Having your Mac and your Windows too with Intel Macs


If I needed an indicator that this whole Intel-Mac thing is opening new doors for Apple, I couldn’t have asked for a better one than my Uncle Jim. He’s a retired corporate executive who has always used Windows, at home and at work. And yet just the other day during a family visit, he asked me which MacBook he should buy.

He’s clearly not alone. Thanks to Apple’s year-old transition to Intel chips, lots of longtime Windows users are now thinking about buying Macs. It’s not the Intel brand name that’s attracting them, though: it’s the Intel-based Mac’s ability to run Windows software at native speeds.

My uncle has several relatives who are Mac users. Over the years, he’s seen how easy Macs are to use, especially for his most important computer tasks–browsing the Web, reading and sending e-mail, and working with digital photographs. But he also wants to keep running some of his familiar Windows programs. In the old days, that would’ve kept him from switching to the Mac, but not anymore.

What is it good for?

Let me make one thing clear: I think Windows should be avoided whenever possible. But sometimes it can’t be. Sometimes there’s a program you simply can’t use unless you’re running Windows. For Mac users, that has always meant making a difficult choice: buy a PC, struggle along with slow emulation software (the one thing that’s worse than running Windows is running it at one-quarter of its native speed), or just do without. Now we–Mac users, and PC users who couldn’t switch because of that one last program holding them back–are all free to run Windows programs without having to live in Windows.

One of the most exciting developments of the past year has been the rise of Parallels Desktop, the software that lets you run Windows on Intel Macs at the same time you’re running Mac OS X. A year ago, I had never even heard of it. But in the past eight months, Macworld editors, readers, and I have all been extremely impressed with the program. Not only did we name it one of this year’s Eddy winners, but Macworld readers voted it their software product of the year.

While Apple’s Boot Camp software was initially exciting, it just doesn’t make as much sense as Parallels Desktop. What’s the point of having a Mac if you’re just running Windows on it? With Parallels Desktop, your Mac and Windows programs can run simultaneously.

Paradigm shift

The clever programmers at Parallels haven’t stopped, either. The company’s most recent beta release features a mind-bending new feature called Coherence. When you’re in Coherence mode, the Windows desktop disappears, and Windows programs float among your open Mac program windows. It’s a major shift: in Coherence mode, you’re not using Windows anymore; you’re just using a few Windows programs in OS X. Even in Coherence mode, of course, using Windows programs can still be an exercise in frustration. The keyboard shortcuts are different, the interface is weird, and the font handling leaves much to be desired. That’s why I don’t see the rise of Parallels as a threat to Mac software development. Whenever possible, Mac users will still want native Mac applications.

But running Windows programs in Parallels, especially in Coherence mode, will do in a pinch. Just to prove my point, I’ve written this entire column in a beta version of Microsoft Word 2007 for Windows. In the background, I can see my Mac programs running happily, and I can switch to them with ease. I wouldn’t want to work like this all the time. But I can certainly put up with it when I must use Windows software.

Strange new landscape

I can’t wait to see how this will all play out in 2007. Windows Vista will arrive, Parallels Desktop will likely acquire more features, and VMWare (the leading provider of virtualization software on PCs) will probably release its own competitor to Parallels. Then there’s the forthcoming release of both Mac and Windows versions of Microsoft Office 2007.

We are entering an exciting new phase in the Mac’s life. Today the old excuses for not using a Mac just don’t ring true anymore. Just ask my Uncle Jim, if you can tear him away from his new MacBook.

[What do you think? Know anyone who bought a Mac because of its ability to run Windows? Have you tried out Parallels? Come over to the Macworld Forums and let me know.]


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