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Issue 5.6


Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac

Issue: 5.6 (September/October 2007)
Author: Dave Mancuso
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 7,029
Starting Page Number: 10
Article Number: 5606
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Full text of article...

At work, I have a Macintosh machine and a Windows machine. I use both daily. It gets to be a pain though, since one machine has most of my documents and the other is used for special apps. I couldn't wait for a product like Parallels to come along and release the true potential of my Mac laptop to run Windows applications. I've used Virtual PC, but its performance made it of limited use to me. Everything on one box is a holy grail for me.

When Parallels first came out for the Macintosh Intel platform, I bought a copy right away. It's been a lifesaver. Frankly though, it needed some improvement. The company has been very responsive with updates, but I knew that eventually there would be a version upgrade. When the latest 3.0 version of Parallels shipped, I had to make a decision. Was it worth the upgrade price, or was the current version good enough for me? I bought a license, and began to test the product.

Parallels 3.0 upgraded my 2.x installation without a hitch. It was pretty painless. My organization bought a number of licenses, and my new installs of the software on user machines went very quickly as well. I really like the way Parallels easily steps you through the process. You're helped but not hindered (or talked down to) by the Parallels installation procedure. Both upgrades and fresh installs are done with no muss and no fuss.

After the Parallels installation, you need to install your operating system. You can install multiple operating system platforms; Parallels calls them virtual machines (VMs for short). I usually have several virtual machines on my Mac, including my recently deleted Vista beta. Parallels walks you through creating each VM, leaving you with an empty virtual "hard drive" file for your OS installation. Each VM installation resides in my documents folder (in the aptly named Parallels folder) and takes about six gigabytes of space to start. It's a good idea to set an "expanding" virtual hard disk in your VM. It starts at a small size and can expand to the size you set in your preferences. In my experience, expect this virtual disk to grow fairly rapidly as you use it, so make sure you have enough free space on your Macintosh hard drive for your various virtual machines.

After the quick virtual machine creation in Parallels, installing your OS is painfully slow. Ubuntu didn't take me very long, but XP takes up to an hour. It's about the same time as it takes to install XP on a real PC, but Parallels can spoil you in comparison to your OS installation. Vista is much the same way. It would be nice if Parallels could be bought with pre-built OS virtual machines. It could save a lot of time, especially for large deployments.

Most of my Parallels configurations have been with the application's default virtual machines, but Parallels can also use a Boot Camp partition for running your OS. This can be the best of all possible worlds. Parallels can run the Boot Camp partition in your Mac OS session without rebooting, which is very convenient. When you want ultimate performance, however, you can reboot into Boot Camp and leave the Mac OS behind. In my experience, the main advantage is Boot Camp's exclusive access to all system RAM, while Parallels must contend with the Mac OS for RAM allocation. Boot Camp sees some other hardware acceleration from having exclusive access to your Mac as well.

However, beware: when you're installing say, Vista from scratch, make sure that you have the single DVD version of your media. Boot Camp on first installation has no way to eject an install CD. You have no way to get the second Vista CD into the Mac. This is a Boot Camp problem, not a Parallels issue, but it can certainly affect your Parallels/Boot Camp aspirations. You could install XP and then upgrade to Vista, but only if you have 32 gigabytes free on your Boot Camp partition for the Vista upgrade. Similar issues affect a Parallels virtual hard disk upgrade from XP to Vista.

My Ubuntu installations suffered no such issues. In the previous version of Parallels you needed to specify Solaris in your VM Linux creation for best results. There's now an option for Ubuntu, which is nice. I've used a number of Linux distros, but Ubuntu is my current favorite, and it's great that Parallels has recognized this very popular distribution.

General performance of this new version of Parallels seems smoother and snappier, but I've been lucky enough to get a new MacBook Pro recently, and the hardware may be the real reason for increased speed. Regardless, Parallels needs RAM to run well, and anything under 2 gigabytes or RAM is generally inadequate. The overall OS slowdown becomes frustrating.

In your Windows virtual machine, Parallels installs drivers for better PC operation and smoother Macintosh integration. The drivers are installed on the first startup of the virtual machine OS, and sometimes don't install fully. Generally, if I'm unsure that the Parallels Tools installed correctly, I just reinstall them (it's under the Actions menu). This seems to fix any issues.

Reliability seems to be rock solid with Parallels. I've never had hard disk or virtual machine corruption on any of my installations, and I've migrated Parallels on my own Macs to several successive hard drives and laptops. It just seems to work, and work well.

Certainly, once you're up and running with Parallels, you'll want to compile RB apps for your virtual machine platforms and test them. The remote debugger stub seems to work well for both platforms, although you should set your virtual machine network settings to "Bridged Ethernet" to give your Parallels VM its own IP address for the stub. Otherwise, the virtual machine will invisible to REALbasic when using the stub.

Overall, I'd have to say the Parallels is a lifesaver for anyone developing for (or just working in) both platforms. The company has really listened to users, and it shows. Parallels is a real winner.

End of article.