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If I use a Mac but I sometimes want a windows machine to use - e.g. to work with web apps that only work on Internet Explorer - what should I do? How can I get a windows machine easily and cheaply to use on occasion?

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Microsoft offer a free remote desktop application that will allow you to connect to a Windows machine from a Macintosh. Another alternative would be to run Windows under Mac OSX using VMware Fusion or Parallels.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

There are a few options including

  • Run Windows on your mac using Parallels or other software like that

  • Run a windows virtual machine in the cloud and connect to it from your mac

It's that second option I'm going to recommend and explain how to do.

To get a windows machine you can use to do your stuff, assuming you have a reliable internet connection, I recommend using Amazon Web Services (but there are similar services available, e.g. Windows Azure). This lets you create what's called a "Virtual Machine", basically a computer in the cloud that you can connect to. As long as you stop it when you're not using it you won't pay much or anything for it - and in fact there's an option that's free for the first year, so that's pretty cheap. Once you have created this Virtual Machine (or VM) you can use a program from your computer to connect to it.

There are lots of tutorials for creating an Amazon VM, e.g. or I've put together a series of steps that might be easier to follow for this specific purpose.

1) go to and sign up. You’ll need to put in your credit card details when you sign up. It doesn’t cost you anything to register and you probably won’t actually get charged anything for the first year even.

2) once you've logged in you'll probably see something like this: enter image description here

These are all different services from Amazon. You can ignore them all except “EC2”. Click on this.

3) Now you’ll see a page a bit like this below. In Amazon’s language you want to start an Instance, i.e. a Virtual Machine. They have servers in several locations, it makes sense you use the one closest to us, so * select your closest region from the dropdown on the left, e.g. I'm in the UK so EU West (Ireland) * then click the Launch Instance button enter image description here

4) On the next screen, * select Quick Launch Wizard on the left hand side * Type something in the Name Your Instance box at the top – e.g. WindowsForIE * Select ‘Create New’ radiobutton * Enter a name for your Key Pair. This is a security thing, the name doesn’t matter, e.g. ‘whatever’ * Click the Download button which will download a file enter image description here

5) Note that there’s a file downloaded called whatever.pem (or the name you put in box 4 above) that’s downloaded. enter image description here We’ll use this file soon.

6) Now scroll down the list of different types of machines you can start and select “Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Base”. Notice that it has a big star and says “Free tier eligible”, meaning it’ll be cheap or free for a while. Click the “32-bit” option on the right. Then click Continue button. enter image description here

7) On the next screen * note that it says it’s a Microsoft Windows machine * it says Type = t1.micro (meaning it’s small and therefore cheap) If either of those things aren’t right then click Go Back and check you did it right. * Now click Launch enter image description here

8) Now you get a boring page, maybe with a progress indicator, just click Close enter image description here

9) You’re back at the My Instances page again, and your Instance is starting up. It’ll take a few minutes so be patient. The State icon will go green when it’s running. enter image description here

10) Now you can right-click on it and choose Connect from the menu enter image description here

11) You’ll get a screen like this: enter image description here Before you can connect you need a Password, so click the Retrieve Password link.

12) you’ll probably get a message like this telling you to wait for a while, up to 15 mins. This is just the first time you ever use this machine. In future you won’t have to wait so long. enter image description here

13) Have a cup of tea. Maybe bake a cake.

14) Try step #10 again – right-click and Connect, then click Retrieve Password. You’ll get this: enter image description here Click the Choose File button and select the file we downloaded in step #5

15) Now click the Decrypt Password Button enter image description here

16) Now you have the secret codez you need: enter image description here There’s a magic computer out there running that you can connect to! You better write down the Administrator password because it’s not going to be easy to remember. Or copy & paste it, even better.

17) Download some software to connect to it. There are at least two options, I haven’t tried either but I’ve heard the first one is maybe slightly better. Both are free. Try the first one and if that doesn’t work well then try the other one.

18) Once you’re running the new software you can connect to the windows machine. The name or address of the machine is that big long thing labelled Public DNS, e.g. (but your name will have different numbers). The Username is “Administrator” and the Password is the funny password, e.g. for me it’s “qZyGFGYk?;k”. If you’re asked for a ‘Domain’ you probably don’t need to enter anything in that box. This should allow you to connect to the Instance, so you’ll have a window on your machine with your Windows Instance running in it. A bit like parallels but instead of the Windows machine running on your laptop it’s running in the cloud. So obviously you need to be online to use it. enter image description here

19) If you need to you can install files on the Windows Instance, e.g. if you want to upgrade the version of Internet Explorer that it has. Just use IE on the windows instance to download files. I’m not sure how you copy files between the machines when using a mac. Maybe you can just copy & paste, maybe you need to use the menus in the CoRD program. Maybe use email/dropbox.

I suggest the first thing you do is Change Password to one you can remember. On windows you do this from Start > Windows Security > Change Password. It’s quite important to use a STRONG password as the machine is on the internet and lots of dodgy people might try to log on to it. So use a password that you’ll remember but one with numbers and upper and lower case and maybe a symbol. E.g. “ThisIsAwesome1234567890!”. Email it to yourself or write it down.

20) VERY IMPORTANT – You are charged for the Instance when it’s running (and a tiny bit when it’s not running, just for the storage space the machine takes up). As long as you’ve started an instance of type t1.micro the charges are about $0.15/hour but free for the first year. It’s possible to start much bigger machines that cost more, and those hours add up. The best thing to do is to Shutdown the machine when you’re not using it. You can do this from windows Start menu, or from the Amazon console. * To Stop it from the Amazon console: right-click on it and select ‘Stop’ enter image description here And then Yes, Stop. enter image description here

This keeps the Instance there in your list and you only pay a few cents a month for storage. Basically the machine is turned off but you can power it back up again. enter image description here

21) You can log in to the amazon console whenever you like, right-click on the Instance and select Start. This powers it on. it takes a few minutes before it’s started up (like a normal PC), and after that you can connect to it again. NB: The address/name you use to connect might be different each time you stop/start it. To connect, right-click and click Connect, and get the Public DNS to connect to again.

Each time when you’re done with the machine you should shut it down so you’re not paying hourly (although actually it should be free for a year it’s a good habit to get into). One thing with it because it’s a windows server (instead of a desktop) it’ll ask you the reason when you shut it down. Just type anything and click ok: enter image description here

When you start it back up any files on the machine will still be there. But I highly recommend you don’t rely on that – just in case, ensure that anything important you save back to your machine or email to yourself or whatever.

When you’re never planning to use the machine again you can right-click on it in the Amazon console and click Terminate, which means the machine will be deleted and you can never use it again.

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