Playing on Both Sides

Parallels Desktop and Codeweaver CrossOver let users run Microsoft products, such as Internet Explorer 7, on Apple computers.
Parallels Desktop and Codeweaver CrossOver let users run Microsoft products, such as Internet Explorer 7, on Apple computers.
By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, March 8, 2007

You might buy a Mac to get away from Microsoft, but it can be hard to avoid Windows.

Take the iMac I'm typing this on. It has the Windows XP Start button at the bottom left corner of the screen. Above it, Apple's Safari Web browser sits next to Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7. While I read a message in Mac OS X's Mail program, a message from Windows pops up, asking whether it can install Microsoft's latest bug fixes.

It's all a jarring sight -- and visual proof that you no longer need to choose sides in computers.

Until two years ago, buying a computer meant picking Mac or Windows. If you bought a Mac and later needed a program only available on Windows, you were pretty much stuck having to buy a PC.

But then in early 2006, Apple began shipping Macs using the same Intel processors that power Windows PCs. Apple soon offered a test version of a free program, Boot Camp, that starts up in either Mac OS X or Windows XP. But the real prize came when two firms, Parallels and CodeWeavers, shipped software that runs Windows programs within Mac OS X.

Of the two newer programs, the just-updated, $80 Parallels Desktop ( is the more impressive. It lets you install any version of Windows, including Vista, then run it on the Mac desktop.

This new version brings useful additions. It allows you to view Windows on your Mac in three modes: in a window on the screen, in full-screen mode and in a new "coherence" mode, which hides the Windows desktop but presents its programs amidst Mac applications. Another new tool, called Transporter, can copy an entire Windows system from an old computer and deposit it intact on a Mac.

My Parallels experience kicked off with its "Express Installation," which automated the usual babysitting needed to set up Windows. I popped in an XP Home CD, typed in the product key for that copy and within half an hour had a properly configured system.

For a second test, I used Transporter to beam up the contents of an IBM laptop via my home network. This wasn't as smooth; the transported copy of Windows said it needed to be reactivated, after which I had to fiddle with a few settings.

In a Parallels-based copy of XP, programs installed and ran as usual, and an HP printer/scanner and a Microsoft Zune music player connected and functioned correctly. The Parallels software also lets you access a Mac's folders from Windows or drag and drop files between the two environments. Parallels can even pause or stop a copy of Windows -- a fast alternative to Windows' standby or hibernate modes.

But not all of a Mac's components work in Parallels. I couldn't use the iMac's iSight webcam, for example, and the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-dictation program did not exhibit its usual accuracy. Parallels doesn't support high-end graphics circuitry, making many games unplayable and inducing error messages in others.

When I installed Windows Vista in Parallels, this same graphics issue disabled Vista's distinctive Aero visual effects, the ones Microsoft spotlights in its ads. Parallels plans to upgrade its graphics support later this year.

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