Virtualization solutions that run Windows inside of Mac OS X have the potential of better integrating Windows with the Mac by giving users access to both operating systems at the same time.
Virtualization products, such as the new Parallels Workstation 2.1 beta for Intel Macs and Microsofts Virtual PC for PowerPC Macs, enable users to switch between Mac OS X and Windows applications without rebooting. As eWEEK Labs reports, Boot Camp users cant access Mac files when the Mac is booted from Windows XP. Virtual PC not only gives users this ability, but also lets users copy and paste between Mac and Windows application documents.
For Mac users, Virtual PC may have given virtualization a bad name. Thats because the emulation of the x86 processor that is required on PowerPC Macs leaves little CPU power for user applications. But on a Mac powered by Intel, this emulation layer isnt needed, enabling Windows in Parallels to perform at more than 90 percent the speed of a real PC, according to the company.
Parallels is still pre-release software and doesnt yet have the Mac OS X integration features found in Virtual PC on PowerPC Macs.
For instance, Virtual PC lets users save files to the Mac side, then undo all of the changes made to Windows in a session, leaving the Windows disk image in pristine condition.
Although Parallels could also provide any of these dual-OS features, Boot Camp isnt likely to. Boot Camp enables Windows XP to boot the Mac as if it were a plain vanilla PC.
Microsofts Virtual PC is not available for Intel Macs. Microsoft has indicated that it is looking into a port to the Intel Mac platform but has not announced a ship date.
In January, a Microsoft spokesperson indicated that the company was working on a port.
"We have a commitment to understanding what VPC will look like on the Intel Mac. But until we have the final hardware, we cant know what Virtual PC will look like on those machines."
Parallels isnt the only group that is ahead of Microsoft.
There are other virtualization efforts for the Intel Mac, such as the free Q AND THE $25 WinTel, which let users switch between Mac OS X and Windows without rebooting.
Most of these efforts are based on the open-source QEMU virtualization engine. All are still in the early stages of development, with parts of the Mac hardware still emulated, which limits performance. The open-source efforts are also limited in terms of support for peripherals, and dont have the copy-and-paste-type integration features of Virtual PC.
One open-source project called Darwine is taking a different approach to virtualization. Still in early stages of development, Darwine aims to run Windows applications directly in Mac OS X, but without Windows. Darwine is a port of Wine, an open-source project that runs Windows applications directly in Linux, without running or virtualizing Windows at all. Google is using Wine code in its Linux version of Picasa.
Wine and Darwine add a compatibility layer that provides the equivalent of the Windows API. These means that Darwine doesnt have the overhead needed to support all of Windows XPs functions, as do standard virtualization solutions.
Unlike Boot Camp or Virtual PC, Darwine provides no Windows desktop, no Start menu, no task bar; just Windows applications in their own windows.
The current version of Darwine hosts Windows applications with X11, a Unix graphical windowing environment. Apples X11 for Mac OS X is a free download. Like virtualization solutions, X11 for Mac OS X lets users cut and paste between X11 and aqua windows, which in Darwines case is Windows XP and Mac OS X application documents. The Darwine project plans to move from X11 to direct support of Windows applications in aqua.
At this point, the easy-to-install Boot Camp beta and the Parallels beta are miles ahead of Darwine and the other open-source virtualization efforts. The Darwine Web site refers to the current version as a "developer preview," warning that it is not ready for average users. Installation of Darwine is complex, and some functions, such as sound, do not yet work.
Boot Camp, on the other hand, will be integrated into the next version of Mac OS X, "Leopard," which is scheduled to ship at the end of the year.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include information about the new Parallels Workstation 2.1 beta for Intel Macs.