Macs for the Rest of Us

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Word of Apple's record earnings got me thinking again about switching to a Macintosh. Like most employees, I live in a Windows-dominated world. Most of my employer's software runs on Windows, and even though I don't usually work at the office, it's easier to work alongside if I also run Windows.

But Macs are more fun, more secure, and more stable. And adding to the tug is a whirlwind of activity around something called "virtualization," which is a techie word for running a PC within a PC. Using a program like Parallels ($80), Mac owners can run full-blown Windows within their Mac system and have most, if not all, of the benefits of both worlds.

That's something Macs have been able to do for years. I remember that when I first loaded a virtual Microsoft world into my wife's Macintosh, she found it troubling–as if, she said, I was messing with her machine's identity, its very soul. She needn't have worried; the Microsoft software ran slowly and was buggy. But for geeky reasons involving the chips at Mac's core, Windows can now run much better within the Mac system.

I already do the PC-within-a-PC trick on my machine using software from Vmware[] (as in "virtual-machine ware"). It allows me to run several versions of Windows at the same time (don't ask; tech writers have their needs). It works pretty well and will only get better as PC makers embrace the idea of virtual machines–chips are coming that are designed to handle several at a time.

Most of Apple's recent success has come from its iPods. But the company reported that it sold nearly a third more Macs this past quarter than it did a year earlier. Maybe tools like Parallels are part of the reason, as we Windows-locked users get a little more chain to roam.

Bottom line: Which one your base machine is won't matter as much anymore. Software will run well just about everywhere. Apple will still be able to make computers that are different, but it perhaps won't be so locked into a niche or into preserving its soul.