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Parallels Desktop for the Mac

by Todd Ogasawara
Running Mac OS X on Windows

Parallels Desktop for the Mac

Let's get this out of the way first. The short version of this discussion of Parallels Desktop for the Mac can be summed up in a single word: amazing. Nothing is perfect, of course, and there is room for improvement as Parallels moves this product beyond version 1.0. However, if you have an Intel-based Mac and need to or want to run Microsoft Windows, some version of Linux, or some other supported operating system, read on.

The introduction of Intel-based Mac computers opened all kinds of opportunities for Apple and its customers. Having an Intel microprocessor gave rise to the possibility for Macs to run other x86-based operating systems. There are a number of good reasons why someone would want to run an operating system (OS) other than Mac OS X.

  • Compatibility with co-workers or clients using some non-Mac application.
  • Compatibility with an electronic form or some other service on the Web that only works with Microsoft Windows. The U.S. government's, for example, is reportedly not yet compatible with Safari or Firefox on the Mac (Washington Post, "New Grant System Excludes Mac Users").
  • Test website browser compatibility with Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 Beta-2 in Windows XP.
  • Test applications for Windows or Linux in a sandboxed environment that can be easily wiped out and restored or rebuilt.
  • Run a unique legacy application that only runs on an ancient OS without dedicating an entire physical computer to the task.
  • Try a live CD.
  • Try out new Linux distribution releases.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Microsoft Windows XP SP2 in a window of a Mac OS X desktop

Shortly after the Intel-based Macs became available, a contest with a cash prize was created to encourage the creation of a reliable method to dual-boot Microsoft Windows XP on an Intel Mac. This prize was claimed in mid-March, 2006 by narf2006 and blanka. Apple made Boot Camp available shortly after the unofficial Windows XP dual-boot solution became available. Boot Camp lets you carve off a part of your hard drive to dedicate it for installing Microsoft Windows XP. You can then choose to boot the Intel-based Mac in either Mac OS X or Windows XP mode. But you cannot run both at the same time.

Microsoft Virtual PC for the Mac provides an emulation feature for PowerPC-based Macs that allows those Macs to run Microsoft Windows inside of Mac OS X. It does this by providing a hardware emulator that intercepts instructions from Windows applications and Windows itself so that those x86 instructions can be translated to PowerPC instructions that are executed on those Macs. As you might imagine, emulating the actual microprocessor by translating machine-level instructions places quite a load on a PowerPC G4, or even a G5. Virtual PC had a reputation for running applications a bit on the slow side. This extra translation step is not necessary on an x86-based Mac, and this should allow for more efficient execution of x86-based software like Linux, Microsoft Windows XP, and applications designed for them.

Parallels Desktop for the Mac takes a different approach for the new Intel-x86-based Macs. It uses virtualization technology to run other operating systems while Mac OS X is still running. This eliminates the need to reboot to switch to or from Mac OS X. It also provides the ability to install and use other operating systems such as Linux, BSD, or even MS-DOS.

Product information
Company name Parallels
Product name Parallels Desktop for Mac
Price $79.95
Trial period 30 days
Tested using MacBook 2GHz Intel Core Duo, 1GB RAM, 60GB hard drive

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