Parallels Workstation for Mac

May 22, 2006

I’ve been using a Macbook Pro (the first of the Intel-based Mac laptops) for about 6 weeks now. I managed to wait long enough for most of the earliest adopter problems to be fixed in the build I received, but the system was still a bit green and wet as far as stability and quirkiness go.

Fortunately, most of those issues seem to be getting resolved with the steady stream of system updates, along with many of my “essential” applications being updated with universal binary support.

As a result, goal one — having a Mac laptop with decent speed — has pretty much been addressed. When running universal binaries (versions of applications that come with native Intel code, and don’t have to be run via the “Rosetta” emulation system), the Macbook Pro is crisp and responsive. Unfortunately, I’m still stuck with two major applications (Macromedia Suite, Microsoft Entourage) that are run in emulation, but hopefully those will get updated soon as well.

Goal two was a little loftier.

I have two primary reasons for keeping Windows machines around for work — I build web applications, so I need to be able to test that sites work properly in Internet Explorer. I’ve also got a few clients still using Microsoft Access based databases in their web apps, so I’ve got to be able to run Access to do any database manipulation that I can’t do directly in SQL (or is too much of a pain in the ass to do directly in SQL).

For that reason, the Intel-based Macs were especially intriguing to me. While I wasn’t really interested in BootCamp (rebooting my machine to switch back and forth would be an even bigger pain in the butt during testing than using two machines is), the potential of being able to run Windows within an OS X window was particularly exciting.

The first real product to allow this is Parallels’ Parallels Desktop for Mac.

I’ve been playing with it since Beta 2, and while it’s more or less “worked”, it’s taken them a few releases to get most of the bugs hammered out of it. Parallels is now up to Release Candidate 1, however, and it’s working like a charm at this point.

When you run Desktop for Mac, what you get is pretty much exactly a Windows-compatible machine in a window — you configure what system resources it gets (amount of disk space, memory, access to network and peripherals, etc.), and it boots. At that point you can install XP, Windows 2K, Linux, or pretty much anything else you like.

Once you’ve installed it, you can launch a virtual desktop (just like powering up your Windows box), close it (powering off), reset it, or best of all, suspend and unsuspend it. This means that you can have your booted-up copy of Windows, with your applications running, and start it or get rid of it as you like. Which is pretty damn handy.

Everything I’ve tried works. It’s =not= as fast or as seamless as running BootCamp is purported to be, but for my needs it fits the bill very nicely indeed. If I wanted to go spend a couple of hours with a PC game, I’d be better off running BootCamp, but to just be able to get to those last few Windows apps I need, this thing’s brilliant.

Most everyone I talk to who is considering going from Windows to a Mac (why does it seem these conversations always take place when I’m helping somebody recover from some spyware or virus infestation, or other particularly ugly Windows frustration?) tells me that while 95%+ of everything they do can be easily done in OS X, there is just one or two applications that they have to deal with occasionally that require Windows.

For people in that position, Parallels makes for a great solution.

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

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