Monday, April 17, 2006

Apple Computer’s announcement of Boot Camp, a way to run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP on Apple’s Intel-based Macintosh computers, raises the question: Why run Windows on a Mac?

The answer is simple: Some programs exist solely on the Windows platform. Mac users who want access to those applications need help.

But there is more than one way to put Windows onto an Intel-based Mac, it turns out. “Virtualization software” — such as the still-in-Beta version 2.1 of Parallels Workstation, a program from Herndon, Va.-based Parallels ( — also can do the job.

“Virtualization software enables users to run multiple operating systems, like Linux or Windows, in isolated ‘virtual machines’ directly on a Mac OS X desktop, giving users the ability to run programs that are only available on those operating systems, without having to give up the usability … of their Mac OS X machine,” a press release said.

With a little work and the installation of the third Beta release of Parallels Workstation, it happens to be true.

Running Windows side by side with the Mac OS, instead of the either/or method of Boot Camp — where you start an Intel-based Mac with either Windows or the Mac OS — has some an obvious advantage. Copying or cutting and pasting between Windows and Mac applications is perhaps the greatest one.

Users of specialized software such as BibleWorks, a Bible research program that is available only in Windows, can do their writing on a Mac, their research in a “virtual” machine and accomplish more with less effort.

Other Windows-only applications, such as VersaCheck, with which you can create and print personal or business checks, can run in the virtual machine while you run accounting software on the Mac, for example. The list of possibilities is long, if not endless.

In operation, Parallels Workstation was easy to install, and easy to add Microsoft Windows. The firm claims to support versions of Windows going back to 3.1, as well as several flavors of the Linux operating system and some other Intel-based systems, including IBM’s ill-starred OS/2. I chose Windows XP, and it installed and ran quite nicely.

My only hiccup was an inability of the Windows “PC” to recognize my Mac Mini’s wireless antenna and thus connect to the Internet. A later Beta release fixed that, sort of: I can open up a Web browser in Windows and surf to my heart’s content; the little wireless icon normally seen in Windows doesn’t appear, however.

That’s small potatoes, however, compared with the overall performance of Windows under Parallels Workstation. Unlike Boot Camp, which Apple says is free and will be part of its next-generation operating system, Parallels Workstation will cost users about $50 when it is formally released. That seems a small price to pay for the convenience of side-by-side operation. With either solution, though, users will have to provide their own copy of Windows, currently a $200 or so expenditure at retail.

The melding of Mac and Windows may not be an achievement on a par with the driving of the “Golden Spike” to create a transcontinental rail link in 1869, but it’s a nice way to bridge a computing gap and let users get more work done.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog, updated daily on The Washington Times’ Web site, at

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