The 2017 refresh of a MadBlog article originally posted in March 2015, with the modest caveat that the author is not yet familiar with the latest MacBook Pros, newly on the market as of June 2017.
I often see discussions at LinkedIn or the MadCap user forums in which posters lament how they wish they could run MadCap Flare on a Mac.
I immediately think, “But you can run Flare on a Mac! I’ve been running Flare on a Mac for years!” I ran early versions of Flare on a now aged iMac from circa 2003 and on a MacBook Pro laptop since early 2013.
Of course, the salient bit here is that I’m not really running Flare on a Mac. Rather, I run Flare on a virtual Windows machine on top of the Mac OS.
It was relatively easy to set up, but I did incur costs beyond the cost of Flare and its companion programs. And, of course, I had to pony up the $$$ for a Mac.
Why did I switch?
A few years back, when it became clear that I needed to replace a Dell laptop that just wasn’t holding up, ergonomics was a major consideration.
For one thing, I had already been using the Mac extended keyboard with my Dells. Bar none, this keyboard is the smoothest, most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used in my (ahem) 36 years in the tech comm industry. When I’m keyboarding much of my day, I want my hands to be as comfortable as possible.
For another thing, there were my aging eyes. The Dell laptop’s screen was just not clear enough, and—having fallen in love with the clarity of my Retina iPad—I reasoned that a Mac with a Retina display would serve my eyes best.
My Mac hardware
As a consultant, I need a mobile office, so in 2013 I chose a MacBook Pro laptop with these specs:
- 7 GHz intel Core i7 processor – I got the fastest processor offered at the time, particularly because I wanted my Flare builds to scream.
- 16 GB memory – Wouldn’t it be great to give Flare that much room to run in? (Alas, it was not to be, but more on that later.)
- Solid state storage – With nothing mechanical to cycle up to speed, reads and writes would be faster than with a hard disk.
- Mac OS 10.10.x (Yosemite)
- Retina display
Sidebar: I tried to like the MacBook’s touch pad, but I just didn’t. Next I tried an Apple Magic Mouse, as another of my Flare-on-a-Mac friend’s swore by it. Nope; not for me. So (snort), I settled on a Microsoft wireless mouse.
2017 refresh: Any changes to the Mac environment? Yes. At some point, I upgraded to El Capitan, and I’ve been pestering my IT department to upgrade to Sierra soon. (BTW, I’m my IT department…) I also changed out some hardware; more on this later.
My virtual Windows machine
So that I could still access the Mac OS side of the laptop while I ran the Windows OS (rather than having the laptop boot up as a Windows machine, as I did with my old iMac), I needed to install a virtual Windows machine. Here are the specs of my setup:
- VMWare Fusion – Virtualization software, which cost me around $70, I recall. (Sidebar: Some of my Flare-on-a-Mac friends use Parallels.)
- Windows 7 Professional 64-bit – A full, licensed version, which I think cost around $350-$375. (I opted for the 64-bit version on the theory that it would have greater shelf-life and capacity than the 32-bit version, but that was just a guess on my part.)
Now back to those 16 GB I was lusting over for Flare’s sake. Turns out, VMWare can allocate only half of a Mac’s available memory to a virtual machine. So, bottom line, I’ve got an 8 GB Windows machine to run Flare on.
2017 refresh: Any changes? Not yet. The original Windows environment is still going strong. I’ve repeated pestered my IT department to upgrade to Windows 10 soon, which I assume with require an upgrade to VMware Fusion, too, but “they” haven’t gotten around to it yet.
My Flare installation
Once the virtual Windows machine was set up, installing Flare on the Mac laptop was just the same as doing so on a native Windows machine:
- Install the required .NET framework.
- Install and activate Flare.
So how does Flare play in the Mac world?
Very well, thank you! Occasionally Windows crashes, and very, very rarely Flare tells me it’s out of memory. Generally, my Flare authoring experience on Mac hardware has been sublime.
But wait. There’s more…
In 2015, I got rid of the one residual bit of hardware from my old Dell days: a second Dell monitor. I longed for something crisper for my aging eyes’ sake and larger to give Flare more real estate.
Enter the Apple Thunderbolt display. Big, bright, and sharp.
