News Column

Life in a Parallel Windows, Mac Universe

Dec. 12, 2012

Noah Matthews

I am writing this column in a Macintosh program called Pages. When I finish it, I will copy the text and paste it into Microsoft Word for Windows. That doesn't mean that I will copy the column onto a USB drive and transport it to the Windows computer that's gathering dust in back of me, because I'm running OSX Mountain Lion on the Macintosh - and Windows 7 in a window right next to it on my iMac.

Few will be bowled over by this bit of magic. Like me, some have upgraded and used every version of Parallels Desktop since its early, clunky days. It's the best way that I know of to run Windows and Mac programs side by side on the same Macintosh PC. There are other, cheaper ways to do the same magic tricks - VMware Fusion comes to mind, at $50 vs. $80 for Parallels, but after an annoying experience with an earlier version of Fusion, I got stuck on Parallels, and here I am today, with version 8. I don't mean to denigrate Fusion; I've found through the years that Parallels works fine for me and I have had no reason to switch.

I run several Windows programs on my sleek iMac because the corresponding Mac versions aren't up to snuff, if they exist at all. I like Pages, the Mac's word processing program, better than Word for Windows, but I can't transmit my golden prose from my Mac, so I copy and paste it into Word. When I stop to think about it, which I don't do very often - think, that is - it's next to a miracle that I can have the best of both worlds - Mac's superior operating system that's practically immune to viruses and other mischief - and still run those few Windows programs I need, all on the same PC.

New in version 8 of Parallels is the ability to run under both Mountain Lion on the Mac and Windows 8. For die-hard Windows fans, the whole screen can be taken up by the Windows desktop. Same for Mac. You can position the Windows task bar directly on top of the Macintosh dock, and, my favorite, run Windows and Mountain Lion next to one another, copying and pasting between them for the duration of a winter's afternoon. Drum roll, please.

Other features of the latest version of Parallels include the ability to use some touch gestures in Windows that are used in Macs, and speed. There's no lag when you hop from Mac windows to Windows windows. You can even make your Windows window look as if it were a Mac window, so the transition between the two operating systems isn't jarring.

Setup is pretty straightforward. You create a partition on your Mac's hard drive for Windows, start the Parallels installation program, install Windows on the new partition, and whenever you want to run a Windows program, you either call it up from the Mac launchpad or click on the Windows program from the Mac's application folder. It's far simpler than it sounds, newbies.

Parallels also can be configured for other operating systems such as Ubuntu and Chrome OS, and it's available as an application for iPads, iPhones and Android devices. With the app, you can see both the Mac and Windows screens and even control them from your iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Once you've installed Parallels and Windows, you can apportion memory to each operating system. I gave Windows 4 gigabytes of RAM, leaving 8 gigs for the Mac partition, since I do more memory-intensive work, such as editing home movies, on my Mac. I've run Parallels quite successfully on a Mac with only 4 gigs of RAM, but I sacrificed speed.

But all is not peaches and cream. Before Parallels can be installed, it needs to remove the previous version - in my case, version 7. But when I came to the installation part of version 8, some stubborn remnants of version 7 were left behind, giving me an archaic error message and a link to its knowledge base to fix the problem. That fix involved cutting and pasting some baffling computer code into a terminal window, which solved the problem. But if that is a known issue, why not incorporate the fix into the installation program itself?

I had no need to contact tech support - everything worked as advertised. But I have had to contact support by email and phone (generous free support is included) for previous installations, and found the techies to be smart, patient and accommodating. Upgraders, by the way, can download version 8 for $50 from Parallels.com.

If you need to run both Mac programs and Windows programs on your Macintosh computer, Parallels will accomplish the task very well and save you the trouble and cash of buying a Windows PC in the process.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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