Parallels: A better way to run Windows on a Mac?

Another day, another significant development on the running-Windows-on-an-Intel-Mac front: Parallels, which makes virtualization software for running multiple operating systems on one computer, is releasing a beta of an Intel Mac version of its Parallels Workstation software today.

The young company shouldn't feel too bad about Apple stealing some of its thunder with Boot Camp, because Parallels Workstation's approach promises some significant advantages over the official Apple offering. (I say "promises" because we haven't had the opportunity to try it for ourselves yet.) Its virtualization technique (similar to the approach that VMWare has used for years on the PC platform) lets you, essentially, run multiple virtual x86 computers inside windows in a host operating system. So while Boot Camp's very name indicates that forces you to boot between Windows and OS X, using only one at a time, Parallels Workstation will let you run Windows within OS X. Which should in theory be a lot more seamless, particularly if you want to spend most of your time in OS X and Mac apps, but need to use one or two Windows programs, too.

Parallels also supports other operating systems, opening up the possibility of a tri-OS Mac that runs Windows and Linux inside OS X. And it leverages Intel's Virtualization Technology architecture (built into all the Intel Macs but the Mini, according to Parallels), which is designed to boost virtualized PC performance.

Downsides? Compared to simply running Windows natively on an Intel Mac, as Boot Camp permits, there's a performance hit with the Parallels approach. But the company says it's modest--and it should certainly be far less of a slowdown than with Microsoft's Virtual PC, which had to perform the far trickier feat of running an x86 OS on a Power PC system. The company says that there shouldn't be any driver issues (I'll be intrigued to see, though, how its support for graphics adapters and add-ons compares to Boot Camp's).

The final version of Parallels Workstation will cost $49.99, and if it's solid, it could provide a logical upgrade path from the free Boot Camp for people who want a more powerful Winapple experience and are willing to pay for it.

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