Wednesday, 28 February 2007 11:55

Virtualization software Parallels updated at last

Anyone wanting to run Windows on a Mac knows all about Parallels Desktop, the stunningly good virtualization software that lets you run Mac OS X and Windows XP or Vista at the same time – and now there’s a new update.

Remember the Windows emulation software for the Mac that was slow as a wet week? That’s all ancient history these days as virtualization software takes over the emulation crown, delivering what emulation rarely did: performance.

One of the biggest new features of the new Parallels Desktop is one that’s been talked of for months, and is called ‘Coherence’. This is a very cool feature that lets you run Windows programs right from the Mac desktop, instead having to load up XP in a virtual window and then switching between the two operating system environments.

Of course, the Windows XP desktop is still there and has to be initially loaded, but it stays in the background, letting you stay in the Mac OS X environment and just run Windows XP programs just like another Mac program. Not only is it ‘completely customizable’ as Parallels tells us, with a range of user configurable options, all you need to do is to turn on the new ‘Coherence mode’ feature and you’re set!

But that’s not all, with the sci-fi sounding ‘Transporter’ feature next up on the list. What this cleverly does is take your existing Windows XP installation on your PC, with all your files, settings and installed software, and packages it up to run as a Parallels virtual machine on your Mac without needing to go through the entire Windows XP installation process first. What a time saver and hassle eliminator, especially if you’re not a technically savvy user and just want your old Windows machine to ‘just work’ on your Mac!

It will even convert virtual sessions from Microsoft’s now seemingly defunct Virtual PC for PowerPC Macs or the new VMWare Workstation virtualization software for Macs and can convert them using Transporter into Parallels Desktop virtual machines.

In addition to the Coherence update, the new version of Parallels includes another new feature called Transporter, which is concerned with simplified virtualization. If a PC owner is switching to a Mac, for example, but wants to keep his or her Windows settings and files intact, Transporter allows the entire software contents and settings of the PC to be moved directly to one of Parallels' virtual machines without needing to reinstall Windows on the Mac.

But hey, that’s still not all. BootCamp users who already have a Windows partition set up can use the new Parallels Desktop to take that existing installation – and run it virtually! That’s a wonderful feature. USB 2.0 support is now standard, too, which is a very welcome addition. You can also drag and drop information between operating systems, access the Apple iSight camera from within Windows and burn CDs and DVDs from within Windows, too. Cool!

Still want more cool features? Well, although the new version costs the same as the previous version at US $79.99, existing Parallel owners get the new version for free.

As for Vista support, Parallels runs Vista, but it doesn’t yet run the new graphically lush Aero environment. But there’s good news there too, as support is promised in a few months time, making the Vista transition on Mac through the Parallels Desktop nearly complete.

With all of these amazing advances, making Windows use on a Mac so simple and coherently transparent, you really do have to ask yourself why you wouldn’t want to buy a Mac. The only real reasons would be the need to spend $79.99 on a copy of Parallels and the need to pay for a legal, licensed copy of Windows XP or Vista.

But beyond that, the Apple Mac platform gets more and more attractive every day – with the rumored March release of Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ set to take the attraction up to an ever higher level. One day soon, I may just be living in a Parallel world, and loving it!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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