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Parallels for the Mac is the coolest thing…

August 2, 2011

Last summer I set up a Boot Camp volume on the hand-me-down Mac Pro I got from my son. I installed Windows 7 on it and put the usual apps – Office 2010, etc. It doesn’t have a lot on it because I can still do almost everything I need to on the Mac volume. I did install Band-In-A-Box on it, because that app is always a generation ahead on Windows.  Mostly I set it up so I could run the things I needed to for school, which is pretty much a Windows 7 shop.

The Boot Camp install went fine. I had to do a bit of sleight of hand in moving physical hard drives around so the Mac would recognize the right drive as the Boot Camp drive. I wanted to use a separate physical drive for Windows, not just a partition on a Mac volume, and that’s the default for Boot Camp.

It’s been very stable and pretty darned fast. Partly it’s been fast because the Mac Pro is a heavy-duty machine, though a couple of years old now. Also, I don’t have a lot of extra stuff that loads on startup – it’s a pretty lean install. But the Boot Camp system works well. The only gripe I had, if you could call it that, is that you have to restart the machine each time you want to switch from Mac to Windows.

Last Sunday I got a new 15 inch MacBook Pro. It’s the 2.3 GHz version, with the high-res matte screen. It’s a wonderful machine, as I expected it would be. I figured on this one I would try something different.

I installed Parallels 6.0 on this machine. It only has one hard drive so I would have had to partition it for Boot Camp. Parallels works differently; it creates a virtual machine for each OS install you want to create. Virtualization of machines has been big the last couple of years, especially in the server realm (at least as I understand it). This application of it is something that I remember being tried years and years ago on the Mac, but the performance hit was so great that Windows 95 was painfully slow running as a virtual machine.

The new breed of machines have wicked fast processors. I don’t see a significant decrease in performance on the Windows side. Granted, I’ve not pushed it that hard yet in the last three days, but so far, it’s working very smoothly. In fact, I’m using it to type this post with Firefox. The install was very simple.

You can keep the Windows VM in a window, as a full-screen window, or in “coherence mode” – where you could be using a Mac application and a Windows app side-by-side, and not notice which was which. That’s clever and a bit freaky for me; I want to know which environment I’m in. Eventually I’ll be comfortable enough to use it.

I’ll report again once I’ve used it more. I used it today to demo Win 7 and Office 2010 for a client group today, while running the presentations in PowerPoint on the Mac side. Pretty cool!

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