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Parallels Desktop Lets Mac Users Do Windows (Media) Too
New virtual machine tool allows near full-speed access to processors on Intel-based Macs. And, unlike Apple's own Boot Camp beta, it lets users run Windows and OS X at the same time.

A group of consultants, many of whom had been working on virtualization projects for corporate clients, saw a challenge that had not been adequately addressed before. So they opted to take it on, and are now getting some well-deserved praise.

According to Ben Rudolph, Marketing Manager at Parallels, Inc., the core group at Parallels has been together for several years, and when Apple announced the switch to Intel processors, the challenge of creating a virtual machine that would run Windows on a Mac piqued the interest of the team. Still, general consensus was that it was an easier feat for Apple or for Microsoft, who had purchased Connectix a few years ago for its virtualization technology, than it would be for a third-party vendor. Still, the Parallels team chose to pursue the challenge.

The first XP-bootable Intel Mac program, though, came from the open-source community. On January 26, 2006, www.onmac.net raised the challenge (and a pot of money eventually totaling over $13,000) for the first programming team to come up with a way to boot Windows XP on an Intel Mac. One group succeeded and claimed the prize, but the XoM solution didn’t allow OS X and Windows XP to run simultaneously.

A few days later, Apple introduced a beta of Boot Camp, which allowed MacBook Pro, and eventually other Intel-based Macintosh owners, to boot to Windows XP, but also did not allow this to happen at the same time as OS X was running. Apple announced Boot Camp with great fanfare here.

While some applauded Apple’s efforts, others expected Microsoft to provide a true virtualization option, allowing both XP and OS X to run simultaneously, either through a modified "fast user switching"–where two OSes are running at the same time but not on the same screen–or through a window in the native OS. The latter was a considerable challenge, as many virtualization attempts for Windows 2000 or XP on a Mac had proved arduously slow.

Meanwhile, the Parallels team continued to plug along at their version of a virtual machine for the Macintosh platform. Once they released the beta, a great deal of attention was focused on the Parallels Desktop program, as it represented the first virtualization for the new Intel-based Macs.

The program went through six beta cycles in about four weeks, and then two release candidates. When the first version of Parallels Desktop was released last week, the company was pleasantly surprised by the numbers.

"Many thousands of copies have been downloaded in the last few days since product release," says Rudolph, "and they’ve grown in volume sequentially day after day."