Some might go out and play Minigolf on their free weekends, I stay at home and fiddle around with some geo things on my new MacBook.
As result of this afternoon I got ESRI’s ArcGIS up and running on Mac OS X. Of course with a little help of a virtual Windows installation in the background.
What needs to be done?
Well, first I had to decide which virtualization software I want to use. Basically I had a closer look at Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop (aff link). Whereas Boot Camp doesn’t count as virtualization tool, it just enables booting and running Windows on any Intel Mac. That was mainly the reason why I didn’t go with Boot Camp. Every time you need Windows-only software you’ll have to restart your machine. In the case of ArcGIS I’m not planning to use it on a 10 hrs/day basis on the laptop, it’s just an “emergency” installation, to edit and modify some minor things on the way or to use it for presentation and demo purposes. So in the end I downloaded and installed Parallels Desktop.
There are of course some other tools available, like Virtual PC for instance, but after a quick research on some reviews I decided to focus on Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop for my purposes.
What about perfomance?
Actually I was positively surprised by ArcGIS’s performance in Parallels Desktop. I expected it to be sluggish and painfully slow, but it wasn’t at all. To complete basic tasks and do some map editing it’s quite ok and usable. The main limitations are RAM and video card. On Parallels Desktop you allocate a certain amount of RAM to your Windows installation, 512MB in my case. I think you can only allocate the half of your built-in RAM as maximum.
The video card is another major drawback: Windows sees a virtual graphic card with only 8MB of VRAM available. Not too much if you’re planning to do some 3D visualization (which I won’t). However, I’m wondering how ArcGIS Explorer (3D!) is performing under this conditions since there won’t be a Mac version.
A Windows installation enabled by Boot Camp accesses all of your RAM, makes use of your video card instead of emulating its own and the processor isn’t occupied with Mac OS X tasks while you are working in Windows. There are good chances that ArcGIS will act somewhat faster too.
No luck with GPS so far. The Garmin GPSmap 60C is recognized by Windows but not by MapSource. I wish Garmin would fix their USB issue and come up with some Mac support. It can’t be that hard, other devices seem to work just fine.
Along with Apple’s switch to Intel it’s now easier than ever before to use Windows-only applications (like most GIS and GPS software) on Mac OS X. There are various virtualization products available which deliver good Windows perfomances. Using Boot Camp even gives you the full perfomance of your machine, considering some missing hardware drivers (Boot Camp is still beta). Let’s see in August what comes with Mac OS 10.5 out of the pipe.