This guest blog post was written by Jim Gritton, co-founder of GB Learning Consultancy, a specialist leadership development consultancy in the south-east of England. Jim is passionate about the application of technology to learning and is currently pursuing an MSc in e-Learning at the University of Edinburgh.
For some years now I’ve been a Mac devotee. I’ve never missed having Windows because all the key business applications that I need are available for the Mac — e.g., Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite. Some, like Keynote, Apple’s elegant answer to PowerPoint, will even import presentations from PowerPoint and export Keynote slideshows as PowerPoint files so that others can view and edit them.
All was well in my Apple Mac world until my business partner and I decided to broaden our portfolio of services to include rapid e-learning. From a business point of view, e-learning seemed like a natural progression for us, as much of our work involves producing bespoke leadership development materials such as distance learning workbooks for our clients. So, I started a long and frustrating search for e-learning software to run on my Mac. Despite the Mac’s unarguable pedigree in the world of graphic design, there is a surprising dearth of user-friendly, e-learning software out there for practitioners using Macs.
On my online travels I’d been reading rave reviews about Articulate Rapid e-Learning Studio and wanted to give it a try, but it meant either borrowing or buying a PC with Windows. As a solution, this seemed like using a hammer to crack a proverbial nut. There were, of course, alternative options like Microsoft’s Virtual PC for the Mac (quickly discounted because of its sloth-like performance) or Apple’s Boot Camp Public Beta, which lets you install and run Windows natively on an Intel-based Mac. However, it means booting directly into Windows, during which time the Mac operating system isn’t accessible. If you want to use Mac OS X, you’ve got no choice but to reboot.
And then along came Parallels Desktop for Mac, followed by CrossOver Mac and now VMware Fusion. Both Parallels and Fusion are Windows emulators: they use virtualization technology to allow you to run Windows as a virtual machine alongside the Mac operating system, as you can see from the screenshot below:
CrossOver Mac adopts a different approach and builds on the open-source implementation of the Windows API, Wine, that makes it possible for computers running Unix-based operating systems (like Mac OS X and Linux) to run Windows applications “natively.”
As a business we opted for Parallels — not because we thought it was better, but because it was available when we needed it. It’s also great value at just $79.99 and much cheaper than buying a new PC!
Now, before I start talking about getting started with Parallels, you’ll need a licensed copy of Windows as Parallels does not come bundled with any operating systems pre-installed. However, it supports more operating systems than you could possibly imagine, including all the versions of Windows supported by Articulate. You’ll also need an Intel-based Mac (Parallels will not work on a PowerPC) running OS X Tiger 10.4 or higher, a minimum of 512 MB RAM, 70 MB of hard drive space for installation of Parallels Desktop, plus sufficient space for the virtual machine you plan to install. More detailed system requirements can be found here.
Installation is pretty straightforward. Basically, it’s a case of opening the disk image (assuming you downloaded Parallels), double-clicking the Install Parallels Desktop icon and following the installation instructions, which will be familiar to most Mac users.
When the installation is complete, the Finder should open the Parallels folder automatically for you. Double-click the Parallels Desktop icon to activate your copy of the software (more in a moment). When the OS Installation Assistant appears, click New to create a new virtual machine. If you’re planning to install either Windows XP or Vista, the Windows Express installation mode is recommended.
Follow the onscreen instructions and insert your Windows installation CD or DVD when prompted. When Windows has been installed, the OS Installation Assistant should finally install Parallels Tools in your new virtual machine. You’re now ready to start installing your favourite Windows applications just as you would on a conventional PC.
Launching Windows XP on the Mac is as simple as clicking on the Parallels Desktop icon in the Dock. You can also create shortcuts in the Dock so that when you click on, say, Quizmaker, Parallels will launch Windows and then Quizmaker automatically. A nice, user-friendly touch!
If you’re wondering about my set-up, I’m currently running Parallels Desktop with Windows XP on a 20-inch, all-in-one iMac, sporting a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo Processor, 1 GB memory and a 240 GB hard disk. This isn’t the fastest or most powerful Mac on the block, but it isn’t the slowest, either. I’m not going to pretend that running Windows applications using Parallels is as fast as running Mac applications natively on my iMac, but it’s no slouch. Nor has it let me down. Installing Articulate Presenter, Quizmaker and Engage was a breeze and I’ve been using all three, without problem, for about nine months now to create some great interactive presentations.
What I usually do is create my skeleton presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint for Mac (or Keynote if I want a snazzier look), and then drag the file from the desktop of my Mac into Windows XP running in Parallels on the same machine. In many respects I guess I have the best of both worlds with this set-up, but I would still prefer to run a native Mac version of Articulate software if I had the chance.
For those of you who’re still not sure about whether to take the plunge, you can download a fully functional copy of Parallels Desktop for Mac from here and give it a whirl. However, in order to activate the software, you must first obtain a free 15-day trial activation key. Better still, you can also download trial versions of Articulate Presenter, Quizmaker and Engage and give them a test drive alongside Parallels Desktop. If you’re a Mac user looking for e-learning software, you won’t be disappointed!