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Parallels Desktop—An Alternative to Boot Camp

Another option that might be much easier to deal with in terms of deployment and management is to not rely on Boot Camp to create a dual-boot environment. Parallels Desktop is a virtualization tool that enables a computer to run one of several "guest" operating systems without requiring the user to reboot. In the case of its Mac OS X release, it enables users to run Windows in a virtual environment without needing to reboot the computer into Windows.

The approach is similar to Virtual PC with one major exception: there is no emulation going on. Windows code is natively running on the Macs Intel processors, but it is running in a virtual machine instead of having direct control of the computer’s hardware. It also uses an image file as its hard drive instead of a partition of the actual hard drive. You could consider this as being somewhere in-between Virtual PC and the Mac OS X Classic environment.

The advantage of this approach from users’ perspectives is that they don’t need to reboot to run Windows or Windows applications. Parallels also provides an option for configuring folders that are shared between the Mac OS X and Windows file systems (making working with files under both operating systems much easier). It also supports a much wider range of Windows versions (and other operating systems) than Boot Camp.

For administrators, however, there is an even bigger advantage: the hard drive image file that Parallels uses is just another file that is stored on the Mac’s hard drive. This means that there is no added effort when imaging or deploying a Mac. You simply configure the Parallels installation (including installing and configuring Windows and any applications) and then create a disk image of the Mac as you would for a typical Mac-only deployment. Even though there is an extra cost involved in the purchase of Parallels, the ease of deployment that it offers can dramatically reduce the man-hours needed to deploy a dual-platform Mac.

You should test Parallels before choosing it as an option. Because Windows is running in a virtual environment without direct access to the Mac’s components, there can be situations in which devices are not available or do not operate as expected. Also, Parallels does not include the variety of Mac hardware drivers that Boot Camp offers. You might also find access to certain keyboard combinations (including Control+Alt+Delete) less than perfect under Parallels.

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