A “Parallels” Reality
Brett Burney is the principal of Burney Consultants LLC and focuses his time on bridging the chasm between the legal and technology borders of electronic discovery. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like almost everyone else in the legal profession, I use Microsoft Windows on my computers. I’m comfortable with the Start Menu, I can Alt-Tab to any program, and I know where to find my files when I need them.
But when I see the “PC-guy” in those Mac commercials halt in mid-sentence because he has to reboot, I can’t help but relate in bitterness. Curiosity pulled me into a gleaming, colorful Apple store and forced me to consider the purchase of a machine with that glowing Apple logo.
One major hurdle, however, was the fact that the bulk of legal software vendors refuse to develop products for Macs. And why should they? Close to 98 percent of their user base is standardized on Windows. It would be a waste to devote resources to the Apple “oddballs.”
Fortunately, the Apple world is always on the move, and developments over the last couple of years have created a digital revolution. First, back in June 2005, Apple CEO Steven Jobs announced that his company was going to be replacing the IBM PowerPC processors long used in Macintosh computers with Intel chips. Many Windows users probably huffed “so what?” But a few of us felt a tremor of anticipation. Computers that run Microsoft Windows use Intel processors (or those by rival AMD, which builds chips on similar internal architectures). If a Mac were to use an Intel processor, it theoretically could run Windows because the core processing unit would be able to support both operating systems.
Windows Gets a Boot
In January 2006 the first Mac running on an Intel processor appeared, and the games began. Pictures and videos of Windows running on a Mac starting appearing in the wild.
Then in April 2006, one corner of the computing universe folded in on itself when Apple quietly released a nifty utility called Boot Camp. It is almost inconceivable, but Boot Camp allows Mac users to partition their Mac hard drive—one section booting into the Mac OS, and the other section booting directly into Windows. When you turn your computer on, you can choose which OS you want to use. When you boot into Windows, it’s like you’re sitting in front of a Windows machine, except that you’re sitting in front of a Mac.
The only two nagging issues with Boot Camp were 1) some hardware did not work properly on the Windows side (improvements are still being made); and 2) you actually had to reboot the computer to go into Windows. Boot Camp is an amazing product, but it didn’t appear to be the best solution for me. I wanted to switch seamlessly between the Mac OS and Windows.
It’s Virtually a Parallel Dimension
In June 2006 a small company called Parallels in Renton, Washington, released a product called Parallels Desktop for Macs. This software allows Mac users to install a full version of Windows directly within the Mac OS based on “virtualization” technology.
The idea of a “virtual” computer is nothing new in the IT world. In the “real world” we understand that one computer runs one operating system. That’s just how it works. Virtual computers, however, run inside other computers—encapsulated in a fenced-in folder environment. Your “main” computer continues to run, but you can launch your virtual operating system whenever you please. You could use the additional operating system for testing software before you formally install it on your main system. When you’re done with the virtual machine, you simply move the folder and contents into the trash. Your main system remains unaffected.
Using Parallels, you can run a full version of Windows directly within your Mac.
Adapting to an Apple Diet
If you’ve heard anything about Macs, you know they are generally regarded as easier to use, better protected against viruses and spyware, and less prone to unexpected crashes. Imagine using a computer without having to worry about unresponsive applications or continual pop-up windows. I’m not saying that Macs never experience these digital annoyances, but they certainly don’t happen nearly as often as on a Windows machine.
But if a Mac was going to work for me, I had to feel comfortable using it, and I couldn’t afford a lengthy learning curve. Using a Mac required me to reassess some of my ingrained Windows habits. There’s no dedicated right-click button, there’s a funky-looking Apple-embossed key next to the space bar, and the Delete button is really a backspace button.
The good news is that all of these issues melted away fairly quickly. I am the proud owner a 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop. To right-click I simply tap two fingers on the trackpad instead of one; the funky button is called the “Command” button; and getting used to the Delete button was a snap.
The best part about my MacBook Pro is that it runs rock solid. I can close the lid on any work that I’m doing; when I come back and open the lid again, I’m literally working again within 15 seconds. I have never, ever been able to do that with a Windows laptop.
I still needed Windows, however, to run critical legal applications that are not offered for the Mac platform.
So I downloaded and installed Parallels. I was skeptical. It was hard for me to believe that I could enjoy my newfound fascination with the MacBook Pro and still have access to everything I’ve ever used in Windows.
Installing Parallels was quick (installing and un-installing apps in the Mac OS is drop-dead simple). Then Parallels asked me which version of Windows I wanted to install. You must have a full version of Windows to make this work. That means you’ll have to purchase a copy of Windows (XP or Vista) if you don’t have one already.
