In 2005, Steve Jobs made a jaw-dropping announcement: that after 21 years of putting chips made by IBM or Motorola into Mac computers, Apple would switch to Intel processors.
The switchover made the Mac, in essence, a different computer. All Mac programs would had to be rewritten (or they would have to run in a special, awkward “Classic” window). The Mac operating system, OS X, would have to be rewritten, too. In fact, Apple had rewritten it, in secret.
But among techies, there was a gleeful realization: “Hey,” they said, “if a Mac has an Intel chip inside, we could hack it to run Windows!”
And who would want to do that? Really, four categories of people:
1. Fans of programs like Quicken, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Office, which are far more polished and rich in their Windows versions.
2. People who use programs that don’t exist at all in Mac versions, like Internet Explorer, AutoCAD, SAP (corporate resource planning), Epic (medical records), and custom corporate apps.
3. People who write webpages and software, so they can test their work in several operating systems on a single laptop.
4. People switching from Windows to Mac who want a safety net — the ability to hop back into Windows when necessary.
So sure enough: For about a month, instructions for installing Windows onto a Mac circulated online like a secret recipe. Then Apple introduced Boot Camp: an authorized way to install Windows on a Mac. Unfortunately, Boot Camp lets you run either Windows or Mac OS X, not both at the same time — and you have to restart the computer to go back and forth.
There was soon yet another option: virtualization programs, like Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. These programs let you run Windows in a window, floating there on your Mac screen. You can run both operating systems simultaneously, and even copy and paste between them. Insane!
Incidentally, these programs don’t just let you run Windows on your Mac. They create “virtual machines” (software versions of entire computers) — and all operating systems are welcome. So you can have Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Linux, Google Chrome OS, and even another copy of Mac OS X, all in separate windows — all on top of OS X Mavericks (or whatever your Mac usually uses).
This week, Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac arrived ($80, or $50 to upgrade); it has come a long, long way. Not a long way since version 9 — the improvements, though welcome, aren’t brain-fryingly significant — but version 10 is infinitely easier to set up and use than the Parallels of old.