I'm a Mac ' and a PC

GCN Lab review: Parallels creates a seamless environment for running Windows and Mac OS simultaneously

TRANSITIONING TO MAC just got a lot easier, especially for Microsoft Windows natives. Parallels Desktop is the first software that enables Apple Macintosh users to run Windows and Linux operating system applications on an Intel-powered iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Pro, MacBook or MacBook Pro.

Apple Computer has long had Boot Camp on its Intel-based Macs to offer dual-boot capabilities, letting you run two operating systems on the same hard drive. This feature has helped many new Mac users, including me, dive into the world of Mac OS while still having a safety line attached to the Windows continuum, but it is a rather laborious option.

Boot Camp requires users to completely shut down Mac OS X and go through a full operating system startup cycle to access the applications in a new environment. With Parallels Desktop 3.0, users can access important Windows programs, such as Outlook, Access and Internet Explorer, from their native Mac OS X environment without having to reboot.

Parallels Desktop is a virtual machine in which two separate operating systems run in complete isolation.

These independent virtual machines are like two separate, stand-alone computers with their own processors, RAM, CD drives, input/output devices, keyboards, mice and hard drives. Virtual hardware resources are linked to the host computer's real hardware, so virtual machines provide exceptional performance and are stable even with intensive processing and graphic applications. I was even able to open high-end Windows-based video games from a Mac environment.

Parallels Desktop is powered by a lightweight hypervisor, which is a thin layer of software that sits between the virtual machine and the host computer's hardware and primary operating system.

The benefit of the hypervisor solution is that the primary operating system is regarded at the same level as the guest operating system.

Each virtual machine's virtual hardware resources can connect directly to the host machine's hardware resources by making hypercalls to the hypervisor rather than having to tunnel through the primary operating system.

This approach provides faster performance and greater stability than hosted virtual-machine alternatives, such as VMware's Workstation and Microsoft's Virtual PC. In those environments, virtual machines must access the primary operating system to access the computer's hardware.

This creates a time-consuming, resource-intensive process that can slow your computer to a crawl. Furthermore, crashes are more common in these hosted virtual environments than with Parallels' hypervisor method.

Parallels' lightweight hypervisor takes advantage of new features available only in Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT), a new processor architecture that enables Parallels to make its virtualization layer even thinner.

According to Parallels, internal and external testing demonstrates that virtual machines running on VT operate as much as 200 percent faster than those running on non-VT machines. Parallels is the only solution that takes full advantage of that technology, so users who just purchased the latest Macs with VT and are not running Parallels Desktop paid for hardware they can't use.

Parallels Desktop 3.0 offers several advantages over its main competition, VMware's Fusion. Fusion does not take advantage of VT and does not have the ability to integrate Windows and OS X on a file and application level. Parallels performs these integrations through a feature called SmartSelect.

SmartSelect is a new application integration tool that lets users open any file from Windows or OS X with any program from either operating system. When users right-click any file and select Open With, SmartSelect will automatically display a list of recommended applications with compatible applications from both environments.

Additionally, you can set global changes so a designated application always opens a specific file type. For example, you could assign all document, text and rich-text files to open in Word and set all clicked hyperlinks and e-mail addresses to open in Internet Explorer and Outlook when in Mac OS.

Another cool characteristic of SmartSelect is the ability to automatically configure your computer to open .exe files in Windows even if you double-click on the file while in OS X. It mounts and opens DMG packages in OS X even if they reside on the Windows desktop.

By being able to choose the application from Windows or OS X that is best for each file type, I have become completely focused on applications rather than operating systems.

More important, this feature has let me combine my personal and work computers into one.

Parallels Desktop 3.0 supports a wide range of Windows-only DirectX 8.1 3-D games and applications. Fusion offers limited DirectX support, but it doesn't support as many modern applications as Desktop 3.0 does.

Each copy of Parallels Desktop includes five free utilities. The first, Compressor, reduces the size of a virtual hard drive by half without affecting performance.

Explorer, the second tool, lets you add files to or pull files from a virtual machine even if the virtual machine is suspended or turned off. It's like setting up a private network folder on a remote desktop that doesn't have to be on.

Another way to describe Parallels Explorer is as a free, stand-alone disk management utility that lets you view and modify the entire virtual hard drive while the virtual machine is suspended or turned off. Explorer offers full Unicode support, so users can work with hard drives in any language, even those that require non-Western characters.

Transporter, commonly referred to as a migration utility, can move the entire contents of a real PC to a Parallels virtual machine.

Transporter also converts any VMware or Microsoft virtual machine to a Parallels virtual machine.

Image tool automates many common tasks that users perform on virtual hard drives, such as enlarging a virtual hard disk.

And Kaspersky Internet Security is a free, six-month subscription to help users protect their Windows virtual machines from viruses and other malware.

Two other features that captured our attention are Shared Folders and Drag and Drop.

Shared Folders, an extension from the Explorer tool, lets you create folders that can be accessed by Windows and OS X. Files in shared folders can be opened, modified and saved by applications in either operating system via the Shared Folder Explorer in Windows. Users can create new shared folders or use an existing folder, such as Mac Home Directory, as a shared folder. The folders can be created in the configuration editor when a virtual machine is off or via the Parallels Desktop system tray.

In Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac, Shared Folders automatically mounts the entire Windows virtual hard drive on the OS X desktop even when the virtual machine is off, which lets users drag-and-drop between Windows and OS X without moving to the Windows desktop. Shared Folders can also be mapped directly to Windows letter drives for easier file sharing.

Parallels Shared Folders now also enables users to automatically mirror the contents of their Windows My Documents, My Pictures and My Music folders to the Documents, Pictures, Movies and Music folders in their Mac home directory.

Users can mirror the contents of their Windows and Mac OS X desktops, too. A change in one folder or desktop is automatically reflected in its counterpart in the other operating system, and files can be accessed and modified from either operating system with any compatible application.

Drag and Drop lets users move files between OS X and Windows by simply dragging the file from one desktop to the other.

Parallels offers two levels of Drag and Drop integration.

The first, called local, lets you drag and drop from desktop to desktop but not to or from any subfolders. Global, on the other hand, lets you drag and drop to and from any folders on Windows and OS X.

These settings can be set manually or via Security Manager.

All these features come in an $80 download, which covers a single machine. For all it includes, that is a good price for anyone trying to make PCs and the newer Intel-based Macs work together.

Parallels Desktop 3.0 has altered my view of the Mac environment by merging it with Windows so seamlessly that I never even notice leaving the XP world.

Parallels, (425) 282-6400, www.parallels.com

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