Parallels has a “Windows Express” feature that fully automates the entire process. I’ve installed my share of Windows on many PCs before, but the Parallels install went faster than anything I had previously experienced. Once the install was complete, it took a couple of hours to update Windows with all the security patches (granted, my Windows CD was pre-Service Pack 2).
I loaded up my MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM when I purchased it, and I would recommend having at least that much if you plan to run a virtual Windows environment. It is taxing to run two computers on one machine.
By default, Parallels runs Windows in a separate window alongside all of your Mac applications. You can watch Windows boot up inside the Parallels window (much faster than most of my Windows machines) and enjoy the familiar green hills and blue sky background of Windows XP. My Start Menu is there, my Task Bar is there, and I’m ready to work like I never left the world of Windows.
The first thing I launched was Internet Explorer. My familiar friend jumped open and immediately found the web. This means that Parallels automatically enabled my Internet connection to work within the virtual Windows environment. I didn’t have to do a thing.
Next I installed the “Parallels Tools” package. This is where the magic happens. Parallels Tools allows you to synchronize your clipboard, your mouse, and your shared folders between the Mac and Windows environments. When you copy text in the virtual Windows environment, you can jump into a Mac application and paste it there. Even jumping back and forth is seamless because your mouse cursor is synchronized. Shared Folders allows you to access files from a designated folder on the Mac side. I can share a folder living on my Mac desktop and access those files from within my virtual Windows environment. Unfortunately, you can’t go the other way.
Is It Real? Or Is It Coherence?
One of the most exciting items on the Parallels Tools package is something called “Coherence,” which further blurs the line between Mac and Windows, allowing you to literally run a Windows application side-by-side with your Mac applications. In other words, it erases the need to see a full Windows desktop in the background.
I’ll admit that I don’t regularly use Coherence. I’ve been a Windows-guy for so long that I’m more comfortable with my Windows background and icons. But I can certainly see the amazing potential behind Coherence. One day soon, there will barely be any distinction between Windows and Mac applications.
Installing Software in a Virtual Environment
Harking back to old Windows habits, I immediately considered the security of my virtual Windows environment. To the outside cyber-world, my virtual environment looked like a regular Windows operating system. That meant I needed to make sure I had protection against viruses and spyware.
Fortunately, Parallels comes with a free version of Kaspersky Internet Security. I was easily able to install it from the Parallels menu. Once I updated the definitions, my virus worries were a thing of the past. Next I elected to install the highly regarded free Comodo Firewall. I had no problems installing and setting up these security applications.
Microsoft Office was my next project. I inserted the CD of Office 2007 in my Mac’s CD slot, and my virtual Windows found it instantly. Up popped the install box, and away I went just like every other Office install I had ever done. There was no stopping me after that. I installed Summation, Quicken, CaseMap, Sanction, Firefox, and SmartDraw Legal. Every application installed without a hitch, oblivious to the fact that it was being loaded onto a virtual machine. I’m happy to report that all of these applications run just fine.
Two Computers for the Price of One
As you can surmise, I have become a huge fan of the Mac and of Parallels. I am literally running two fully operational computers for the price of one. I bought a Mac, but I can use Windows as if I had purchased a separate Windows laptop.
So far, I’ve found only a few issues that bug me. First, I already mentioned that Parallels can be a memory and resource hog. I’ve never had a problem while running a virtual machine, but I can see where it could quickly become an issue. Just make sure you purchase additional RAM.
Parallels did actually shut down completely in one instance while I was working on a document. It’s just happened the one time, and I consider that a fantastic record compared to the plethora of times it’s happened to me on Windows machines.
One feature that Parallels does not yet offer is dual-monitor support. Now don’t get me wrong, Parallels supports “multiple” monitors and allows you to move your virtual Windows window (or single applications window in Coherence mode) to an extended monitor. But when I use Microsoft PowerPoint or trial presentation software such as Sanction and Trial Director, I like to separate my presentation screen from my “working” screen. Because Parallels has to utilize the Mac video driver, the virtual Windows machine cannot yet work in dual-monitor mode. I hope this feature comes soon.
If you’ve been watching those “Hi, I’m a Mac” ads like I have and considered the possibility of using a Mac, I’m here to tell you that it’s entirely feasible to use Macs in the legal world (with a nod to the MacLaw listserve) now that you can continue to run a full version of Windows. A Mac running Parallels running Windows certainly won’t be the best setup for everyone. But it’s close.