The Mac web has covered Parallels ad nauseum. I think we’re agreed on that. Yet I’m here today to give my thoughts on how this program functions in a business setting. The back story is that I’m a Cisco Network guy. I do a lot of […]

The Mac web has covered Parallels ad nauseum. I think we’re agreed on that. Yet I’m here today to give my thoughts on how this program functions in a business setting.

The back story is that I’m a Cisco Network guy. I do a lot of stuff that requires the IE 6 browser while other functions are via a serial connection for configuring hardware. The latter making it not the simplest of requirements. On a typical day in the office, I can usually be fount toting both my MacBook and my Dell Latitude with me. It’s a pain.

While I love that I have the option to run Windows natively through BootCamp, I wasn’t about to be slowed-down by reboots whenever the need for the other operating system arose. So Parallels was very attractive to me as far as being able to run within OS X. This is my experience during this experiment.

The first stumbling block was sort of my own making. I didn’t feel like shelling out the crazy cost of an XP license, so I grabbed the freely available Vista Beta. Obviously there are going to be issues with Vista being so new, and in beta status that not everything is going to roll just right, but let’s power through.

So just plain running Windows Vista under Parallels was pretty decent. My MacBook has the original Core Duo 2Ghz chip with 2Gb of RAM. My internal HD isn’t full, but enough-so that I didn’t want the virtual disk stored internally. So I installed the Vista VM on a USB-connected SATA HD. All these specs and Vista’s demanding status, and things still ran very smoothly on the MacBook. (But of course, the fan was a mainstay all the while.)

Just on the running of the two Operating Systems at once: The CPU was loaded enough with both that I wouldn’t consider it viable for use – on a MacBook at least – in daily work circumstances. Clearly a Mac Pro, or even a MacBook Pro would likely be better suited for this situation.

As a Network Engineer, I have need for various Windows-only network tools. (While Apple provides some nice offerings in the Utilities folder, there are standard apps on the Windows side that all my fellow engineers use religiously. So with the help of Parallels tools for Windows, I tried running these. The translation of networking information through Parallels seemed fairly seemless, although there was an occasional hiccup. Whether this was due to using the programs on Vista, or Parallels, I can’t be certain.

The majority of my work however falls in the terminal window and with all the IP Telephony work, Internet Explorer 6 comes largely into play. I’ve got an old USB/Serial dongle that works on the OS X side of things, but it had trouble working through Parallels at the time of my testing. And Vista struck again by defaulting to IE 7, which causes problems in some of the Cisco web interfaces. So while IE 7 was somewhat useful, I can’t give it a full passing grade.

That was about the extent of my experience. I actually struck a pretty decent balance between what I could do on OS X and what I needed to do under Windows via Parallels. But it definitely wasn’t flawless. I’d likely have had a slightly better result had I shelled-out for Windows XP, but it wasn’t in the budget at the time. So while I’d say Parallels gives Macintosh computers a giant leap forward in their ability to become the one-and-only in office settings, it’s not there quite yet.

If you’re the big gaming type, you probably don’t want to give up the PC just yet. Or rather, don’t hang your hopes on Parallels at this point in time. Fellow TAB author, Jason Terhorst observed, “after going through the whole install process that the “device drivers” that Parallels includes will not do 3D rendering of any type. So games are out.”

Of course with the latest beta release of Parallels, you can use a Boot Camp partition via Parallels. Jason surmised at the time he wrote me with his experience, that this may be a decent solution to some of these problems. This recent beta release hasn’t been given a proper shot by either of us yet, but it sounds promising.

As for outside the office, Parallels is just a great tool. Family members have been known to send my boys computer games, and they usually end up as PC only. With Parallels, I don’t have to tell them it won’t work on the computer. So that’s a nice bonus. And as any designer will tell you, being able to see how things look on the IE side of the house is a necessary evil, so not having to reboot or switch to another computer for that is nice. Though the hit on the CPU when Parallels is running – on MY machine – is just enough that I try not to leave it running too often, and then have to wait for it to boot Windows up when I need it. It’s clearly still a trade off.

The Apple Blog author, David Appleyard mentions, “Parallels tools make a huge difference to the XP environment, improving mouse movement and not requiring you to click, and release the mouse to use the different operating system.” Not to mention that they aid the user in networking issues that would otherwise be a huge hassle.

