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mac-pcIn the Windows vs. Mac war, we are at a crossroads. Apple is launching its Snow Leopard version of the Mac operating system on Friday at the low price of $29. Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system will launch in October with the primary aim of fixing the problems created by Windows Vista.

There has never been a better time to switch to the Mac. Parallels, which makes software so you can run Windows or Mac software on the same machine and use them at the same time, is jumping on the opportunity. Today, it is launching Parallels Desktop 4.0 Switch to Mac Edition software.

The goal is to extend a lifeline to frustrated PC users by making it dead simple to switch from Windows to the Mac OS X. It includes a universal serial bus (USB) cable that you connect between your older Windows computer and a new Mac. It automatically starts a utility that transfers all of the programs and important data from the old computer to the new one. It then allows you to run properly licensed Windows programs on the Mac.

Renton, Wash.-based Parallels has made its virtualization software for many years and it now has 700 employees. It launched the fourth edition of its Parallels Desktop product last year. It creates a software layer that allows a computer to run both Mac and Windows software programs at the same time.

This software is dangerous to Microsoft. With the new Mac OS priced at $29, Apple clearly is going after “switchers.” If there are enough switchers, then Microsoft may have to start worrying about competition from Apple again, if it hasn’t already been worried enough. Right now, about half of all Macs being sold are going to Windows users who have never owned a Mac before.

parallels-boxSerguei Beloussov, chief executive of Parallels, said in an interview that many people who want to switch have been intimidated in the past because they didn’t understand how to do it without losing data or throwing away investments in software. Beloussov said the company has addressed those concerns by including how-to videos as tutorials and simplifying the transfer tools.

In the past, virtualization software has run slowly as it translates programs from one environment to another. But Beloussov said that with today’s modern hardware, the slowdown is not perceptible. Parallels software can even run a variety of games, which are among the most demanding applications. You still can’t run some games with highly realistic 3-D graphics, such as Far Cry 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or Crysis.

The Parallels software also comes with two hours of tutorials that teach people how to use the Mac and help them understand the differences between the Mac and Windows. With Parallels, you can run Windows and Mac programs side-by-side. I think it’s cool that Parallels has stopped thinking like it was just a utility company and is now thinking of how to broaden the market for its software — and the Mac. The software costs $99.99.

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