Running Visio in Parallels Desktop for Mac

by Todd Ogasawara

Visio 2007 running in Parallels Coherence modeReader J.H. asks: When you use Visio on the Parallels Desktop, is operation of Visio as good, smooth and fast as using it on Windows XP? I tried Visio once on Virtual PC and found it unsatisfactory. Visio is the main reason my office
is not a Mac office.

J.H., out of courtesy, asked for a simple yes/no answer. Unforunately, I wanted to provide a bit more detail :-).

Virtual PC for the Mac was slow for a couple of reasons. First, it is an emulation solution. It actually had to emulate an Intel CPU to run the Windows code and application code installed on top of it. Second, it is pretty clear that the PowerPC G4/G5 processors were definitely slower than the Core Duo and Core 2 Duo commonly found in most Intel Macs out in the wild today.

Parallels has the advantage of being a true virtualization option that works directly on an x86 architecture. Moreover, the Core Duo and Core 2 Duo (and Xeon Woodcrest) have the Intel-VT virtualziation assistance built into the hardware. Basically, virtualized OSes including Windows XP and Linux fly on it an Intel Mac running Parallels Desktop for Mac.

The, BUT..., comes into play if you bought an Intel Mac early in the release cycle and didn't bump RAM up to 1GB or more. I would hesitate to run Windows as a Guest OS on a 512MB MacBook, for example. However, if you have 1GB or more of RAM, set Windows XP SP2 with at least 512MB RAM for its virtual machine and Visio and other apps seem to run pretty fast to me. Combine that with Parallels Coherence mode that lets you run Windows applications in what looks like its own window under Mac OS X, and the experience feels nearly seamless (Windows apps menus always are Windows-like vs. Mac-like, of course).

So, if you have at least 1GB RAM on a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo (not so sure about a Core Solo in the original low-end Intel Mac mini), you should be able to run Visio and other Windows applications comfortably using Parallels Desktop for Mac.


2007-01-30 01:55:20
CrossOver Office also runs some versions of Visio. Does anybody know how that compares to Visio insider Parallels? Is it stable/fast? It's much cheaper than a Windows license + Parallels.
2007-01-30 04:19:09
If you ever find yourself considering switching the office over to Macs, OmniGraffle is an excellent Mac native app that has the same functions of Visio. My Mac came bundled with a copy of Graffle, I upgraded to Pro to get the Visio import/export functions, and I run in a Windows dominated company without problem. I even managed to export all the Visio stencils my company uses and got them up in Graffle with minimum trouble.
2007-01-30 04:24:43
I second on OmniGraffle, definitely a really great App!

2007-01-30 05:09:36
Have you tried VMware? It's said to be faster.
2007-01-30 05:15:31
I totally agree with Stefan. OmniGraffle is great.
And it produces beautiful results - which I'm not sure is the case with Visio.
Ben Brophy
2007-01-30 07:31:13
I am on one of the two Macs in an office of 400 PCs, and the only one of 5 UI designers on a mac. SO I need to use Visio a lot. It's worked fine in Parallels for me (on a 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro with 1 GB of RAM). However I use OmniGraffle as much as possible, it is so much better for UI design. I import and export Visio XML from OmniGraffle with some success, but it's not flawless.
2007-01-30 07:49:16
I agree that OmniGraffle Pro is great. It isn't entirely compatible with Visio, but the ease of use and quality of output are higher with many of our people and we've gone from 15 XP and 2 OS X machines to 6 XP and 18 OS X machines in the past year.

Almost all of our work is internal and last year most of the computers in the company were replaced.

An interesting note is 18 months ago anyone who wanted OS X had to support it themself. Now anyone who wants Windows has to offer their own support.

Just part of being more productive.

Clark Goble
2007-01-30 08:11:15
Realistically 1 GB is insufficient typically as well. I have a 1.5 GB iMac and Parallels is still slow if you use anything that is memory heavy. (i.e. Visual Studio)

Also make sure you quit Safari before running Parallels as Safari has some memory leaks that make running Parallels much slower. Quitting Safari first seems to result in better performance.

