Tech Strategy Trends

Jan 17 2013   8:21AM GMT

The best of both worlds: Running Windows 8 and Mac OS X together

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

I really (really) loved my Dell XPS M1330 laptop. It served me well for years, with only minor issues that Dell support showed up at my house to fix. It was a great laptop. As it began to show its age in terms of the underlying hardware and processing power, I could have just gone back to the well and purchased whatever the newer version of that same laptop might be, but I decided to take that opportunity to broaden my horizons. As an industry analyst and tech journalist, I figured I should have some firsthand experience with all of the different platforms, so I decided to replace the Dell XPS M1330 with an 11-inch MacBook Air (MBA). I made that decision in part because I knew I’d still have the option of dual-booting or running virtual instances of Windows or Linux operating systems on the MBA, but if I had chosen a Windows laptop I would not be able to run Mac OS X.

As far as the physical laptop goes, it’s beautiful. The engineering is pristine, and the quality of the construction is better than any laptop I’ve seen or previously owned. When it comes to the OS, I’m not as convinced. It took me a lot of adjustment to get around in Mac OS X after years of living in Windows, and even now–a year and a half later–there are things I miss and prefer about Windows. One of the things I missed most was Aero Snap. I loved the simple convenience of just dragging a window to the left or right to automatically fill half of the display, or maximizing and minimizing the window by dragging it up or down. It had become habit–a habit that allowed me to work more efficiently and be more productive.

I also found that there are certain software applications I rely on which have Mac OS X versions, but that the Mac versions are sad, pathetic shells of their Windows counterparts. The Mac versions of Microsoft Office and Intuit’s Quicken personal finance applications are like dumbed-down caricatures of the “real thing”. I’m not sure why Office can’t just be Office, but there are a number of small–but key–features and capabilities I found missing, and the cartoon-like balloon letter icons for the Office apps in Mac illustrate how Microsoft views the audience–whimsical and immature, as opposed to serious and professional. Quicken on Mac OS X is a joke. It’s simple features are an insult to the Quicken brand.

Thankfully, I found a solution that gives me the best of both worlds. Parallels. Parallels allows me to run a virtualized Windows operating system from within Mac OS X. The best part, though, is that I don’t have to treat Windows as a separate OS, or switch back and forth. There is a feature of Parallels called Coherence which basically merges the two platforms together, and lets me access and use all of the Windows tools and applications directly from Mac OS X, as if they’re installed natively. Parallels provides seamless access to both operating systems–and their respective software–simultaneously.

It’s not perfect, though. First, I am running two complete OS platforms with the same, limited hardware resources. It is typically surprisingly smooth, but if I try to do too much at once it can quickly bog everything down to a frustratingly slow speed. Second, the MBA only has a 128GB SSD–I don’t even keep my music stored locally because it would quickly max out the hard drive. That means I have the virtualized Windows installed on an external USB drive, and if I take the laptop on the road I’d have to bring the drive with me, or not use Windows 8 unless I’m in my office. Lastly, the Coherence feature is awesome, but if I want to be able to use Aero Snap, I have to exit Coherence, and actually use Windows as a separate virtual OS.

I still love Windows. I never have become a true Mac convert or zealot. It has its own pros and cons, and I don’t dislike it per se–but I love Windows. If I didn’t feel like I need to stay in touch with all of the major operating systems, I’d probably just install Windows 8 on the MacBook Air hardware and call it a day. But, if you have a Mac, and you’d still like to be able to seamlessly run Windows software, you should check out Parallels.

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