Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac OS X has launched, and it brings with it an array of improvements and new features that make it more possible than ever to straddle the line between Windows and Mac on the same hardware. Parallels provides a virtual environment enabling Windows 7 to run from within Mac OS X.
While Apple has had some resurgent success with the Mac, the fact remains that it's a Windows world. Microsoft enjoys over 90 percent market share with Windows, while Mac claims only around five percent. Without even getting into the religious debate about Mac v. Windows, suffice it to say that each has its pros and cons, but that if you choose Mac OS X there are still some advantages to being able to shift gears into the Windows world if necessary.
You can't run Mac OS X virtually from within Windows, but with Parallels you can run Windows virtually from within Mac OS X. It seems like it should be technically possible given that both operating systems run on x86 architecture hardware, but doing so would be prohibitively frustrating, and would violate the Apple EULA for the Mac OS X software anyway.
As a general user, the economics of using both operating systems simultaneously probably doesn't make sense. The Mac hardware is significantly more expensive than comparable Windows PC systems, and would require an additional investment in the Parallels software as well as a legally-licensed copy of Windows.
However, Parallels can be a great bridge between Windows and Mac OS X for users trying to switch platforms. Rather than going cold turkey - and being forced to also replace all software with Mac equivalents, you can install Parallels on a new Mac OS X system and continue using Windows and the software you are used to while adjusting to the conventions of the Mac OS X operating system. Software can be replaced by attrition with Mac versions over time.
Parallels also has value for developers and other IT support personnel that have a need to see how software or Web pages will work on both platforms, or who support both platforms and need to be familiar with troubleshooting techniques on both.
This latest release of Parallels contains a variety of enhancements that make it better than ever. Parallels Desktop 6 has significant improvements in performance of the virtualised Windows system, and include support for 64-bit Windows. It also allows Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts to work from within the virtual Windows system, and enables the Mac OS X Spotlight search function to locate Windows programs.
The new version of Parallels Desktop 6 will be available as of 14 September for $80. A "Switch to Mac" bundle is also offered for $100 and includes a USB cable to transfer files from a PC to the Mac system.
Of course, you can also dual boot the two operating systems rather than running Windows virtually from within Mac OS X. Using a tool like Boot Camp, you can simply install both platforms and choose at boot time which operating system to use. This has the benefit of better performance--since the hardware resources won't be shared between a host and virtualised OS, but loses in the flexibility department since bouncing between the two operating systems requires rebooting the computer.
If the rumours of a new and improved Macbook Air offered at a more affordable price ring true, I may find myself running both Mac OS X and Windows 7 alongside each other soon.