Parallels Desktop Lets Mac Users Do Windows (Media) Too

The story is interesting, but how does the product work? To test it, we chose a 15" MacBook Pro 2.16Ghz Core Duo (dual-core processor) with 2GB RAM. We did this because we wanted to test the speed of Parallels under average Mac conditions (i.e., lots of windows and programs open) but also wanted to give the virtual machine the opportunity to have 512MB RAM dedicated to its use.

We then decided on three primary tests that would be typical for users: Windows Media Player playback, encoding to Windows Media Encoder, and synching content to a Windows Mobile 5.0 device. For all tests, we had Mail, Safari, Excel, Firefox, Preview, and Keynote open under the Mac OS, but nothing else open in Windows.

For the first test, we opened Windows Media Player 10 and chose content to view through the Media Guide. Response was comparable to our 2Ghz Pentium 4 machine, and Windows Media Player automatically downloaded the Windows Media 9 codec that was required to play the content with no undue lag time. Playback of the content was very smooth as well. We also downloaded Windows Media Player 11 beta and played content from the URGE music service with no more than average delay.

For the second test, we downloaded the Windows Media Encoder and tried several encoding scenarios. In this audio-only instance, we had no problem encoding audio from a USB microphone, once we chose the device from Parallels’ pull-down menu (we later found that we could set USB devices to autoconnect upon plugging them in, but we found this to also be a bit annoying as they are then unavailable for use on the Mac, so we opted to turn autoconnect off and manually choose USB devices from the pull-down menu). We tried to encode video in a standard profile; we could encode via a USB connection at 384Kbps, but when we bumped up to 768Kbps, we ran into a bit of lag, due primarily, it appears, to the USB port emulation rather than the processor itself.

For the third test, we connected a Verizon XV 6700 phone to the Mac, and then used Active Sync to transfer video, audio and still image content to the XV 6700’s Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. This, too, worked seamlessly.

For file sharing, Parallels Desktop employs a shared folder concept, which means that files can’t be moved from the Mac desktop to the Windows XP desktop via drag-and-drop, but can be placed into a shared folder on the Mac and retrieved on the Windows shared folder (which displays more like a Windows networked drive than a Windows shared folder). Content from Windows can also be passed back to the Mac via the same shared folder, in much the same way that two separate computers would use a shared network drive to move content from one machine to another.

The final area we investigated was the size of the VM hard drive. Parallels Desktop defaults to an 8GB drive size, which is more than adequate for basic installations but can be too large for those who wish to run multiple virtual machines on a single MacBook or MacBook Pro. To address this, Parallels ships a desktop version of its Compressor software with Parallels Desktop, which analyzes the drive and then compresses the drive into a dynamic smaller drive that can grow as additional files or applications are added to a specific virtual machine.

With such a successful product that steals a bit of Apple’s thunder, providing a true Windows virtual machine, many users expected Apple to ignore the program.

"Contrary to expectations of many, Apple has not ignored Parallels Desktop," says Rudolph. "On the contrary, they’ve really given us a boost in publicity by replacing content about Boot Camp on their "Get a Mac" URL [noted above] with information and a picture of Parallels Desktop running Windows XP in a window in OS X.

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