I tried out Parallels desktop when it first came to Mac, back when it was just Windows in a box on my screen.  It was neat, but as I wasn’t freelancing at the time, there was no need for Windows on my computer.  Later on, when my side work did start up again, I got turned on to a free product called VirtualBox–which in all respects is a great product for its price tag.  I had seen the early iterations of Parallels Coherence feature by then–that is, the feature that allows individual Windows apps to appear alongside Mac apps, and VirtualBox’s “seamless” mode was much farther along at the time.  (VirtualBox definitely wins the vocab award: “Seamless” is a much better name for the feature than Coherence or VMWare’s buzzword, “Unity”.)

So Parallels fell off my radar, until a few days ago, when I was trying to find a way to run GuildWars on my Mac.  Turns out, Parallels runs DirectX 9 and VirtualBox doesn’t.  So, I downloaded the trial of Parallels, and it’s pretty cool.  Unfortunately, no, it didn’t meet my needs for a gaming machine, although it’s possible it would do the job on a newer model Mac.  (Aside from some weird texture issues, the only concern was framerate.)  But I have switched my web testing over to Parallels, and I don’t think I’ll be looking back.

Clockwise from Top Left: Firefox (Host), Chrome (Guest 1), IE6 (Guest 2), IE7 (Guest 1)

Clockwise from Top Left: Firefox (Host), Chrome (Guest 1), IE6 (Guest 2), IE7 (Guest 1)

Parallels has gone far beyond window integration (which is itself much-improved) to nearly true application integration.  I can set favorite Windows apps such as Internet Explorer (using the term “favorite” quite loosely) and they get saved to my dock.  Later on, I can click on an icon to launch and/or focus the app, just as I can do with a native Mac app.  I know I’m late to the game on this feature, but it’s such a relief for it to be automatic in Parallels…  I spent hours trying to write an AppleScript to do the same thing in VirtualBox–the closest I got was to restore the virtual machine to a particular state and launch it.

My current setup is a bit laggy–I have installed IE6 into its own virtual machine, and running both VMs side by side is lag city.  I am considering testing the old “Multiple IEs” hack to see if it will run in XP Service Pack 3 and, if so, I will just keep all of my Windows browsers in one basket.  (Otherwise…  IE6 on Windows 98?)

But under normal circumstances, it’s a cool experience.  Ther XP windows–what with their drop shadows, their playing nice with Exposé, the lack of a taskbar–look so comfortable on my Mac desktop it’s a bit eerie…  In fact, I tried the “silver” XP theme and, it was so incognito that I had to turn it back to the default blue in order to maintain sanity.

So, Parallels is how I get my Windows now.

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3 Responses to Parallels

  1. rpv says:

    Have you tried Virtualbox 2.1.4 with experimental 3D graphics acceleration?

  2. Thom says:

    I am currently running 2.1.2, which according to the changelog, does have the 3D acceleration, but I have not tried using that feature. I have some upgrades coming for my computer (bigger hard drive, Leopard, and a new keyboard–don’t ask, haha) and I’ve decided I’m just going to go with Boot Camp and Parallels in concert.

    One of the other reasons I moved away from VirtualBox is their lack of ability to compress a disk image… They did have it available via command line, but disabled it a few versions ago. The result was that I was stuck with a bloated, 9 GB image file despite only having about 4 GB on the drive.

    I really don’t mean to rag on VirtualBox because I really like the software and I like even better than it’s open source. If Sun wants to keep VirtualBox competitive, they really need to invest in development and give VB some of the embellishments that Parallels and VMware have. OpenGL support is a good step. :)

  3. FYI, there’s experimental Direct3D support for VirtualBox, using WineD3D:

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