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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X Pick of the Week
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7 of 10
[Score: 7 out of 10]
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of April 10th]

Last week (the week of the 3rd), I highlighted Apple's Boot Camp as a Pick of the Week. This week, it's another solution to the same question, but with potentially even broader appeal. Parallels Workstation is a product that uses the Intel chip's built-in virtualization to let you run Windows XP alongside OS X, without a reboot. Unlike Boot Camp, however, you can run other operating systems, all without leaving the confines of OS X. And just to make sure I'm clear about this, Parallels requires an Intel-powered Mac.

I've been playing with Parallels since the beta was released, and it's been an eye opener. First off, if you're thinking VirtualPC and its associated speed hit, that's just not the case. My test machine is a Core Duo mini, set up with 2GB of RAM. In that environment, Windows XP seems to run at maybe 90% of the speed it does when booted natively. Its fast, in other words. You will not be sitting there saying "ugh, when will this window open / install finish / whatever."

Initial setup is a bit more involved than with Boot Camp, and yet easier overall (as you don't need to partition your hard drive). To install XP, you create a new virtual machine (VM), specify the RAM settings and virtual hard drive size, and then launch the VM with the XP installer in the CD drive. After running through the install, you've got a virtual XP machine alongside OS X.

But you're not restricted to XP. You can install any number of Linux variants, Solaris, and even OS/2 Warp (which I don't own, so couldn't test). Here's a shot of my mini running four OS's at once -- OS X, Debian Linux, Fedora Core Linux, and Windows XP (click for a larger version):


I had assigned 256MB to each of the Linuxes, and 512MB to XP. This setup worked quite well, and the machine didn't feel sluggish at all. Of course, I was just doing basic testing, so I wasn't taxing the CPU much with additional workload. Still, the ability to run multiple OSes at once, while staying in OS X, is an amazing advance (and one Windows users have had for years, though not with the ability to run OS X, of course).

At this stage of its existence, Parallels is still beta. If you're going to use it, be prepared for troubles -- I've had a few kernel panics, a few spontaneous reboots of the mini, and more than a few cases of not being able to reload a VM after a crash. In short, it's still somewhat experimental. There are also hardware issues in XP that you don't have in Boot Camp -- you can't use USB peripherals (keyboard and mouse work, of course), and the video drivers won't set any speed records. I also had trouble with Solaris -- it installed, but would not boot successfully.

I would not recommend its use on a machine that production machine, and Boot Camp is still the only real solution for gamers and others who need full-speed 3D graphics and hardware support. But for typical office usage, Parallels will clearly be a nicer solution in the long run. For the potential it shows, Parallels Workstation is a fitting PotW, and I'm excited to see what future releases bring. I also have a much longer article in the works on Parallels Workstation, which should be up on Macworld.com later this week.

(And yes, there will be a Pick of the Week for this week, and amazingly enough, it will be up just a bit later today!)
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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X | 12 comments | Create New Account
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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: zelet on Apr 18, '06 08:00:21AM

I really want to know how to re-enable the virtualization technology in the Mac Mini. I really hate it when Apple goes out of their way to cripple hardware. I think they are the only company to do that kind of stupid stuff.

So, the question is - how long until somebody figures out how to re-enable it? Can you please post it here?

Thanks



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: tinpan on Apr 18, '06 08:31:30AM

Tell me more of this apple crippling virtualization technology on Mac mini's. I have only seen speculation that this has been done and cannot find any proof. I'd like to know if this is true before I look into working around it. Can you point me to some links that are not speculative?



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: Shawn Parr on Apr 18, '06 09:24:50AM

Apple did not purposefully cripple the Minis in this fashion. If you go to the Parallels forums you can see a lot of discussion of this issue. Basically the Minis that are disabled will often become enabled at random, sometimes sleep is involved, sometimes just after letting the machine sit for a long time.

It is all but confirmed to be a firmware bug, and according to Dave Schroeder (the Dave Schroeder of University of Wisconsin), Apple has been informed of it and should be working on fixing it.



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: robg on Apr 18, '06 11:05:28AM

It certainly seems to be working on my mini -- the acceleration option is at High, and the VT box is checked...

-rob.



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: adrianm on Apr 19, '06 12:07:47AM

Mine is high and checked too, but you get a warning when running a VM that it's disabled in the firmware.



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: avocade on Apr 23, '06 05:47:50AM

Was on mine too, but as noted, it gives you a warning dialogue the first time you launch the app, but not the subsequent times. Hope this is a bug and not a deliberate crippling, however, Apple has been noted for that before. What is this I'm hearing that you can't even run Final Cut Studio (most apps anyway) on the new Mini's? I'm sure the graphics chipset isn't _that_ bad...



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: markuswarren on Apr 18, '06 08:32:32AM

have a look at this thread on the Parallels support forum:

http://forum.parallels.com/thread577.html



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OS X in Parallels
Authored by: jef_pearlman on Apr 18, '06 08:37:10AM

I've been wondering this for a while, and haven't seen mention of it: Has anyone tried to run OS X under parallels? I note that it's not listed in the manual as a supported guest OS, but it still might be useful ability. Any idea if they're going to add it?

-Jef



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OS X in Parallels
Authored by: sven on Apr 18, '06 11:31:18AM

It's been stated on the Parallels forums that OSX won't work as a guest OS. I suppose it's simply the fact that Parallels emulates a PC BIOS and not EFI.



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: jomy on Apr 18, '06 08:57:32AM

It would be interesting to be able to run Mac OS X Server in a virtual environment on the same computer for testing.

Also Rob, did you install the drivers that Apple provides with BootCamp on your Parallels virtual machine?



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: markuswarren on Apr 18, '06 09:36:50AM

I've tried to do this but failed. I extracted the disk image from the Boot Camp application package and mounted it in the Guest PC. The exe would run but would tell me the hardware was not compatible.

If someone has extracted the drivers then I'd give it a go. However, I'm not sure if that would help, as Parallels does provide it's own drivers, plus, like other VM solutions, it's quite possible that the virtualization relies on their drivers. As said, I'm willing to test it if I or someone would tell me how to get the files out of the exe without it running.



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Parallels Workstation - Run other OSes alongside OS X
Authored by: geoffspear on Apr 19, '06 07:20:25AM

I imagine this is for the same reason that USB peripherals don't work; the OS running in the VM isn't given direct access to the hardware and thus the drivers can't see the hardware the and the installer fails.

I'd think that even if you could trick the installer into putting the drivers on your virtual Windows installation, they'd be useless.

Hopefully the rumored virtualization within Leopard will turn out to be true; I'd imagine that an Apple-built VM could work as well as Boot Camp (in terms of driver support, not speed; a virtual machine running on top of another OS is obviously going to be slower than just running Windows on the bare hardware) because Apple already has the drivers written and could use them in their VM.



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