OS X and Windows, working together

Being able to switch to a different operating system without having to sacrifice functionality and performance is a welcome rarity in the IT world.

Over the years I have attempted to run other operating systems besides Windows on my primary workstation. I have run OS/2 in the past. I've tried running various flavors of Linux. I've also tried running OS X on my MacBook Air. Every time I tried, I found that there was always something lacking in the OS, or the applications, that resulted in my returning to Windows.

I suppose one question that comes up is, "If everything you need is under Windows, then why are you trying to switch away from it?" The truth is that while I like the capabilities of the applications, I actually prefer a Unix-like environment under the hood. Ubuntu can give me that, but there's a great deal of functionality missing that I get from Windows applications. The same situation exists under OS X.

This past month, however, fellow ZDNet columnist James Kendrick wrote an article covering the release of the latest version of Parallels Desktop for OS X. This latest version was written to support the new release of OS X, Lion, and has improved speed. Native Windows applications running in seamless mode are nearly as fast as native OS X applications.

There's no need for me to rehash reviews of Parallels Desktop 7. If you're familiar with the product, or with VMware Fusion 4, then you know what I'm referring to. Even VirtualBox has a seamless mode, although performance-wise it isn't as powerful as the other two. It is free, however.

I'm sure I will be told, "These programs existed before, why didn't you use them?" To be honest, I hadn't been impressed with the performance or seamless capabilities of the VM applications until now. I wanted the Windows applications to run in seamless mode as if they were native OS X applications. Having access to the Windows start menu from the OS X menu bar, along with Windows system tray icons, adds to the perfect convergence of the two operating systems.

Sometimes it's the little, inconsequential features that really impress me. For instance, you can have Windows use the native OS X user directories for documents and downloads instead of creating its own within the virtual machine. Copy and paste just works between environments, without any tricks required to get it to work. I can access the Windows control panel and other functions as if they were a native part of OS X.

My main argument against switching from Windows was always, "Why should I have to give up my applications? Why do I have to settle for reduced functionality?" Well, now the answer is that I don't have to settle. I have all of my apps, and they work. I have replaced a few of the programs I use with their OS X counterparts because they are fully functional native applications. The ones I didn't replace I simply installed under Windows in the Parallels VM, and added their icons to the OS X dock bar.

Convergence is a great thing when it works well. I'm not the kind of person to settle for passable, or reduced functionality. I felt the same way some years ago when I got my first smartphone that could be a phone, MP3 player and PDA, without making any sacrifices. Now I can do the same on my primary computer. I have Windows, OS X and Unix capability, all in one, without having to jump through hoops to do it.

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