Monday, 25 May 2009

Parallels 4

Last week, I help my brother configure his new Mac Book Pro. On this, we installed Parallels, so he can use Windows XP easily without rebooting from Mac; and sometimes when booted directly into Windows (mainly, for using legacy Windows Audio tools where he wanted minimum audio latency). The whole idea behind this is to help him transition to doing more work on Mac and less under Windows...

I was a bit worried about installing Parallels, having previously had real problems with it; but his installation went fine, and all seems to be working well. Actually, the performance is pretty impressive!

Things went wrong for me a while back when I had Parallels 2; using this, my Windows partition got corrupted pretty early on, so I gave up and moved to a BootCamp solution. I got the Parallels 3 upgrade when it came out, so that I could try to use my Boot Camp partition with Parallels; but this also corrupted Windows for some reason, leading to yet another re-installation and dumping of Parallels. Well, as my brothers installation of Parallels 4 had gone well, I decided to try yet again..!

I bought the upgrade from Parallels 3 to Parallels 4, and converted the BootCamp on my wife's Mac Book to use Parallels (figuring it best to try on her Mac, rather than my main development Mac!). This went well; so I took the plunge and converted my Boot Camp on my Mac Book Pro using a new (non-upgrade) Parallels 4; this also went well. Phew! :)

However... I then found that I'd installed Parallels for Boot Camp slightly wrong for my wife's machine, and had to track-down instructions on how to enable parallels for her when logged on as her (not just when logged-on as me!). The solution was a pain, and required me to change her account to be an admin account (something that is not documented in the instructions I followed...); but at least it all works now and she can do most of her work now in Mac OS!

You might wonder why I went through all this hassle. The primary reasons are that Mac OS is a lot faster to start-up, and the battery lasts longer in MacOS. I have to do a lot of development work in Mac OS and Windows; and it is a pain to have to reboot between the two; so if I can use Mac OS has my main base, and use Windows whenever I need to, then that saves me a lot of time week-by-week. In the case of my wife, she needs to use Windows for only one thing, which is some Internet Explorer magic to do access her office network. We have found that Open Office 3.1 now lets her open and edit all of her work-related documents, without the need for Microsoft Windows; and she can work the same way in both MacOS and Windows.

It seems that in the main, the tools that most people use most often are the web browser and office tools. We use Firefox for both Windows and Mac, and Open Office for both Windows and Mac; so the operating system is less relevant. This brings me back to secondary issues of speed of start-up and longer battery life; where the Mac wins.

I was also pretty impressed to find that even when booted into Mac OS, running Windows XP in the Parallels VM, I can use Visual Studio 2007 running Mixtikl in a Windows Mobile emulator, debugging real-time audio code without any audio break-up. That is partly because my Mac Book Pro is pretty fast, and also because Parallels 4 really does seem to offer great performance. I wonder when I'll next feel the need to boot-up via Boot Camp?

One more reason for using Windows XP under the Parallels VM, is that just last week I discovered the wonderful Spaces mode in Mac OS, which gives me a dead-easy to use Virtual Desktop. This works brilliantly for me, and has already transformed my development process. There is no build-in virtual windowing mode that I can see in Windows XP, which has long frustrated me... anyways, Spaces also works very well with an external monitor, and/or when using Windows via the Parallels VM. Great software!


Umcorps said...

Or you could have tried Virtual Box (

Pros - it's open source, great price (ie free), very resource efficient and seems to me to be quicker from launch to XP desktop than Parallels (v2!) is on my machines. Works with external hardware well, even recognises my USB controller keyboard.

Cons - you can't use the Boot Camp XP installation folder as your guest OS. You have to install guest OSs from within the Virtual Box environment which can be an irritation regarding XP authorisation etc if you already have a Boot Camp installation.

And did I mention that it's a good price? :-)

Pete Cole said...

Good advice! Yes, I thought about using Virtual Box; but really wanted to have the option of using Boot Camp as an alternative (without having to install two copies of Windows!). It is certainly a good price. :)

Just to re-state that using Spaces with Mac OS makes using a VM even easier - tremendous, that is such a great feature!

I wonder if Mac OS in future might contain Virtual Box, or an equivalent, built-in?