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Vendors Vie For Best Windows For Mac

Competition for running Windows software on the Macintosh is heating up. Apple will issue an update on the next release of its operating system, codenamed Leopard, on Monday at its developer's conference in San Francisco. Leopard will include Apple's "Bootcamp" software for running Windows applications.

Yesterday, Parallels released Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac, a new version of its software for running Windows or Linux on Core 2-based Macintosh systems running the Mac's OS X operating system.

While behind in shipping a finished commercial version, virtualization leader VMware just announced a new, free beta release of its own solution, VMware Fusion. The finished product is slated for release later this summer.

All of these products require a licensed copy of Windows that the user buys separately to run Windows software on the Mac. Bootcamp is the more limited of the three in that you can only run Windows or Mac software but not both concurrently; you have to reboot the computer to switch from one to the other.

Desktop 3.0 is the first major update since Parallels was launched a year ago. "This new version is an important milestone for us helping computer users get the best of all operating systems on a single, seamless desktop," said Nick Dobrovolskiy, CEO of Parallels, in a statement.

The retail price of Parallels Desktop 3.0 is $79.99 and there is a free, fully functional version you can test for 15 days. For current registered users, an upgrade is available online for $49.99.

Of particular note among the 50 new features in Desktop 3.0 is SmartSelect. With SmartSelect, users can use any OS X or Windows application to open any file type, regardless of whether that file is on the Mac or Windows desktop.

For example, if a user sets Word for Windows to be the default application to work with .doc, .rtf and .txt files, simply double clicking a file with that extension in either OS - even if it is an e-mail attachment in Apple Mail or Entourage - opens the file in Word for Windows. A user could also configure SmartSelect to open all hyperlinks clicked in either OS to open in a Mac Web browser, such as Safari or Camino.

On the security front, Parallels has added "Snapshots," a backup feature designed to instantly save the state of a virtual machine's memory, settings and hard disk, and revert back to that instant at any time. The idea is to let users make changes, try beta software or explore the Internet without risk of corrupting their virtual machine (VM). If a problem develops, you can use SnapShots to revert back to a VM snapshot with a single click, erasing all changes.

Desktop 3.0 also includes "Hardware-Accelerated 3D Graphics." This support for OpenGL and DirectX is designed to bring Windows' vast library of 3D-intensive applications to the Mac. While still in the Mac desktop, Parallels said users can play popular Windows-only 3D games such as Quake, Half-Life 2, and World of Warcraft, as well as work with complex Windows-only 3D CAD programs.

VMware includes several improvements in its VMware Fusion version 4. Heading the list is Unity, which lets users run Windows XP applications alongside Mac apps and switch between any open application with command-tab or Expose. No need for the Windows Start menu. Favorite Windows apps can also be saved to the Mac OS X Dock. You can see the product in action in a flashy YouTube demo here.

Senior product manager Pat Lee said the new beta also features improved performance. Virtual machines boot faster and applications launch faster from virtual hard disks. Interactive performance is also improved over previous betas.

"The great thing is there's no setup required, just select and run," Lee told internetnews.com. "We've designed this from the ground up for Mac users."