I often put Flare on the Thunderbolt, maximized, with lots of open windows positioned just where I want them. I can even comfortably run the XML Editor in split view vertically so I can see everything practically at a glance.
I regret to say that Apple no longer makes the Thunderbolt display, so if this one goes, I’m not sure where I’ll turn.
And about that Microsoft mouse. I ditched that in 2016 for the lovely and comfortable, rechargeable Apple Magic Mouse, and I picked up the equally comfortable rechargeable Apple Magic Keyboard (not a full keyboard) for taking my show on the road.
What do other Flare-on-a-Mac users say?
To prepare for this 2017 refresh, I asked several other Flare-on-a-Mac (FoM) users to share their experiences, good and bad. I’m struck by the variation in our virtual machine environments, but not surprised by our satisfaction with FoM.
Kelly Parr of RIFT.io says “I LOVE FoM. No regrets, no issues!” adding “FoM is fast and responsive, and builds do blaze. Specs include “a 13″ Retina (early 2015) model with 16 GB of RAM and, 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5, and a SSD. I (use) Parallels Desktop 11.2.1 and Windows 8.1. Thanks to Parallels Coherence, it looks and feels like I really am running Flare on a Mac. Drag-and-drop operations between the two operating systems are easy and visually seamless, and running two instances of Flare (e.g., if I need to backport a change from master to a branch) is never an issue. My VM is as lean as a Windows OS can be. I installed nothing on it besides Flare and Capture. Storage is the only thing I didn’t account for (only 500 GB). For now, a LaCie Rugged drive handles my huge files (videos and recordings). And with Flare checked into Git and backed up on Time Machine, I never worry about a catastrophic failure.”
Bianca Szczesniak (whom I had the pleasure of meeting at MadWorld 2017!) says “While it would be easier to use Flare directly on a Mac, I have had zero issues running Flare on a remote desktop. Using Flare on a Mac is surprisingly straight-forward. I simply log in to my Windows environment via the Microsoft Remote Desktop app, and boom–I’m in!” She advises those considering FoM: (1) Don’t NOT use Flare just because you have a Mac. Flare is WAY better than any other authoring tool right now. (2) If you work at a company that has an IT department, talk to IT about how to set up the Windows environment. What might be intimidating to a tech writer might be a piece of cake for an IT professional. (3) If possible, use two monitors so that you can run Windows on one monitor, and still access the rest of your Mac programs and files on the other monitor.”
David Busey, Manager of Knowledge Services at SmartRG has his “Parallels / Flare environment all set up on an external (SSD) drive” that is “quite quick and usable.” He reports that “The only real annoyance … (is) display-settings related: Usually I work remotely but when I go into the office and jack into the external monitor there (different make/model), Windows adjusts the resolution…. When I come back home and jack in here, I get this low res, almost 4:3 aspect ratio bizarro thing that I have to fiddle with restoring every time I transition. Maybe that’s just the nature of Windows for all I know — that might not be exclusive to FoM.” (Wow! Yes, I sometimes have this same issue when I return to my office after visiting a client site where I had connected my MacBook to their second monitor. I agree, it’s an annoying Windows thing. It has nothing to do with Flare.)
And finally, Leslie Tilling, Senior Technical Writer at Alien Vault, says that “Running the MadCap applications from a Windows guest on my MacBook has worked seamlessly. In fact, I have better performance because I have an allocated amount of memory for the Windows guest system and I only run MadCap apps on it, with all other functions happening on the Mac host system. With shared directories defined in VMware Fusion, I access the project files and build outputs on both systems.”
So if you’re lusting after Flare on a Mac, remember…
But you must make the business case—whether to your management or to yourself (if you are independent, like me)—why the additional incurred costs will be worth it.
For me, those additional costs have been more than justified when I consider the quality, reliability, and comfort of the hardware on which I run Flare—day in and day out—in my consulting business. My bet that Mac hardware would have a long shelf-life has paid off. Four years out, I’m still running Flare (as of this writing, Flare 2017 r2) on the same Mac.
For all interested FoM users, I’ve put together a little brochure of Flare keyboard and other shortcuts specifically for those using an Apple keyboard. Let me know if you’d like a copy.