2007-01-30 09:24:06
Odesssa software's ConceptDraw ( is a half price (or less) clone of Visio, and runs on both Windows and OS X. The company has been made by creating cross-platform versions of Microsoft applications. Conceptdraw also offers a service to convert Visio files as well. The products are robust, well engineered, and highly affordable alternatives to Microsoft apps, with excellent cross-platform compatibility.
Jamie Flournoy
2007-01-30 10:44:08
The amount of memory you use makes a *huge* difference to Parallels performance. With 512MB of physical RAM in my MacBook Pro, Parallels was basically unusable even with 32MB allocated to the virtualized PC. Going to 2GB (why not) made an immense difference; all of a sudden the Parallels PC was the fastest PC I had ever used. I also found that setting the PC memory lower than you might on a "main" PC gives good performance - 192MB in my case for long term use of an IDE. After all, you're not going to run 20 applications all day long on the PC side, nor is Parallels directly talking to the hard disk, so all that extra RAM would better be used on the Mac OS X side.
2007-01-30 10:54:43
Joining in on the pile-on recommending OmniGraffle. I can't say enough good things about this application. The way it provides intelligent guides when you drag objects around is just astounding and intuitive - you have to try it to understand how incredible it is. The people who put together OmniGraffle are obviously Mac people through and through, and they truly understand design. My wife is a professor and has been using OmniGraffle to do her genograms. Everyone in the department is constantly amazed at her work and have been clamoring to ditch all alternatives (including Visio!) and get their hands on OmniGraffle.

Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

2007-01-30 10:56:22
Another big shout out for OmniGraffle. I'll NEVER go back to VISIO--even a free copy.
I used to use Visio all the time, but it was always a fight to get it to lay things out and not cluster-bomb...In typical Microsloth fasion, Visio to OmniGraffle is like Powerpoint-draw to Adobe Illustrator. Omnigraffle just flows and makes beautiful charts with great layout assistance. To be fair, one can get totally lost in OmniGraffles tool tabs on a smaller screen--but they've worked to make them easily collapsable.

2007-01-30 15:34:49
I don't understand why the reader is interested in purchasing a Windows virtualization/emulation tool AND a Windows license AND a Microsoft Office license just to run Visio. Why not do away with that expense and use one of the Mac diagramming packages, which are generally better than Vision anyway?
2007-01-30 15:50:56
Actually the OmniGraffle people (OmniGroup) were originally NeXT people, not Mac people and I believe the software has its origins there...
Todd Ogasawara
2007-01-31 01:23:04
Responses to various comments... 1. Sure Parallels Guest OSes will run better with more RAM on the host machine. But, quite frankly, it also runs fine on a 1GB MacBook. Windows XP runs fine with even only 256MB RAM On a physical PC. And, it runs very nicely with 512MB RAM on a virtual machine. 2. Why use Visio? Well, if you are comfortable and skilled with any tool (physical or software), you tend to be productive. And, not having to worry about file formats when working with others is nice too. That said, thanks for the tip about OmniGraffle. It looks great. 3. CrossOver Office works with very specifc versions of Windows apps. When I asked about Office 2007 support, for example, I was told it was not planned at the time (Fall 2006). Running Windows XP in Parallels adds to cost but has nearly 100% application compatibility. 4. Yes, I have large servers running VMware ESX (their high end product). How should I put this? Lately, I've been using Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta-2 (what a mouthful!) for server virtualization work.
Jim Turley
2007-08-13 15:58:07
I bought Parallels in April 07 and did the recent update.

I think it stinks. Windows is unpredicable and the applications are unpredictable. It is a far cry from the seamless use of Mac or Windows that is advertised.

2007-09-12 08:16:06
Thanks for bringing some sanity to this thread, Turley. I have an Intel iMac G5 w/ 2GB RAM, and not only does the PC performance lack, but my Mac apps slow to a crawl when using it.
2007-11-27 15:00:14
I have a 2-some ghz MacBook Pro w/2 gigs ram and:

1. I use Parallels almost daily when I have to (e.g. IE and ActiveX stuffs or windows-only agent software).

2. Parallels is a dog running Win2k, and locks out your drives. With XP and running minimum number of apps -- it is okay. Not great, not bad, but okay. I run 6-15 apps + WinXP regularly.

3. VMWare has entered the game. Most of my EU colleagues are using it w/OSX & Intel Mac for their Windows stuff and say it's great -- even for using Visual Studio on OSX.

4. OmniGraffle isn't very compatible. It broke, in some cases massively, almost all my complex Visio stuff.

Not sure why folks prefer OmniGraffle and dis Visio though. I've been using visio for 8 or 10 years and it almost always works well for me.