Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My New Schizophrenic iMac

Well... maybe it would be more appropriate to call it a Mac with multiple personalities rather than schizophrenia. Anyhow, I recently bought a new iMac. For those of you not familiar with an iMac, it looks like a flat screen LCD monitor with a keyboard and mouse attached. There's no computer box visible. The computer is inside the monitor. Here's a link to a bunch of pictures of one on the Apple web site.

One of the reasons for getting a new Mac was consolidation. The new Macs use Intel processors. Without going into the technical details too much, I'll just say you can think of an Intel processor as the same "brain" as is inside a regular PC that runs Microsoft Windows. Why is this important? Well, with special software, this now allows you to easily run Windows software on a Mac, while simultaneously running your Mac software . So, I can ditch the big clunky Windows PC under my desk and have my Mac pretend it is also a Windows PC. Here's a screen snapshot of my Mac desktop:

Sorry the image is a bit small (you can click on it for a slightly larger view). If you squint, you should be able to make out the normal Mac menu bar on the top of the screen (note the Apple logo in the upper left corner) and if you look at the bottom of the screen, there is the normal Windows XP menu bar. Also, one of the main windows on my desktop shows Microsoft Visual Studio running (a Windows program). It has the normal Windows XP window controls even though it is floating inside a Mac desktop.

All of this is possible with a software product for the Mac called Parallels Desktop. It allows you to create "virtual machines" that run on the Mac. In this case, I created a Windows XP virtual machine. I should note I needed to have a valid copy of Windows XP to install. I was a little curious about how the performance would be. Surprisingly, it is quite fast. Running a virtual Windows XP session on my iMac via Parallels is actually significantly faster than running Windows XP on my two year old Dell Dimension which has a 2.4 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 processor. As an experiment, I was importing full resolution video using the Mac's iMovie program while simultaneously running software in the virtual Windows XP machine. Both programs responded smoothly - the video displayed flawlessly at the full framerate even while the Windows XP software was being used.

I had been looking to upgrade my Windows PC for a while now. It was running some of my newer software development software a bit slowly. Also, my Mac laptop was quickly running out of disk space with all the photos I've been taking lately (I've accumulated over 12,000 photos in the past few years - yikes!). So, getting a new Mac made some sense. Yes, I could have lived without it, but it does make things much easier. I can still use my Mac laptop for when I need to be mobile, but I can offload the bulk of photos and other heavy processing work to my new machine. I free up a lot of desk space by eliminating a PC - the iMac takes up a lot less space since it just has the footprint of the monitor - and my development work under Windows will now be faster. Plus, I won't have to keep switching between machines when I need to use a Windows program vs. a Mac program.

Granted, if I had never switched to a Mac in the first place I never would have had a consolidation issue, but having used the Mac for almost a year now, I can definitely say I find the whole Mac computer experience significantly better than what I was used to on a Windows PC. I suppose the point of all this is, if you prefer the usability of a Mac, but have some Windows software you must still run, the new line of Macs have an answer.