There's a sort of sweet justice in being able to avoid the hassle of fighting off viruses and spyware, but then firing up Windows inside your Mac when you have to get back to a couple of proprietary Windows programs.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Parallels 6 shines for running Windows on Macs

Oct. 17, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   Virtualization is getting better all the time. I tested the latest Windows-on-a-Mac virtualization program from Parallels, called Parallels Desktop 6, and was amazed to find that Windows runs just as well on a Parallels 6 virtual PC as it does on a physical one.
   A "virtual" computer isn't something you can touch. It's a software program that runs on a physical computer, giving you two computers in the space of one. The virtual PC is a complete computer that runs its own operating system and programs.
   A virtual computer takes advantage of special features built into the real computer's CPU (central processing unit, or main chip). These features let the CPU run multiple computers at the same time, one as the physical computer and others as the virtual ones. (Many virtual computers can be run concurrently if there is enough memory on the real computer.)
   Why do that? Ask any Mac owner who has to run important Windows programs. There's a sort of sweet justice in being able to avoid the hassle of fighting off viruses and spyware for all your normal computing by using your Mac straight as it comes from the factory, but then firing up Windows inside your Mac for those times when you have to get back to a couple of proprietary Windows programs -- or, as I do, when you want to run the latest version of a new Windows program such as Internet Explorer 9, which is not available on a Mac.
   Parallels was the first company to offer a workable virtualization program for Macs that have Intel CPU chips, which have been standard on Macs for years. (Older Macs such as G3, G4 and G5 models can't run Parallels.)
   Parallels 6, from www.parallels.com, is new this fall. It costs $80. You can download a trial version from the website. You have to supply your own Windows installation disk to install Windows. I prefer Windows 7 with Parallels, but you can use Windows XP or Windows Vista if you prefer. Parallels will run Linux on a Mac, too.
   Previous versions of Parallels, which I've been running for a couple of years, sometimes made their non-physical nature obvious by slowdowns or stutters when Windows was running full-steam. Dragging windows around sometimes seemed like pulling them on a string through Jello. (On a fast string, maybe. But a string nonetheless.)
   All of that telltale "software PC" feel is gone from Parallels 6, and everything runs as fast -- and just as smoothly -- as Windows runs on my real PC. Printing is improved to the point where printing on my virtual Windows PC is easier than it is on my real one. And Windows starts up quickly, without any fuss.
   And all the while Windows is running, my Mac is able to continue doing its own functions. I installed a free and very capable malware fighter, Microsoft Security Essentials, on the virtual Windows computer. (Don't forget that a virtual PC is just as vulnerable as a real one.)
   A huge advantage of my virtual Windows 7 PC, at least to me, is the way its C: drive, the main hard drive in a Windows computer, is actually just a large file on my Mac. I can back up my Windows PC by having my Mac backup program copy the Parallels file to its backup location. This is much faster than any kind of Windows backup. A second advantage is the ability to create as many Windows installations as you have room for on your disks. You could have Windows XP, Vista and Win 7 ready to run at any time.
   Windows game playing is supposed to be greatly improved in this version of Parallels, something I haven't checked. But I'll look into this and report on it later this year.