Hands on: Latest Parallels Desktop for Mac a 'winner'

But there are still a few rough edges, especially for gamers

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For ease of use when navigating among open applications, Windows programs that are running appear in the Mac's alt-tab menu and in the dock -- another workflow timesaver.

Finally, Parallels has added the ability to take a snapshot of your virtual machine image at any point for backup and archiving points. One of the great things about virtual machines is that you can always take a snapshot of your whole operating system, duplicate it, delete it or revert to it.

Desktop for Mac allows you to take a "snapshot" of your virtual machine.
Desktop for Mac allows you to take a "snapshot" of your virtual machine. (Click to view larger image)

Even though Parallels has undertaken significant software development on the Mac platform over the past year -- the rate at which its developers turn out updates and innovations is staggering -- it faces serious competition. VMware, which has the lead in virtual machine market share on the x86 platform, has just released Beta 4 of its own Mac product, Fusion 4. There are currently a large number of vendors releasing software as virtual machines for VMware. In fact, I was able to import a VMware Windows machine into Parallels, although I was unable to do the same with Linux VM appliances like the ones VMware advertises on its site.

Another competitor is Crossover from Codeweavers, the largest corporate sponsor of the Open source WINE project. The WINE project is decidedly more "beta" than a virtual machine. Its big advantage is that you don't need to run a full version of the operating system to run non-Mac apps, which makes it easier on your processor -- and wallet.

Finally, there is competition from Apple itself. Apple's Boot Camp will likely take on a bigger role with the release later this year of Mac OS X 10.5, or Leopard. Boot Camp currently requires you to reboot your machine to access Windows, but that eliminates any virtualization overhead. Parallels allows you to use your Boot Camp partition as a virtual machine, eliminating the need to restart, which is how I use Boot Camp now. There had been some speculation that Apple might enable a similar option with Boot Camp in Leopard at Apple's WorldWide Developers Conference this week. Instead, CEO Steve Jobs said there are no plans to offer that option -- and he touted both Parallels' and VMWare's products.

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