Three things to know about Parallels Desktop for Mac

While Erik Eckel usually recommends Apple Boot Camp for dual-booting Mac machines, if you go with a virtual machine solution, you can do worse than Parallels 5. Here's what you need to know.

Enterprise Mac administrators are going to encounter users that want or need to run Windows. It's inevitable. How well the experience goes is dependent, ultimately, upon how Windows is run.

Let's be clear. Based on my real-world experiences deploying numerous dual-booting Macs for a variety of clients, I recommend leveraging Apple Boot Camp. Many, not wishing to have to reboot to access Windows applications, turn to a virtualized desktop such as VMware Fusion, which granted,has gotten better.

Others within the Mac community, however, believe Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac is the best dual-booting solution. Among its proponents is popular Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Mossberg. Priced at $79.99 per license, the platform won't break the bank unless a large number of copies are required.

What else should you know if you're thinking of choosing Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac?

1. Parallels 5 is generally considered faster

As Mossberg notes, Parallels seemed to have momentarily slipped behind VMware's Fusion. That is, until Parallels' latest release. Now Parallels appears to have the lead, better managing visual elements, and generally providing faster performance, than does VMware.

The better the virtual machine software, the better. The big killer here, of course, is that Mac OS X must power the entire Windows install within Mac OS X. That's one of the reasons I advocate using Boot Camp instead. With Boot Camp, users receive the benefit of having all cores and all RAM dedicated to running Windows when the user requires Windows-based applications. When running Parallels, resources that would otherwise be available to Windows are tied up running Mac OS X.

Thus, even if Parallels' performance margin is only even slightly better than VMware Fusion's, you're talking about a case in which squeezing every last bit of performance from the machine may make a noticeable difference.

2. Parallels can run Boot Camp installs

Just as with VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop can power Boot Camp partitions from within Mac OS X. This is a tremendous benefit.

Users that originally loaded Windows using Boot Camp but who now need to run Windows simultaneously with their Mac installations can do so using these virtual machine solutions. Parallels enables users to begin accessing their Windows applications and files while simultaneously running Mac OS X without having to reinstall the Windows installations, applications and files. This is possibly the greatest feature programmers have included within Fusion and Parallels.

3. Parallels provides impressive video performance

Graphic designers, video producers, CAD engineers and other heavy graphics users will find Parallels' Windows video performance well-suited to their needs. Parallels' provides 3D, 64-bit, DirectX 9Ex and Shader Model 3 support, including within Windows 7.

While Macs running Parallels may not provide blistering 3D gaming performance, Parallels developers have worked to deliver better Windows graphic performance, and the improvements are noticeable.

Even Mac users needing to dual boot to Linux benefit. Parallels also supports OpenGL 2.1 within Linux installs.

Virtual solutions

I like to say virtualized machines are virtually a solution. Obviously, performance won't be ideal because the host OS (Mac OS X, in this case) must power a second operating system that proves parasitic in sucking valuable system resources. If Mac enterprise administrators are going to dance with the devil, they could do worse than selecting Parallels Desktop as their dancing partner.