with a troika of new apps to address key priorities for the Banking and Financial Services, Airline and Retail... Read more

Jobs Board

*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
*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
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…Summary** As a Specialist, you help create the energy and excitement around Apple products, providing the right solutions and getting products into customers' hands. You Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple Store is a retail environment like no other - uniquely focused on delivering amazing customer experiences. As an Expert, you introduce people Read more
*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
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.