Best of Both Worlds: OS X and Windows

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Tweaking settings

Out of the box, both Fusion and Parallels do a good job of creating virtual machines with usable default settings. But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve on them. Here are a few tweaks I recommend for most users.

To change settings in your Fusion virtual machine, first shut it down and then click on Settings in the toolbar. If you have an Intel Core Duo Mac, Fusion can take advantage of the dual CPUs to get better performance in processor-intensive programs. To enable dual-CPU support, go to the Processors section and click on 2 Virtual Processors. Fusion also supports accelerated 3-D graphics; enable it on the Displays tab. (Note that, for most Windows games, you’re really better off using Boot Camp.) Finally, if you’d like Fusion to allocate more processing power to your Mac or to your virtual machine, you can adjust that setting in the Performance section of Fusion’s Preferences.

Here's where you decide whether to give more of your Mac's resources to OS X or Windows in VMWare Fusion.

In Parallels, with your virtual machine shut down (not just suspended), select Edit: Virtual Machine to open the Configuration Editor. To give your Mac applications more power when your virtual machine is running, select the Options resource, click on the Advanced tab, click on the Mac OS X Applications button in the Optimize section, and then click on OK. If you’d rather reserve the best performance for your Windows programs, leave this option alone.

And here's how you do it in Parallels.
Here’s another good tweak: in the Video resource, click on the Enable DirectX Shaders button to turn on experimental accelerated graphics support. Once you’ve enabled this, you can run certain 3-D games and Windows applications within the virtual machine. (But again, for serious gaming, use Boot Camp.) For more help on these and other Parallels options, click on Help in the Configuration Editor window.

In Vista itself, switching to the Windows XP theme can improve performance (or at least make the OS less annoying). To do so, open the Control Panel, click on Appearance And Personalization, and then click on Change The Theme in the Personalization section. Select Windows Classic (or Windows Standard) from the pop-up menu, and then click on Apply. finally, back in the Control Panel, click on Use Classic Windows folders in the folder Options section of the Appearance And Personalization page.

Sharing data

Once you’ve tweaked the performance settings, you need to figure out where you want your Windows applications to put the files you create. You have three basic choices: you can store these files within the virtual machine itself, in a folder on your Mac that Windows can access as it would a network volume, or in a folder that your Mac and the virtual machine share.

The default is to keep the files within your virtual machine: if you do nothing, files saved from a Windows program’s Save menu will end up in your user folder on the virtual C: drive.

I prefer the third option—storing data from Windows programs in a shared folder that both operating systems can “see”—for two reasons. First, space on your virtual hard drive is probably more limited than space on your Mac’s hard drive. Second, if you save files to a folder outside the virtual machine, you can open them in your Mac applications. That means you could create documents in Office for Windows and then open them in Office for the Mac.

Setting up shared folders isn’t hard in either Parallels or Fusion. In Parallels, choose Devices: Shared folders: Add from within your virtual machine. A new window will appear where you can enter the name (as seen by Windows), the path, and a description. Fill in the information, click on OK, and, after a short delay, your shared folder will show up in the Network Drives section of Windows’ My Computer, with a mapped drive letter.

But don’t stop there. With your Parallels virtual machine shut down, open the Configuration Editor (Edit: Virtual Machine). Here you’ll see options for Shared folders, Shared Applications, and Shared Profile. Shared folders we’ve discussed. Shared Applications lets Windows programs appear in OS X’s Open With contextual menu; your Mac programs can also appear within Windows. Shared Profile lets Windows use your Mac’s Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders.

To set up shared folders in Fusion, click on the Settings button in the Toolbar, click on the plus-sign (+) button at the bottom of the window, and select Add Shared folder from the pop-up menu. In the new window that appears next, select Enabled and give the folder a name that will appear in Windows. Then click on the Path pop-up menu, select Choose, and locate the folder that you’d like to share in the Mac OS. Once you’ve found the folder, click on Open to dismiss the dialog box and then click on OK to add the folder.

To see your shared folders, click on the Network icon on the desktop and then navigate into the shared folder. If you’d like to make access even easier, map the network drive. If you’re running XP, you’ll find that option in Tools: Map Network Drive; in Vista, Map Network Drive is on the toolbar. Whichever one you use, click on the Browse button in the new window that appears and then drill down into the Network folder, and you’ll see the shared folder you just created. Click on it once, and then click on OK and then on finish. The shared folder should appear alongside your other folders when you browse your files.

There’s one big caveat to all of this: given the number of viruses and malware programs that exist for Windows, carefully consider how much of your Mac’s file structure you want to expose to Windows. I’ve chosen to leave most of Parallels’ sharing features disabled; I share only a couple of folders (one for data files, one for images) through the Shared folders feature. If you’re going to be running Windows regularly and surfing the Web, you should certainly enable Windows’ built-in malware-detection tool, and consider investing in antivirus software.

There’s actually a fourth way to share data between Windows and Mac OS, but it’s strictly for ad-hoc file sharing: simply drag the file or folder you would like to copy to the other operating system’s window. This leaves the source object in place. If you’re dragging to Mac OS, make sure that you drag it to your desktop or another finder window, rather than to an application window.

Unfortunately, you can’t drag and drop text to or from your virtual Windows session in Fusion or Parallels. You can, however, copy and paste text (though not other kinds of data) in both directions.

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