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Mix Some Windows into Your Mac

How Parallels can simplify the switch for you

By Michael Fivis

Despite all of the noise about how Apple's latest offerings now enable Windows-based PC users to reap the joys and ecstasies of cool design and ease-of-use formally bragged about by longtime Mac users, it's easy to miss the fact that none of the software they have purchased for their 'Windows boxes' will work on Apple's OS X operating system.

A heartbeat behind the announcement that future 'Apple boxes' would be powered by Intel-designed processors, one company, Parallels, came up with a solution that allows consumers to run Windows XP and Vista applications on their Macs without having to first reboot (as the free Boot Camp utility Apple includes with their current systems requires) or having to diddle around with settings to get it working properly. The newest update of this very cool software, Parallels Desktop 3.0, allows an incredible amount of flexibility in letting you run Windows programs without compromising simplicity.

Moving your mouse over the Windows window seamlessly transfers control of the cursor between the two operating systems, enabling you to drag files back and forth between folders in either operating system.

Parallels has since added an option to switch important Windows applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, to something Parallels calls Coherence. Coherence enables you to use Windows applications in the OS X environment while retaining the familiar look and feel of the original Windows application without hitting snags and hiccups.

Creating a Parallels 'virtual machine' within Mac OS X is incredibly simple, and unlike previous versions of Parallels you need not purchase a new copy of Windows. If your current PCs are connected to the same network, you can download a freebie Windows utility called Transporter Agent to migrate the contents of your Windows system to your Mac. Simply tell Parallels you'd like to set up Windows by migration and it walks you through the process. The end result? Your formally Windows-only computer is now "virtualized" on your shiny new Mac.

If you prefer to start a fresh Windows install with the traditional disc, Parallels has streamlined that process, too. The typical Windows XP installation process only requires a few key strokes to get it going, but it unfortunately requires users to continually check up on the progress. About ten minutes down the line it asks you for the CD's serial key, followed by additional prompts for entering other information like the time zone, network settings, and whether you prefer sugar or Equal in your morning coffee. Parallels' 'Assistant' automates this tedious process by asking for all this info upfront; you hit the start button and cruise straight through to the first-boot welcome screen without all of the annoying stop signs.

Although Parallels took the early lead in marketing easy-to-use virtualization products for all the newbies to the Intel-based Macintosh platform, the undisputed champion in virtual computing software in IT departments is VMWare, who released a powerful consumer-oriented application for Mac users called VMWare Fusion. It does a similar job, albeit with a marginally less friendly interface. Despite slight differences in operating procedure, Fusion bests Parallels Desktop 3.0 functionality in its support of 64-bit operating systems such as the 64-bit Editions of Vista and Windows XP.

Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion (both $69) add an incredible amount of value to the Mac experience. Consumers no longer have to factor in the steep costs of repurchasing the same software for Macs (or worry about the possible lack of a comparable alternative) when considering an Apple.

There are still arguable benefits to switching to Mac-specific software, e.g. uniform looks and functionality and the fact that a Windows installation within Parallels or Fusion still needs anti-virus software to defend itself from the evils of the outside world. However, the compromise is surely worth the convenience.

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