Working in a multi OS environment at your Advertising Agency

Many advertising agencies and graphic design firms require a mix of windows and mac computers to accomplish their day to day activities such as developing and testing on different platforms, browsers etc.

There are two main ways to approach multi OS workflows:

  1. Run on physical separate hardware (multiple computers)
  2. Run on one physical computer.

Running on separate hardware:

Probably the easiest solution is to run multiple computers on separate hardware.


  • Easy to setup and maintain (or so it seems)
  • You don’t use more resources on one computer, you can spread the load between computers to run different tasks.


  • You need a monitor for each computer (unless you want to remote control some of them – a topic for another blog post).
  • You need a keyboard and a mouse for each computer, or a KVM (keyboard / video / mouse switch) with lots of cables going back and forth.
  • You will probably find yourself typing on the wrong keyboard more than once in the course of a day (which will drive you nuts eventually).
  • Transferring files is usually a pain.
  • Sharing the clipboard is not possible.

Some tips for using multiple physical computer:

  • These days, most monitors have multiple inputs with an easy way to switch between them. You can connect multiple computers to one display. This is a good solution if you use one computer as a mina machine, and infrequently need to view the other machines.

(notice the “source” button on the monitor)

  • Use software KVM switch. There are not too many options that work across operating systems, but here are two:
    • Synergy (– An open source project (yes, it means FREE) that has been around for quite a few years.
    • Free (did I mention that?)
    • Allows copy and paste between computers.
    • It has been around for a few years, and it is stable.
    • Can be frustrating to setup at times.
    • One master computer, with X clients.
  • Share Mouse ( 
    • Commercial product ($24.95 / computer)
    • Very easy to setup.
    • Allows drag and drop files between computers (yes you’ve read it right).
    • Any computer can become the “master” at any point.
    • Allows copy and paste between computers.
    • Still in beta (I’ve used it for a few weeks now, it seems stable enough).
    • For transferring files, you can use one of the following:A shared network drive.
    • Use ShareMouse to drag and drop (as mentioned above)
    • Dropbox (
    • SFTP client for windows (winscp for example)
    • SFTP hard drive to mount mac on windows (
    • Sharing the clipboard can be done through synergy or share mouse.

Running multiple operating systems on the same hardware:

There are two main ways to approach that solution:

  • Dual Boot
  • Virtual Machine

Dual boot:

Mac allows you to dual boot a computer into windows using bootcamp.


  1. Your computer does not take more resources because it runs only one operating system at a time.
  2. Quite easy to setup.


  1. You cannot use both operating systems at the same time.
  2. It takes time to switch between computers.

Virtual machines:

This approach will work only on a mac, because it is not possible (I take it back, it is possible, but not legal) to run a mac operating system on a windows host :

There are different products to a virtual computer on a physical computer:

  1. Virtualbox ( – An open source product (yes FREE). I will not comment on that one because I have never used it.
  2. VMWARE Fusion ( – a commercial product.
  3. Parallels ( – a commercial product.

The above are the ones I know of, there are probably more, and I will not get into the whole “which one is better” argument, because these discussions have a long history and every side will defend its own. All I will say about it is that I own both VMWARE and Parallels, have used both, and chose Parallels (for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog post), but that does not mean anything.

(running 2 windows 7 + Lion + CentOS on one computer using Parallels)


  1. Multiple operating systems are available at the same time, so you can tap into anything you need on both sides.
  2. Transferring files between the host and the guest operating systems is drag and drop.
  3. Transferring clipboard between host and guest works out of the box.
  4. It is easy to make a “snap shot” of the virtual computer before making changes, and revert to an earlier version when needed (for example testing installers on windows boxes).


The disadvantages really boil down to resources on the host machine.

  1. You need to have a machine with plenty of RAM to run all operating systems at the same time (I recommend at least 8GB or RAM), otherwise everything grinds to a halt.
  2. Having more than one operating system is disk read / write intensive. Using a solid-state drive makes a big difference.
  3. Since each operating system needs it own CPU cycles to function, it is better to have more than two cores.


To make a (really) long story short, using a virtual computer on a strong computer is probably the easiest way to go about things. There may be some scenarios where having multiple physical machines make more sense (like at home, I am using an iMac as the main box, and a PC as a file /media server.

Whatever configuration you may use at your creative agency, using some of the tips mentioned in this blog post can make your life easier.

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