Boot Camp & Parallels

As a new Mac user I’ve been quite intrigued with all the fuss about Boot Camp over the last week or so. I’ve been longing to move away from using Windows for so long, it seemed kind of odd to hear all these people getting enthusiastic about running it on their Macs.

What is Boot Camp? It’s Apple’s official method of installing Windows XP on a Macintosh. You run an application that re-partitions your drive to make room for Windows. It then launches you into the Windows install process and gives you a disk full of Windows drivers to support various bits of your Mac hardware when running Windows.

This is not emulation of any kind. You need a full, legitimate copy of Windows XP to install on your Mac and it runs natively on the Intel processor. So yes, this is an option that is only open to owners of Intel based Macs.

It just happened that less than a week before Apple released Boot Camp I had managed to find an alternative for the last bit of software that I needed to boot up my Windows machine for. But, well, I had to take a look at it - just to see what all the fuss was about.

It all worked smoothly enough for me. I set up the tiniest partition for Windows to live on, just 5GB. There was part of me that was thinking that I could actually use this as a way to run Photoshop at a reasonable speed for the next 12 months while we wait for CS3 to come out.

To be honest, having just spent a considerable amount of money to escape from Windows then it was the last thing I wanted to do. After trying it out for a couple of days I decided that I would rather have Photoshop running more slowly under Rosetta on the Mac than have to fire up Windows every time I wanted to use it.

And then just as the Boot Camp hysteria was reaching a peak there’s the beta of Parallels Workstation to take a look at too!

Parallels uses a different idea altogether - virtualisation. Using Parallels you can run a full copy of Windows XP, or for that matter many other operating systems, in a window right there on your Mac desktop. This has the appeal of not needing to reboot to run the other operating system, but there is some performance drag effect of running two operating systems on your Mac at the same time. Not only is OS X making a demand on your processor, disks and memory, Windows is too at the same time. When you consider that a workable minimum to do anything much in Windows XP is probably 512MB or 256MB at a pinch then you can see that the more memory you have in your Mac the better if you want to go down this route.

I had played with Parallels while I was waiting for my Mac to appear, it is also available for Windows and I was using it to try out a few different Linux distributions.

I have to say that Parallels does a fantastic job. I was able to run Photoshop CS2 on Windows XP at quite a comfortable speed right here within OS X - really quite impressive.

However, you are still running Windows, and as I said earlier, I had just made quite a financial investment to say “cheerio” to Windows after many years of trying to get it out of my life.

I can see myself registering Parallels and using it to mess around with other operating systems from time to time. It’s great to be able to do all of that without having to repartition your disk and dual boot - much nicer all around. But I really can’t see myself wanting to run Windows on it for the reason outlined above.

Either of these technologies might be useful to you if you’ve just switched to Mac and there are one or two Windows applications that you are still running. If you’re happy going back to running Windows again, and having to worry about spy-ware and viruses again then this might be a solution for you. Myself, I’m happier running one or two things a bit slowly until Universal Binary versions are available for the Mac. Nice to know the option is there if I’m pushed, but I would have to be pushed very hard!

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