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PCs are PCs and Macs are Macs, No More

PdboxWhat if you wanted to create a school that’s agnostic as far as computers go but didn’t want to buy separate machines for Mac and PC software? Rather than looking to hardware, I’ve found a program that can turn any recent Macintosh computer into one that can run PC software as well. Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac is one of those magical programs that comes along every so often and does something so well that it is must-have software for schools.

By allowing Macintosh computers to go both ways on software, it lets computers do double-duty and can make a school’s use of computers more efficient. Rather than Apple’s Boot Camp, which requires that you restart the computer to go from Mac to PC or vice versa, Parallels actually runs both types of software, side-by-side.

The price for this convenience is that it requires a long installation as well as a licensed copy of Windows and the PC software you want to run. Setting the software up on a MacBook Pro took about an hour and half, although I did several other things at the same time and only occasionally looked over to see if the system needed my attention.

It worked well on my MacBook Pro notebook but it’s not for every Mac. Parallels works with Mac notebooks or desktops that have Intel processors and the company’s OSX 10.4.11 or newer operating system. The software also requires a lot of resources: 2GB of RAM and nearly 500MB of available hard drive space before you add any PC applications.

The biggest stumbling block might be that you’ll also need a Windows disk and license key code. This might be one that is bought specially for this system or one retired from an older machine. I used a copy of XP Home, which at about $100, more than doubles the cost of the software. The company sells similar emulators for a variety of combinations of operating systems, although – sad to say – there’s no reciprocal program that runs Mac software on a PC.

Parallels_desktopThe software works by creating a virtual PC machine that runs as a Mac application and mimics everything PC software requires. As amazing as it sounds, it does this alongside the system’s native Macintosh OSX operating system and applications. There are several different ways the software runs PC software, including full screen and in a small window.

It’s incredible because the Mac’s software dock at the bottom of the screen is still available even when you’re using PC software. At anytime you can go from Mac to PC applications and even move text or images between them. Those virtualized applications have a pair of red parallel vertical lines on their icons in the Mac dock.

The program can work with 32- and 64-bit Windows software and connect with USB peripherals. I used PC versions of PhotoShop, MovieMaker, Internet Explorer and other programs without any snags, crashes or freeze-ups. It didn’t work with Netflix’s streaming movie player, however.

On the downside, Parallels slows the computer down. In addition to adjusting how much of the CPU’s performacne and memory can be apportioned between Mac and PC, Parallels lets you customize power use. If you close the emulation software, the system’s performance returns to normal.

Compared to the cost of a new Mac or PC, Parallels is a bargain at $80. That price can be reduced to as low as $35 for a 100-seat license. A big bonus is that the software includes utilities for security, backing up data and customizing the hard drive. There’s a free two week trial so you can try it out. What’s left unsaid is that because the Mac can now mimic a PC and run all its programs, you’ll need to buy or license software for the PC side as well as the Mac.

Parallels opens up new computing possibilities for schools. Think of the ability of a computer lab to be used to teach PC software in period 3 and Mac software in period 4 or edit images in PhotoShop for the Mac and then putting them in a newsletter that is put together in the PC’s Publisher and you get an idea of the potential of this software. I love the idea of picking what environment and application you want to use. It makes one plus one equal at least three.

Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac

     + Runs PC software on a Mac
     + Can move text or images between operating systems
     + Comes with lots of utilities
     + Two week free trial

      - Slows down Mac when in use
      - Only works with Intel-based Macs
      - Need licensed copy of Windows and software
      - No Mac on PC version


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