3 Narrows the Gap between Virtualized Windows and Using Boot Camp
by Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First
published in Low
June 13 2007 Mac2Windows column
Parallels 3 Narrows the Gap Between Virtual Windows and Booting into
The first week of June was a busy one in Mac2Windows
land. In one week:
released a major upgrade of their virtualization software, allowing
owners of Intel-powered Macs to run Windows and other PC operating
systems on top of (alongside?) Mac OS X.
- A day later, VMware
released a new pre-release public beta of their virtualization software.
- Apple released Boot Camp 1.3, the
latest beta of their software to set up Intel Macs to dual-boot between
Mac OS X and Windows XP or Vista.
at the beginning of the following week, Apple released more information
about the role of Boot Camp in the upcoming "Leopard" OS X 10.5
release, followed by VMware finally announcing pricing for their Fusion
virtualizer and aiming for official release this August.
this action is aimed at Intel-powered Macs; older PowerPC Macs need not
apply. Moving to the Intel processors allowed Macs to run PC-style
operating systems and software - Windows, Linux, and more - by either
booting directly to them (a la Boot Camp) or in a high-performance
virtual session using software like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.
(Past articles in this series have detailed all of these options).
Parallels Desktop 3.0
Desktop has gotten the bulk of the mindshare for this, as a small
company that was first off the mark, producing an affordable
virtualization product for the Intel Macs at a time when larger, more
established developers in the field, including VMware and Microsoft,
seemed to be ignoring the Mac market. And while VMware's product is
still in beta and Microsoft, owners of emulation software Virtual PC,
seems to be indifferent to revising their product for the new Macs,
Parallels Desktop has been updated to version 3.0.
With this new
version, the clever software wizards at Parallels have reduced much of
the gap between running Windows in a virtual session on top of OS X and
booting to it directly (via Boot Camp or running it on a second
Running Windows in a virtual session (in a window,
that is) on top of OS X ought to be more convenient - at least in
theory. That way, virtualization-using Mac owners could do whatever
needed doing in Windows without having to stop using their Mac and
restart to boot into Windows. They could run some software in Windows
while still running all their favourite Mac software on OS X at the
same time (RAM permitting, of course).
Older emulation software,
like Microsoft's Virtual PC, designed for PowerPC Macs could do this,
but in a sort of slow motion. Virtualization software on the Intel Macs
is able to run Windows or other PC operating systems at something
approaching the hardware's full potential speed.
Up until now,
the virtualized PCs lacked 3D graphics support, so many PC games - an
area with lots more software for Windows than for Mac - weren't usable.
Gamers wanting to run 3D Windows games on their Mac had, until
recently, only one choice: use Boot Camp and boot directly to Windows.
3.0 promises "support for a wide range of DirectX and OpenGL games and
applications". The company notes that users can now play formerly
unplayable Windows-only games like World of Warcraft, Half-Life 2, and
Unreal Tournament, as well as make use of 3D CAD programs like 3DMark.
being a gamer, I haven't put these claims to the test, but potential
users need to know that DirectX support isn't enabled by default in
virtualized Windows sessions. After creating a Windows session and
installing XP or Vista, a user needs to click on the menu item to Edit
the Virtual Machine (with the session not running), click on the Video
item, and check the option to Enable DirectX support.
Let me know how it works out for you!
performance generally felt quicker and smoother than in previous
versions; I installed and ran Google Earth in Direct X mode, and it
looked very good.
2.5 first offered support for USB 2.0-level performance; the new
version improves on that, supporting more USB devices, including
current model PDAs and Smartphones. If you connect a USB device while a
virtual session is running, a new connection assistant asks whether you
want to use the device in Mac OS X or your virtualized PC. Nice.
new - Parallels Explorer is a disk management utility (think the Mac
Finder or Windows Explorer) to view the contents of virtual hard
drives, at least while the virtual session isn't running. That lets a
user access files stored on the Windows system's virtual hard drive
without having to first start up Windows.
least that's the theory. When I tried it, Parallels Explorer did not
work with the Parallels virtual drives on my system. Ironically, it did
allow me to view the contents of virtual drives created for competitor
Another Parallels add-on, Transporter also didn't
work for me. Transporter promises to allow Parallels users to migrate
the contents of real PCs to a Parallels virtual machine and to convert
existing virtual drive images from Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware to
Parallels virtual machines.
I tried it out on several different
VMware drive images; it chugged away and appeared to be working, but I
was unable to get the resulting drive images to load with Parallels.
Too bad - VMware in particular has an extensive library of free (mostly
Linux-based) virtual "appliances"; it would be nice to be able to make
them work with Parallels.
Despite those disappointments, there's
a lot to like in the new version. Parallels promises over 50 new
features and improvements. Among them:
- Coherence debuted
in version 2.5 and is improved in the new version; when a user switches
to Coherence mode, the Windows desktop disappears, leaving the Windows
application running, apparently on its own on the Mac desktop. Users
can add the Windows application icon to the Mac Dock and appear to
start it up directly. As a result, Mac users can feel like they're
going directly to, say, Microsoft Access (a database application with
no Mac equivalent) without having to start up Windows and then start up
- A new SmartSelect feature allows users to
right-click a data file icon (in either the Mac Finder or in Windows),
choose Open With, and pick their preferred application - whether it's a
Mac or a Windows program.
two features combine to make it easier for users to seamlessly work
with both their Mac and Windows applications. A "Shared Applications"
menu appears in the Windows Start Menu, listing installed Mac
applications; clicking on one starts it up on the Mac.
is a security and backup tool saving the state of a virtual machine's
memory, settings and hard disk. This allows users to experiment,
knowing that they can easily revert to a previously-saved state of
their virtual machine (or recover if their Windows system is done in by
virus or spyware infestation).
