BitDepth 582 - June 26

It's been possible to run Windows on a Macintosh for more than a decade but the new Intel Macs make it an equal opportunity OS...
Windows on a Macintosh

VM Ware’s Fusion (top) in Macintosh Exposé mode, with its setup windows and PC software running. CodeWeaver’s Crossover Mac (below) allows a user to create a “bottle” a Windows-free environment that supports a specific PC software package.

For most people, a Macintosh is a Mac and an Intel-compatible computer is a PC and ne’er the twain shall meet. But that’s never been strictly true. All the way back in 1996 I was running Windows 3.1 with some investment in patience on an old Quadra class Mac using Insignia’s Soft Windows; the first software based virtualisation solution for the Macintosh that could be said to have worked.

Of course, “worked” is a strong word for what it did on those old computers.
Virtualisation creates a software environment that behaves like one built from hardware and the translation process taxes a computer’s processor. Folders in Windows opened like slow motion flowers blooming and anything more strenuous than typing turned an installation of Windows into something of a lurching zombie.
Things got a little better with the arrival of Connectix’s Virtual PC on the market. On the PowerPC processor, this tiny bit of code made it possible to actually consider working with Windows on a Mac and I used it for years to test software for this column.

Virtual PC
Virtual PC was the absolute pinnacle of code translation between the worlds of the Mac and the PC until recently, but it was still a challenge to work with. You couldn’t run games on it and anything beyond basic browser testing for web development, gathering e-mail through Exchange servers and running the most basic software was pretty much out of the question.
Virtual PC eventually got bought by Microsoft, who took the virtualisation technology at the heart of the product into their server group and turned it into just another business product. Development on the Mac slowed and finally stalled when Apple announced the switch to Intel processors in 2005.
I’ve still got an installation of VPC on an old G4 I use as a file and fax server, but I haven’t used in months, not since I began exploring the embarrassment of riches that has come along with Mac hardware that’s more “Intel-compatible” than ever before.

100 percent PC
It is now an item of fact that a Mac is now essentially a PC. All of Apple’s current hardware can run Windows full bore using freely downloadable software called Boot Camp. You install Boot Camp, burn a CD image that’s provided with the download that includes special drivers for the Apple specific hardware in your machine, install any version from XP SP2 on up and your Mac can restart from a partition on your hard disk that lets it behave exactly like any other PC.
Now that would be kind of cool, if options to run Windows on a Macintosh hadn’t turned into such a tidal wave of choices. 
Currently in beta testing is VM Ware’s Fusion, software that creates a disk image on your hard disk that it references for its virtualisation of any PC based operating system you’d care to install.

PC in a window
The product is quite similar to Parallels’ Desktop; a more polished version of the same idea that’s currently in its third major revision. The Parallels solution struck a chord with me that rang deeply enough to resonate with my credit card, and I’ve been cherrily running an installation of Desktop v2 for six months now.
You share files through a shared folder on the Mac and PC and you can copy and paste, but otherwise, your Windows installation runs in a window on OS X just like any other programme.
Codeweavers is fermenting a strain of WINE; the UNIX based Windows environment that allows you to run a rather limited profile of Windows applications on the Mac with no actual installation of Windows.

Steve Jobs’ World Wide Developer’s Conference announcement of the return of Electronic Arts games to the Mac had a quiet virtualisation underbelly, technology from Transgaming Technologies called Cider, which packages Windows games and other software in a software wrapper that allows them to run on Intel based Macs.
You can’t buy Cider, but it’s going to be part of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Need for Speed Carbon when those games appear for the Mac in a few months.
Now that you know that it’s possible to run Windows on a Macintosh, what’s it like? Check back here in a week to find out.

Crossover Mac (US$59.95)
VMWare Fusion (US$79.99)
Parallels Desktop (US$79.99)
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