A new Parallels Universe

Keith White
20 November, 2008
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My Windows needs have always been modest. In the olden days I used Virtual PC to test Macromedia Director files on Windows 95. Glacial and clunky, but morbidly fascinating having the enemy safely imprisoned inside my Mac.

When I bought my first Intel iMac I was advised to use Parallels Desktop instead of Boot Camp, which I did. It took me a while to set it all up but soon I was able to run those interesting little Windows-only programs and avoid previous bouts of impotent fury.

I’d been happily using Parallels version 2 for quite a while until it started causing kernel panics and asking me to do some stuff that did my head in. Being a bit techno averse and not really depending on Windows usage for my living I simply stopped using it. And then last week, Parallels 4 was released at a special changeup price of US$39.99 — too good an opportunity to miss, so I downloaded the upgrade and bought myself a license key.

Installation was far easier than what I remembered from the first effort. The hardest part was finding where I’d stashed my Windows XP system disk, and then finding the exquisitely camouflaged product key on the cover. When I popped the XP disk into my Mac, Parallels installer recognised it immediately, asked for the product key and whizzed through the installation in a couple of minutes. Nice. Windows activation was also a breeze once I’d accepted how poorly designed Windows dialog boxes are.

Booting up Windows from a shortcut which had appeared on my Mac desktop seemed way quicker than my memories of the previous version of Parallels. In fact, my stopwatch showed around 30 seconds from double-clicking the shortcut to hearing the Windows power chord. The creators of Parallels claim a 50% speed bump from version 3. As I jumped from version 2 to version 4, I can’t test that but it certainly moves fast.

And wow! There are all my Mac folders sitting on the Windows desktop, unlike the old days where I had to go through a more convoluted process to set up a shared folder. I now have the option of viewing Windows full-screen, or in a window like any other Mac program and accessible through Exposé.

The people at Parallels also claim a much smoother experience switching between Windows and Mac environments. Let’s try. There’s a PDF file sitting on my Windows desktop. Double click and I’m told I don’t have a program to open it. I’m then offered a list of possibilities, which now includes Mac programs. I select Preview and it opens very briskly in its own window. Pretty good for starters.

Next feature, the Snapshot option, the Windows version of Time Machine. Accomplished in seconds.

Other features of version 4.0 which I haven’t needed or been able to test yet are more intelligent use of resources, particularly in 3-D graphic capabilities for gaming, which is now claimed to be narrowing the gap between Mac and Windows in this field. For portable users, energy consumption has been a reduced through a new virtual engine which requires between 15 and 30 per cent less resources. People who need to use Windows a lot more than I do would certainly be able to use more of the 50 new features touted for this version.

There are two additional tools that come with Parallels Desktop 4.0.

Image Tool allows you to increase the capacity of your virtual hard disks, configure the virtual hard disk format and properties, merge the snapshots of your virtual machines, and reduce the size of your virtual hard disks.

Transporter allows you to migrate your physical and virtual systems to Parallels virtual machines and disk drives.

It’s early days I know, but I’m impressed with the improvements in speed and ease-of-use. Only this week I was able to give Intelliscore, a Windows-only WAV to MIDI converter, a thorough workout. Interestingly the system requirements included “Works on a Macintosh in conjunction with Boot Camp, Parallels, VirtualPC, or Fusion.”

Virtualisation software like this shreds the last feeble argument there is for not having a Mac.

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