Linux and Vista on a Mac, Part Two

The Parallels software enables seamless switching between the Linux, Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Posted November 21, 2006

John Welch

John Welch

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If you read almost any publication that talks about Apple from an IT point of view, you'll read a lot about Parallels Desktop for Mac, from Parallels. People talk about the kind of load Parallels puts on a system, or installing it, or whether it makes it easy to set up virtual machines, etc.

But what you don't see a lot of (or enough of) is what it's like to work with Parallels, and that's what I'm going to talk about here today.

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I've been using Parallels for about a month on a MacBook Pro. From an IT point of view, it is leaps and bounds better than Boot Camp, Apple's dual-booting environment for Intel Macs. While Boot Camp forces you to stop work, completely change your OS context, then do more work – and repeat those steps every time you need to switch OSes – Parallels creates context.

What I mean is that, if I need to test something in an environment other than Mac OS X, say Windows Vista, XP, or some Linux distro, I don't have to stop what I'm doing. I just start up the appropriate VM and do my testing.

My Mac OS X workflow can continue with no more interruption than if I was working in Microsoft Word and needed to open Terminal to SSH into another machine. It takes the rather huge context switch and associated work interruptions that dual or multi-booting creates and reduces them to nothing more than switching applications.

This is, at least for me, a huge increase in productivity over Boot Camp. For example, I recently needed to see how IE7 plays with our sort of Web-based terminal emulator in both XP and Vista Business RC2. With Boot Camp, I could have done one task somewhat easily, but that would require two reboots, etc. The second one would pretty much mean a second computer.

With Parallels? Dead simple. Fire up the XP Virtual Machine, get IE 7 on it, then test. Pause the XP VM and save its current state, fire up the Vista VM, then test. If I were testing on a Mac Pro, I probably could have run both VMs at once. All the while, I'm taking notes in BBEdit and doing screen shots where needed.

Matching Parallels’ ease of us – and productivity – in Boot Camp simply isn't possible.

Another example: I created a VM for Ubuntu Linux. I installed the 6.0.X release. About a week later, the 6.1.X release came out, and I found the way to run the Ubuntu update manager to do an in-place upgrade. It may not be the safest way, but it's a testing environment. Envelope pushing and all that.

So, I start the upgrade. By quitting time (and more importantly, get-down-to-the-bus time), I'd finished the download, but not the actual install. Time to really test. I paused the VM, saved state, and went home. Next morning, while I'm working on other stuff, I fire up the VM where I’d paused it, in mid-install. No problems. A little bit later, I had a fully functional Ubuntu 6.1.X VM, and I could commence to testing Open Office and Evolution in our environment.

Next page: 3D Hardware acceleration?

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