Here’s a fun GIS party trick: Run ArcGIS Explorer as an application inside Mac OS X. While you’re at it, run SkylineGlobe as well: (Click on the image to enlarge)
No, they didn’t just come out with Mac versions. Instead, Parallels came out with an update to its excellent Windows virtualization software for Mac. Two new features were added: The ability to run individual Windows applications just like any Mac application right in the OS X GUI, and the ability to use the Boot Camp partition with Parallels.
The first feature makes it look great, but what does the second feature mean? Apple already lets you boot into a separate partition on your Mac where you can run Window XP or Vista natively on the Intel Core Duo processor. Parallels, meanwhile, lets you create and run virtual disks with all kinds of Windows or Linux installs, and with virtually no speed penalty. With this latest update, Parallels now also lets you run your Boot Camp install from within Mac OS X, simultaneously. Before, you had to reboot if you wanted to use Boot Camp.
There is just one thing missing, still, in Parallels: 3D hardware acceleration. You do get full OpenGL and DirectX support in Boot Camp, so you can still reboot into it if you really want to access 3D functionality on your Mac, but that takes minutes. Parallels promises to add 3D hardware acceleration support in the coming months, but until then, here’s a rundown of compatibility for the current set of virtual globes.
Mac OS X:
Google Earth: Yes
NASA World Wind: No, but Java version promised
Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D: No
SkylineGlobe: No, but Mac version is promised
ESRI ArcGIS Explorer: No
Windows via Parallels in Mac OS X:
Google Earth: Yes (no 3D acceleration)
NASA World Wind: No, only runs with 3D hardware support
Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D: No, only runs with 3D hardware support
SkylineGlobe: Yes (no 3D acceleration)
ESRI ArcGIS Explorer: Yes (no 3D acceleration)
Windows in BootCamp:
Google Earth: Yes
NASA World Wind: Yes
Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D: Yes
ESRI ArcGIS Explorer: Yes
So although NASA World Wind and Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D are currently not accessible via Parallels’ solution, this will change in a matter of months, either because the Java version of NASA World Wind has come out, or because Parallels adds 3D hardware support to their product.
None of this should mean that developers can stop developing for the Mac, of course. To use Parallels or Boot Camp with Windows, you need to own a copy of XP or Vista, and that’s not cheap.