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InterviewBITS: Entering a Parallels Universe

The transition of the Macintosh from PowerPC to Intel processors is arguably one of the most significant computing milestones of the decade. Power consumption and speed efficiency gains aside, Apple’s migration essentially joined worlds that were historically not merely different, but decidedly antagonistic. Crude solutions had existed for years, but by powering its operating system with an Intel chip, Apple for the first time merged the realms of the dominant Windows-based PC and the Mac. In an Escher-esque manner of speaking, the Mac became a PC even as the PC was subsumed by the Mac.

But the hardware only provided the opportunity to dovetail architectures. Final fusion had to come from software. Despite initial success by the hacker community (and later Apple) to boot a Mac into alternative operating systems, the Holy Grail of concurrent instances of Windows and the Mac OS remained elusive.

Until Parallels Desktop.

Like hybrid engines powered by both gas and electricity, Parallels Desktop enables the new Macs to provide a seamless user experience where the operating systems actually become somewhat irrelevant, or at least invisible, as they perhaps should be. For the first time in their computing lives, people can simply buy a Macintosh and, virtually, use most of the programs in the world.

I caught up with Ben Rudolph, marketing manager at Parallels, to learn more about the company’s outstanding product.

[Angus Wong] What were some of the technical challenges in creating Parallels Desktop?

[Ben Rudolph] We didn’t experience anything outside of the normal challenges for building any software product. Because we already had a very mature virtualization engine and the technology was already proven on the x86 chipset, we were able to port our code to the Mac in just a few months. Apple released the first Intel-based Mac in January 2006, and we had a working beta in April!

As always, we need to give a huge “thank you” to the entire Mac community for all of their support during development and beta testing. We couldn’t have done it without you behind us!

[AW] With Microsoft halting development on Virtual PC, you’ve essentially cornered the market in Macintosh virtualization. But looking back, what prompted you to even consider competing against that product in the first place?

[BR] Virtual PC was an amazing piece of software for its time, but many users were frustrated with it because it was terribly slow. We realized that by bringing true virtualization to the Mac, and by fully supporting Intel Virtualization Technology, which is included in every new Mac, we could for the first time enable Mac users to run both Windows and Mac OS X at the same time at full speed. That’s a big deal for a lot of Mac users, because it breaks down the barrier between the Windows world and the Mac world by giving Mac users the ability to run industry-standard Windows-only apps like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Project, and Microsoft Outlook, without giving up their Mac desktop even for a second. Parallels Desktop effectively removes the tag of being a “Windows guy” or a “Mac guy” – it lets you be both.

[AW] What do you think about Microsoft’s new licensing restrictions for running Vista in a virtual environment?

[BR] Microsoft has stated that only Vista Business and Vista Ultimate can be installed on a virtual machine, meaning that Parallels Desktop users will need to purchase one of these high-end editions if they’re planning on running Vista on their Mac. Of course, Microsoft has the right to do whatever it wants with its licensing, but we hope they’ll see that there’s a big market for virtualization (for Windows, Linux, and Mac users), and that not every user wants, or needs, the highest-end versions of Vista to run a few critical Windows applications.

[AW] Do you think Boot Camp competes with or complements Parallels Desktop?

[BR] For the time being, it’s a complement, as Boot Camp offers a few things that we don’t, such as hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and support for USB 2.0. However, we’re working on both of those items and will be including them shortly. This means that, soon, you won’t have to reboot to get access to these important Windows features – you’ll be able to use them in Windows at the same time as Mac OS X via Parallels Desktop.

[AW] How can users become more productive with Parallels Desktop?

[BR] Definitely install Parallels Tools, as that will enable you to cut, copy, and paste between operating systems, share files and folders, move your mouse between Windows and Mac OS X without capturing and releasing, etc. Past that, I’d recommend downloading Virtue Desktops a free third-party application that enables you to have multiple desktops at one time – meaning you can run Windows and Mac OS X in full screen, and just toggle back and forth between them. If you’re a heavy Windows user, this is a great tool to have.

[AW] Aside from Windows, what other operating systems might be interesting to run?

[BR] Of course, Windows XP is the most common operating system that people run, but we’ve seen a lot of people starting to test Vista in a virtual environment as well. It gives them the ability to kick Vista’s tires without having to compromise a real machine. We’re also seeing a lot of pick-up from Linux users, who want to experience the great usability of Mac OS X, but still want to be able to have the customizability and power of their favorite Linux distro.

[AW] Are you going to be completely focused on virtualization, or are you also exploring other areas?

[BR] Virtualization is where we have our core competency. We will be expanding into the server virtualization space over the coming months, and will be releasing more virtualization management tools, as we did with Parallels Compressor earlier this year, that will help consumer and corporate users get the most out of their virtual IT environment.

[AW] What sorts of things can we look forward to with future versions of Parallels Desktop?

[BR] Our latest beta has a slew of new features that give you a sense of where we’re going. For instance, it enables users to point Parallels Desktop at the partition used by Boot Camp, includes the Parallels Transporter tool to turn a real PC’s hard disk into a virtual machine, and a new view mode called “Coherence” that lets users run Windows applications without ever seeing Windows. Windows apps sit on the OS X desktop and look like their running natively, much as Classic applications ran in the Classic environment but in their own windows in earlier versions of Mac OS X.

Thanks for the opportunity to share more about Parallels!

[Editor’s Note: There’s a free 15-day trial available for anyone who wants to give Parallels Desktop a try and a $10-off coupon for readers of “Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac.” -Adam]

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