Parallels Universe

Though many smitten with the Apple compare running Windows on a Mac to turning gold into lead, a significant number of Intel Mac users have nonetheless installed another OS on their Intel machine. The reasons are as varied as the users, however, speaking for myself – my job requires access to Windows applications. As this has been a long-standing requirement of my work, I’ve been toying with various emulation and virtualization schemes as long as they’ve been around. In fact, I’ll do nearly anything to avoid carrying two laptops during my daily commute.

Here’s a snapshot of the current state of my OS world…

Mac OS X Boot Camp
I use this, and it works – simple as that. As long as your alternate OS requirements are MS Windows XP or Vista, this is a high-functioning, workable solution to your dual boot needs. In fact, PC Magazine at one time stated that the best laptop for Windows was an Intel Mac. In any event, I use Boot Camp Vista Ultimate on a daily basis and achieve good levels of performance. However, as many complain, it’s a lengthy process to shut down OS X and boot Vista just to access an application.

I was an early adopter of this application, starting with Version 2, then through Beta and Release of Version 3. At times, Parallels worked very well, other times abysmally (generally within the Beta stages). Early builds worked quite well with virtual machines, and as long I faithfully backed up my VM before each update, I was generally immune from idiosyncracies of buggy software. Then I decided to use Parallels to access my Boot Camp partition, which turned out to be a huge mistake. After several crashes, I was no longer able to mount my Boot Camp OS natively, instead restricted to accessing it through Parallels. Additionally, any “activated” application in the Boot Camp partition, such as Office or Adobe Creative Suite, would require “reactivation” when accessed in Parallels. Unfortunately this entailed having to completely rebuild and reinstall my Boot Camp partition. I quickly learned NOT to use Parallels for this type of access and restricted its use to Virtual Machines.

VMware Fusion
Fusion was second virtualization developer to release software onto the VM scene, and as a result was in a position to play catch-up to Parallels. Fusion seemed more stable at the outset, though had minor interface and performance differences from rival Parallels. Like Parallels Fusion enables users to install and utilize a wide range of X86 Operating Systems ranging from legacy MS product through the many flavours of Linux.

My Dual Boot Universe?
As I said earlier, I use alternate OS’s on my MacBook Pro on a daily basis. With the recent releases of Parallels 4 and Fusion 2.01, my working life has become a little bit more stable. I currently use Vista Ultimate SP1, natively in Boot Camp as Vista is known for pokey performance and sluggish behavior. I didn’t want to add insult to injury by further crippling Vista’s performance in a virtual machine, choosing instead to run it natively.

I use Parallels 4 with a Windows XP Pro SP3 virtual machine, giving me decent performance and a stable guest operating system. While many users have shared online tales of upgrade horrors when migrating from Parallels 3 to 4, I had no such experience. Perhaps that’s because I always follow a specific procedure when moving up to a new build of Parallels.

1.    Run compressor to clean up Virtual Machine [Old Version]
2.    Back-up Virtual Machine [Old Version] by dragging the Parallels directory to a Back-up Drive.
3.    Use [Old Version] Parallels uninstaller to remove Old Version
4.    Keep [Old Version] Parallels installer in a safe place, perhaps with your VM back-up
5.    Install [New Version] Parallels
6.    Allow [New Version] Parallels to upgrade the Virtual Machine
7.    Install [New Version] Parallel tools within Virtual Machine
8.    Keep [New Version] Parallels installer in a safe place

By following this procedure, you can easily revert to the previous build simply by uninstalling/reinstalling and dragging your backed up Virtual Machine to the Parallels directory. For me, this procedure has always ensured a smooth upgrade. And so far, my Virtual Machines have worked well, though I am still afraid to use Parallels with my Boot Camp partition!

Instead, I use VMware Fusion 2.01 to access my Boot Camp Vista installation. While very stable, the virtualized OS seems to run quite slowly. Unfortunately I’m not sure how much responsibility should be assigned to Fusion and what should be blamed on Microsoft. However, as I only fire it up once in a while, it doesn’t impact my world too much. Were I going to start virtualizing all over again, I think I would be inclined to give VMware a shot with an XP Virtual Machine!

Before you make your own decision, Google the web for user comments and software reviews. Here’s a couple of good comparisons of the two products, one from each side of the fence.

Information Week – Parallels 4 Review
Low End Mac – Parallels vs. Fusion Shootout

And a good all around resource for us crazies wanting to put Windows on a perfectly good Mac…


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3 Responses

  1. Patrick says:

    I’ve gotten more useful upgrade information out of your article than from the Parallels folks.

  2. Travis says:

    I’m lucky enough to run just about anything I need on my Apple Desktop, but have an old IBM laptop at the moment, anything about running an Apple OS on a non-Mac machine?

  3. zac says:

    it can be done… and one company (Psystar) is selling “Mac Clones”. The process of installing Mac OS on a PC is buggy and requires some technical skill. Just google it and you’ll find plenty of examples and how-to articles. trouble with any “hacked” OS is that you generally cannot update them.

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