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

Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.5 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
BusyContacts 1.0.2 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more
Capture One Pro 8.2.0.82 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Backblaze 4.0.0.872 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac.With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Little Snitch 3.5.2 - Alerts you about o...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activity As soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.4 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. If you use your computer in only one (human) language, you... Read more
CleanApp 5.0 - Application deinstaller a...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Fantastical 2.0 - Create calendar events...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event details... Read more
Cocktail 8.2 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
Direct Mail 4.0.4 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more

Fast & Furious: Legacy's Creati...
| Read more »
N-Fusion and 505's Ember is Totally...
| Read more »
These are All the Apple Watch Apps and G...
The Apple Watch is less than a month from hitting store shelves, and once you get your hands on it you're probably going to want some apps and games to install. Fear not! We've compiled a list of all the Apple Watch apps and games we've been able to... | Read more »
Appy to Have Known You - Lee Hamlet Look...
Being at 148Apps these past 2 years has been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal, and working with such a great team has been a privilege. Thank you to Rob Rich, and to both Rob LeFebvre and Jeff Scott before him, for helping me... | Read more »
Hands-On With Allstar Heroes - A Promisi...
Let’s get this out of the way quickly. Allstar Heroes looks a lot like a certain other recent action RPG release, but it turns out that while it’s not yet available here, Allstar Heroes has been around for much longer than that other title. Now that... | Read more »
Macho Man and Steve Austin Join the Rank...
WWE Immortals, by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and WWE, has gotten a superstar update. You'll now have access to Macho Man Randy Savage and Steve Austin. Both characters have two different versions: Macho Man Randy Savage Renegade or Macho... | Read more »
Fearless Fantasy is Fantastic for the iF...
I actually had my first look at Fearless Fantasy last year at E3, but it was on a PC so there wasn't much for me to talk about. But now that I've been able to play with a pre-release version of the iOS build, there's quite a bit for me to talk... | Read more »
MLB Manager 2015 (Games)
MLB Manager 2015 5.0.14 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 5.0.14 (iTunes) Description: Guide your favorite MLB franchise to glory! MLB Manager 2015, officially licensed by MLB.com and based on the award-... | Read more »
Breath of Light (Games)
Breath of Light 1.0.1421 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1421 (iTunes) Description: Hold a quiet moment. Breath of Light is a meditative and beautiful puzzle game with a hypnotic soundtrack by... | Read more »
WWE WrestleMania Tags into the App Store
Are You ready to rumble? The official WWE WrestleMania app, by World Wrestling Entertainment, is now available. Now you can get all your WrestleMania info in one place before anyone else. The app offers details on superstar signings, interactive... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Samsung Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge U.S. P...
Samsung Electronics America, Inc. has announced the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge will be available in the U.S. beginning April 10, with pre-orders being accepted now. “We have completely reimagined... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.... Read more
Save up to $80 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $80 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549.99 $50 off - 128GB iPad... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1019 $80 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Färbe Technik Offers iPhone Battery Charge LI...
Färbe Technik, which manufactures and markets of mobile accessories for Apple, Blackberry and Samsung mobile devices, is offering tips on how to keep your iPhone charged while in the field: •... Read more
Electronic Recyclers International CEO Urges...
Citing a recent story on CNBC about concerns some security professionals have about the forthcoming Apple Watch, John Shegerian, Chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International (ERI), the... Read more
Save up to $380 with Apple refurbished iMacs
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $2119 $... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $75 off, starting...
MacMall has Mac minis on sale for up to $75 off MSRP including free shipping. Their prices are the lowest available for these models from any reseller: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459.99 $40 off - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $50 off Mac...
Take an additional $50 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through April 11, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take advantage... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $260 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $260 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2799, $200 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3719.99... Read more

Jobs Board

DevOps Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay, iOS...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring 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
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.