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25 Days of Gadgets - Day 16

December 16, 2008 - Dave Hecei
If you have one of the new Intel Macs then you also have a computer that can run multiple operating systems. Your Mac came with OS X, either Tiger or Leopard, but it can also run the Windows XP or Vista operating system. While the Mac OS is very stable and much less susceptible to computer viruses or Spyware, there are times when you may need or want to run Windows software. Enter virtualization.

There are two competing programs out there that allow you to run Windows software while you are running in OS X, Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. Both of these virtualization programs have recently been updated and both are excellent.

Since new Mac now use Intel processors, the same type of chips that have always been in Windows machines, virtualization is a much simpler process. When Macs ran on PowerPC processors, virtualization software had to do extra processing to convert the Windows Intel code to PowerPC code. This meant that on a PowerPC Mac Windows software ran much slower. Since there is no code conversion going on with new Macs, the Windows software is close to full speed. Typically there is about a 10 percent loss.

Both Parallels and Fusion are priced around $80. Unfortunately they do not come with a copy of Windows. You will need a full retail version of either XP SP2 or Vista, which will set you back a chunk of money. Windows Vista Home Premium is just under $250. If you have a full version of XP lying around, meaning it is not currently installed on any PC, you could use it for virtualization.

Both Parallels and Fusion have many of the same features. If there is any winner here it is probably Parallels, since it is the one that was most recently updated. Each update brings new features, so if and when Fusion is updated, it will probably leapfrog Parallels. Both do an excellent job, and both can handle games better.

For those who want to have access to Windows based games, you will probably want to take a look at Apple’s Boot Camp, part of OS X Leopard. Boot Camp allows you to create a separate partition to install Windows on and when you boot your Mac it will ask if you want to run OS X or Windows. When booted into Windows, you Mac becomes a full 100% Windows machine capable of running all Windows software, even the latest games. Of course to play these games you need a very new Mac that has a discrete video system, which leaves out most MacBooks and the Mac mini.

Virtualization, using either Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, is the perfect way to bring the Mac world and PC world together. You can’t go wrong with either package.


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