Friday, July 30, 2021

Parallels: Still More Windows on the Mac

On December first, Parallelsreleased a beta of the next update to their Parallels Desktop for Mac product, build 3036. Promised as a free update, this is not just a minor collection of bug fixes and a new feature or two. The listed updates for this version number almost twenty, and they run the gamut from “oh neat” to “WOW!”

The biggest “WOW” feature for me is Coherence, which allows you to run your VM in a near-seamless fashion. Instead of having all your applications running in a master VM window (i.e., the Windows Desktop), you now just have your application windows running alongside your Mac OS X application windows.

Need to compare Word 2004 and 2007 directly? No problem, just put the windows next to each other. Need to switch between Coherence and traditional modes? No problem, it’s a menu option.

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While this is not quite as seamless as say Crossover Mac from CodeWeavers, it’s pretty close. About all it’s missing is the ability to directly start applications and open documents without having to start a VM; also, you’ll need Windows to use Windows applications in Parallels. But, there are fewer compatibility issues.

I can tell you that Office 2007, XP and in fact every other application I would need to use run fine in Coherence mode. This build also feels a lot faster on my first generation MacBook Pro.

Booting the guest OS still puts a hit on your system, but once it’s up and running, it feels like it’s not beating my laptop as hard as the previous versions did. Parallels has done some nice work on their user interface, making it easier to start up and configure VMs. Easier to use and faster: not a bad combination.

There are some limitations, and it looks like Parallels is on track to fix some of them. For now, Coherence only works with Windows XP, not Vista or Linux. I’d be quite surprised if the Vista issue wasn’t fixed really soon, and I’d love to see Coherence work with Linux and other platforms. If they can get that going, then Parallels is going to have even more of a monster on their hands.

Boot Camp Updates

For those Mac users using Boot Camp, there are two important updates.

First, you can now use Parallels with your Boot Camp partition. This has been a major feature request of Parallels users, and the initial support is in this build. It’s currently XP-only, no Vista, but Parallels has said they’re working on getting Vista to work, too.

You do have to boot into XP to do the initial setup before Parallels can use your Boot Camp partition, but this isn’t a major process. This is handy for people who use Parallels and Boot Camp, but want to be able to access their Boot Camp setup without rebooting. The problem with this feature is Windows Activation, since when you’re running under Parallels, you’re running XP on different “hardware” than when you’re booted into XP via Boot Camp. So you end up having to deal with dueling activations.

However, since the only real purpose of Boot Camp for me is games, I’m not going to use this feature as much as I might use an associated feature, which is that Parallels gives me read-write access to my Boot Camp data. This read-write access is more useful to me, as I get better access to my data, but without having to deal with activation issues.

Next page: Mac OS X in a VMWare Shop

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For those using Parallels on Mac OS X in a VMWare shop, Parallels has released the first beta of their Transporter product. This allows you to use VMWare and Windows Virtual PC images for use in Parallels. Not a critical feature for all users, but if you already have the VMWare images and the licenses, it’s convenient.

I find that there are a lot of “little” improvements to Parallels, too, like how changing my optical drive source from the physical drive to a disk image file is much easier in this beta than in earlier versions. And as the release notes say, support for different screen resolutions is greatly enhanced.

Overall, even outside of the major new features introduced, this is a solid upgrade and shows the Parallels team’s commitment to making their product not just slightly better, but a lot better with every release. They’re definitely raising the bar for VMware, whenever VMware for Mac OS X comes out.

If Parallels can put out a version that’s suitable for Mac OS X Server to host multiple simultaneous VMs on the new Intel Xserve, that would not suck at all. For all its beta status, and the warnings that beta carries, I’ve found this build of Parallels to be stable enough for my daily work, so while I normally don’t recommend betas, in this case, the stability and the huge new feature set of this build make it well worth the risk.

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