Review: Parallels Desktop 4.0 “Switch To Mac” Edition


Not only does it virtualise Windows, and move all your software and files with the bundled cable and migration tools included, it teaches you Mac too

Parallels Desktop 4.0 Switch to Mac edition makes it simple to convert a physical PC, including applications and data, to a Windows virtual machine running on a Mac.

Training videos included in the Switch to Mac package effectively demonstrate how to perform familiar Microsoft Windows actions in the Apple OS X world. The combination of Parallels Desktop for Mac 4.0, training material and a custom USB cable that enabled fast transfer of my PC data to the Mac all add up to a compelling solution for PC users who want to switch to a Mac.

Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac edition started shipping on Aug. 25 and costs £74.95 , a £26 premium over the suggested retail price (£48.95) for the regular edition of Parallels Desktop.

While Parallels Switch to Mac is aimed at individual users, the product is a worthwhile choice for IT departments that are switching PC systems to Macs. The Parallels Transporter agent, which is installed on both the host computer (the Mac) and the source computer (the PC), makes short work of the arduous task of manually reinstalling Windows applications and then moving over user data.

Must Take All Day, Right?

In my tests, the Switch to Mac process correctly installed all of the Microsoft Office productivity tools that are part of my standard PC desktop, as well as the Cisco VPN client. I virtualised a Windows XP Service Pack 3 operating system that was running on an old ThinkPad x40 system, along with the Microsoft Office 2003 productivity suite, in less than 15 minutes.

The entire process took a little under 4 hours, including preparing the Windows system. The biggest time sink in the process is moving user data. When I virtualised a Windows XP system running on a Shuttle computer with a Pentium M processor that was loaded with digital photos, the transfer took just over an hour.

I didn’t need to reactivate my Windows OS nor the Microsoft applications that were ported to my Windows virtual machine. While the Parallels Switch to Mac system makes clear that reactivation is sometimes needed, and that creating a virtual machine from a physical system can sometimes be a license violation, I did not experience any activation problems during my tests.

In all of my test cases, the wireless connectivity from the virtual machine to the Internet worked as soon as the installation was completed. Applications worked as expected. Hardware-specific utilities that were installed on the ThinkPad system, of course, did not work in the Mac. Of note in the case of these utilities is that a clearly worded error message was presented that stated the hardware needed by these tools was not installed. I was happy to see that the absence of hardware did not panic the Parallels virtual machines.

Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac competes directly with VMware Fusion, which costs £48.95, and with Sun’s VirtualBox for OS X hosts, which is a no-cost download. If price is your primary evaluation factor, the choice is clear. However, if your development or daily-use needs require that you easily move files between Mac and Windows applications, or your workloads contend for physical host resources, then Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion should go to the top of your list. Neither VMware nor Sun offers a directly competing bundle.