Apple’s Boot Camp lets you install Windows on your Mac and switch between it and the Mac OS, but you have to restart each time. A more elegant way of installing Windows that lets you run Mac and Windows software at the same time is virtualisation, which creates a virtual machine that runs Windows on your Mac desktop.

Virtualisation technology works well on dual-core Intel processors as you can devote one core to running the virtual machine, while the other handles the Mac side of things. One of the easiest virtualisation programs to use is Parallels Desktop, thanks to its ‘Coherence’ mode, which makes it simple to switch between Mac and Windows programs.

1. Welcome window When you first launch Parallels, it displays this Welcome screen, which shows the main options for getting started. There are some tutorials for beginners, but we’ll jump straight in and create a virtual machine on our Mac. Just click on the button labelled Run Windows On Your Mac to get started.

2. Virtual reality Parallels Desktop now displays its Virtual Machine Assistant, to help you to install Windows (we’ll use Vista, but you can also install XP). The simplest option is to insert your Windows disc into your Mac, and click the ‘Real CD/DVD’ button. This tells Parallels to install Windows off the disc.

3. Fair shares Parallels’ options help the Mac OS and Windows virtual machine to work together. The File Sharing option lets the virtual machine use your Home folder so that you can swap files between the operating systems, while Profile Sharing copies items on your Mac desktop onto the Windows desktop.

4. Processor power The Advanced button displays a dialog box where you specify the number of processors and the amount of memory allocated to the virtual machine (most Macs have dual-core processors, so you can assign one to the virtual machine). Alternatively, accept the default settings and click OK to continue.

5. New machine Parallels has now created a virtual machine on your Mac, which acts just like a PC running alongside the main Mac OS. The virtual machine now has to install Windows, just as a real PC would. Windows will shut itself down and restart a couple of times along the way.

6. Windows window Windows Vista will run in a window on your desktop. The Windows C: drive is visible on your desktop too, allowing you to copy files across from the Mac. You can install any Windows software on this virtual machine, but first let’s look at how the virtual machine interacts with the Mac OS.

7. Viewing modes Click on the View menu in the main menu bar running. Parallels lets you view your Windows virtual machine in four ways. Illustrated is Window mode, but there are also Coherence, Full Screen and Modality. Launch Explorer to have something running in Windows, and then select Coherence.

8. In Coherence There’s a neat animation effect that shoves the virtual machine window to one side of your screen, and then you’ll see the Windows version of Explorer running on your Mac desktop as though it were a Mac program. It’s even in the Dock, and you can leave the icon there to launch Explorer in future.

9. Full Screen mode In the View menu switch into Full Screen mode, which allows the Windows desktop to expand so that it fills your entire screen and completely hides the Mac operating system and any Mac programs that you may have running. Press alt-C-return to switch back to the Mac desktop.

10. Mix and match When you’re in Full Screen mode you can still use the C-tab shortcut to switch between programs. Use it to switch to the Mac’s Safari browser. We’ve now got the virtual machine in Full Screen mode, with Safari running on top of it. Just use C-tab or click on the Windows desktop to switch back.

11. Modality mode From Full Screen mode you can press control-alt to make the Parallels menu bar visible. Then use the View menu to select Modality. This mode displays Windows in a small, semi-transparent window that floats on the desktop so you can see what’s going on in Windows while you work with Mac programs.

12. Back to basics Use the alt-C-return shortcut to switch Parallels back to basic Windows mode. There are now buttons in the top-right corner of the window that allow you to switch between viewing modes. To the left is the Configure button, which offers options for setting how your virtual machine works.

13. Parallels options The Configure dialog shows a list of options that affect the interaction between your virtual machine and the Mac OS. You can tell the two to share the same clipboard, for example. If you’ve got an older Mac, you might want to disable fancy graphics effects as these can slow things down.

14. Taking snapshots Another key feature to keep things running smoothly is Snapshots option. A snapshot is a freeze-frame that lets you save the current state of the Windows virtual machine. You can save multiple snapshots, and if anything goes wrong you can use the Snapshot Manager to step back to an earlier snapshot.