« Arcade Fire at the Orpheum in Boston | Main | JavaScript Coding, Texas Style »

May 23, 2007

One Computer Running Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux

If you have an Intel Mac and have a need (or want) to use more than OS X you definitely need to take a look at Parallels. I installed Windows on my Mac using Parallels today and am stunned at the experience. Read on for details.

I bought a license for Parallels early last year when it was in beta. Up until today I've used it for running my development environment for work (Red Hat Linux). It has worked very well, over the last year the Parallels software has gotten better and better at the small things like UI, networking, sleeping and waking up and more. Running Linux on OS X has been great...it allows me to have my work and my Mac bundled together.

Over the last 6 months I've gotten heavily into doing web development with newer technologies like Ajax, DHTML, grid control, and more. These web technologies require good testing across multiple browsers on multiple operating systems. I had been using my Windows laptop but sometimes it's not readily available (like if I'm at a conference and only brought the Mac). The Windows laptop is about a year old (Dell) and has pretty decent specs but even with just Firefox and IE running it has periods of really frustrating slowness.

So with that in mind, today I figured I'd try Windows running on OS X in Parallels to give myself a one-machine solution for cross-browser testing. I started the install before dinner assuming it would take forever. In fact, I was suspicious that maybe it wouldn't even install. Sometimes it is difficult to run Windows on a computer designed for it, let alone through a piece of software on a Mac. I figured that even if Windows ran slower on my Mac that then I'd have it everywhere I travelled, and wouldn't have to switch back and forth between machines.

To my suprise, when I got back from dinner there was a fresh Windows install up and waiting for me on my Mac. What is more suprising than that are two things, Parallels speed and OS integration:

  1. Could it be possible that Windows on my Intel Mac actually runs faster than on my Windows laptop. I can't believe how quickly things launch and close, how fast application switching is. Can you believe I can get from the machine being Off to starting up and launching Internet Explorer in 16 seconds? It takes about that much time on my Windows laptop just to launch IE.
  2. Parallels really nailed integration between Windows and OS X. Two things that came up immediately:
    1. When using Windows on my Mac there's no "mouse capture" inside Windows. This is hard to describe, but in all other virtualization software I've run you have to choose to either be in one or the other by some click or keystroke. On Parallels, when you move over the Windows box the mouse interacts with the UI for Windows. When you move the cursor back outside the window it is back in OS X. There's no key combination to "release" the mouse from the other operating system. This makes Windows OS and programs feel like just another thing running on your Mac. It helps productivity a lot when going between coding and testing because it cuts out most of the clunkiness and frustration of trying to remember to hit a special key combination to move between OSs.
    2. The second integration thing I noticed is that each running Windows programs shows up as a separate entry on my Mac dock. So when I'm looking at the dock or Apple-tabbing through applications each Windows program has an entry and I can quickly switch to a specific program running inside Windows, even if I'm currently working in a program on OS X.

Parallels had me feeling good about the cost of a license for the ability to run a text-based Linux OS, but the way Windows runs really makes the software worth it's price.

Another experience that solidifies sticking with Apple all these years.

Posted by mike at May 23, 2007 8:07 PM