- Parallels' Shared Folders
feature is improved, allowing users to create shared folders that can
be accessed from both the Windows and Mac sessions. Various levels of
Drag and Drop can be enabled, allowing files to be dragged from one
desktop to the other, or directly between any Windows and OS X folder.
When my virtual Windows XP session was running, a Windows XP drive icon
appeared on my Mac desktop, giving me direct access to that virtual
hard drive in the Finder.
new Security Manager offers pre-configured security levels which
determine the amount of interconnection between the host Mac OS and the
virtual Windows session. (Remember, a virtualized Windows session is
just as vulnerable to Windows viruses and spyware as a real Windows
computer). The Security Manager centralizes multiple options and makes
it easier for users to easily find a security comfort zone.
2.5 let Parallels users work with a Boot Camp Windows XP installation
within a virtual session. Version 3 adds similar support for Boot Camp
Vista installations. I like this feature a lot - if you've got a Boot
Camp installation, this lets you load it at the same time Mac OS X is
running, without needing to set aside a big block of your hard drive
for yet another Windows installation; a single Windows installation can
work with both Boot Camp and Parallels.
- The Parallels Tools
have been improved. These tools (similar to tools included with earlier
Microsoft Virtual PC and Guest PC emulator) allow users to seamlessly
move the mouse between the Mac desktop and the virtualized desktop,
among other things. New Linux Tools now offer some support for Linux
- An Express Installation Assistant simplifies
Windows XP and Vista installation. Enter user name and Windows serial
number, and the Installation Assistant does all the rest of the button
pressing - and then starts up Windows and automatically installs the
Parallels Tools. It's easier than installing Windows on a real PC!
new networking option, shared networking, is selected by default for
virtual machines. This lets the Windows (or other virtual machine) make
use of the Mac's existing IP address, effectively hiding it from
outside hackers - or Internet service providers who may limit the
number of available IP addresses.
- Parallels includes a disk
compacting utility to reduce the hefty size of virtual hard drives. A
default installation of Windows XP creates a 32 GB virtual drive, which
after XP installation has 29 GB free. After running the Disk Compacter,
it only took up only 2.5 GB of hard drive space. (As I install more
software, it will require more space).
Internet Security suite is included, offering Windows users much needed
antivirus and antispyware protection at no additional cost.
Boot Camp only allows users to install Windows XP or Vista, Parallels
supports a wide range of PC operating systems, including the whole
range of Windows versions back to 3.1, MS-DOS, OS/2, and most popular
Linux distributions. I've used it with Windows XP and Vista, and also
Fedora, Xandros, and Ubuntu Linux. The new version works better than
ever with all of them. Cost is US$80 - US$50 to upgrade from an earlier
version. A 15-day free
is available for download.
VMWare Fusion, Beta 4
day after Parallels released version 3.0, competitor VMware announced
Beta 4 of its Mac virtualization product, Fusion. It's available
as a free download
The fine print of the license does not allow review, and it wouldn't be
fair to compare a shipping product like Parallels Desktop with a
pre-release beta, but I can get away with mentioning some of its
New features in Fusion Beta 4 include Snapshot,
promising the same functionality as the new Parallels feature of the
same name (interesting coincidence). "Unity" sounds similar to
Parallels' Coherence, letting Windows applications appear directly on
the Mac desktop. A Launch Palette allows Mac users to go straight to
individual Windows applications.
Unlike Parallels, Fusion offers
64-bit and multiprocessor (and multi-core) support, and can be used
with 64-bit Windows versions. It promises support for 3D games built
for Direct X 8.1 and full USB 2.0 support.
VMware Tools offer
drag and drop and copy/paste support between Linux and Solaris virtual
sessions and the Mac, which is not currently available in Parallels.
recently announced pricing; at its release (expected in August), Fusion
will be priced at US$80; customers can pre-order it for US$40. The
pricing (matching Parallel Desktop) is good news - VMware Workstation
product for Windows and Linux, for example, is much more expensive.
before VMware Fusion's release, the competition between Parallels and
VMware seems to be spurring both companies to improve their products;
we've seen Parallels improving its USB support to match Fusion and
Fusion offering features similar to Parallels' Coherence mode. Both
products have improved their 3D performance and their compatibility
with Boot Camp installations. The big winner is the Mac2Windows user.
Boot Camp 1.3
there's Boot Camp, Apple's public beta allowing Intel Mac users to
non-destructively partition their hard drives, install Windows XP or
Vista, and boot to either Mac OS X or their Windows installation.
week, the company released Boot Camp 1.3 beta for download. The new
version offers updated graphics drivers, an improved driver installer,
and support for MacBook Pro keyboard backlighting. If you have a Boot
Camp Windows installation created with an earlier version, you should
download the latest version, use it to create a new drivers disc, boot
to Windows, and install these latest driver versions. You don't need to
repartition your hard drive or make any heavy-duty changes, but it's
to choose between Boot Camp and one of these virtualization products?
If you've got a limited amount of RAM, you're best off with Boot Camp.
To make good use of either Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, you'll
need enough memory to keep Windows (or other PC operating system) happy
while still leaving enough for OS X's needs. (A default Parallels
installation of Windows XP, for instance, gives Windows 512 MB of your
Mac's RAM.) Using Boot Camp, only one or the other is running at a
time, letting you get by with less memory.
And at his June 11
keynote for Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC), Steve
Jobs reiterated that Boot Camp will be included as a feature in the
upcoming OS X 10.5 "Leopard" release and put to rest rumors that
Leopard would include a virtualization feature - much to the relief of
Parallels and VMware. Jobs said that Boot Camp is "a great complement"
to Parallels or VMware, naming both of the virtualization companies,
and said that Apple was supporting them both "as much as we can".