David’s experience with the network side of things withing Parallels was a positive one, as it was for me: “Networking seems to work well, although at university my MAC address is tied to my connection, meaning that (as Parallels fakes a MAC address) it doesn’t connect properly. Whilst I can spoof my Mac’s MAC address in Parallels, it is still a case of either my XP or Tiger install having access, one or the other at a time.”

On the other hand, Jason wasn’t quite as pleased with the networking – “It worked, yet it didn’t work… The first computer I tried was a MacBook, and I was surfing the web on Firefox shortly after Windows was installed. Then, I decided… hey, let’s download all of the service packs so that we can download and try IE7!” Turned out to be a huge mistake as the updates he downloaded and installed completely hosed his Windows install within Parallels, rendering it useless on the topic of network connectivity.

It’s probably safe to say, that while Parallels offers a terrific range of options to users of Intel Mac computers, there’s still some things that need to be done before it’s a definite solution. If you’re running an Intel Mac and haven’t taken the leap yet, definitely give Parallels a go. It likely won’t be the end-all be-all for your workplace needs at this point, but it’ll sure get you close.

Thanks go to David and Jason for their added insights for this write-up.

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  1. I think it’s a terrific product but I will wait for VMware and see how they tackle the p^roblem.

    I also believe people expect a little too much from these azpps, probably due to over marketing hype. I would use it to test browser compatibility but as far as gaming, it would probably be best to get a semi-good PC.

  2. not adding anything substantial here, but one note – Parallels needs to make it MUCH more obvious that you should install Parallels Tools after Windows installation. It needs a popup or something the first time you run Windows that gives you the option to start the Tools install, instead of forcing the user to find it in the menus. Or every time the user starts Windows and the Tools aren’t installed, they should get a pop-up reminder with a button to directly install it (with the standard “ignore this” if they don’t want to install for some reason).

  3. Mike Peter Reed Friday, December 8, 2006

    Sounds like you should ditch the web browser GUI and use telnet, ssh and nmap. A Cisco guy using a browser GUI, LMFAO!!!!

  4. Nick Santilli Friday, December 8, 2006

    Hey Mike, know much about Cisco Call Manager, or Unity, or IPCC? They’re all servers that run the VOIP services (phones, voicemail, call centers respectively, in case you didn’t know…). These Windows based systems are all web-services, thus their interfaces are mostly web-based.

    The majority of the hardware (routers, switches, etc) are all still command line and all that good stuff. So rest easy there Mike, I know how to do my job.

  5. Nick Santilli Friday, December 8, 2006

    Aaaaaannd, back on topic.

    Joe – You’re right on that. The Tools are absolutely necessary for things to work correctly. I did have to dig for a moment to find them when I finally had Windows successfully installed. It wasn’t hard to find, but sure would’ve been nicer if I’d continually been prompted until I complied. But I guess some would get easily annoyed by that if they DIDN’T want to use that. Maybe there should be a switch in the preferences that defaults to ‘bug me’, and can be switched off.

  6. I run parallels on a macbook core duo 2 gig ram using the interanl drive with Win XP and the fans never kick on while running osx and xp and suretrak prj manager in xp, safari, mail, and some others always loaded in xp. Wouldn’t even know I was in a virtual machine. Vista or the external drive musty be taxing your processors for the fans to be running.

  7. Nick Santilli Friday, December 8, 2006

    r.b. – probably a very true statement. Maybe Ill try to free enough space so that I can try an internal virtual disk install… or maybe a boot camp now that the new beta supports it. that’s just a lot more drastic that I wanna get at this point.

    Course it could be a factor of Vista Ultimate’s crazy resource requirements also. There’s a lot of [fairly useless] eye candy in there…

  8. Cisco person here too and most of what I do is command line config work. I get away with most of what I need using Zterm terminal app and a USB to serial adapter by keyspan. Once you have it config’d it’s nice not having to carry around 2 laptops anymore.
    I understand about the IE6 being needed for Call Manager and such. I don’t know if you have a copy of Win2000 available. I run that inside of Parallels and it fits all my needs. It doesn’t kill the CPU as it’s not as intensive as XP or Vista.
    The reaction I get when I’m on-site and someone sees me with my 17″ Macbook Pro, jacked into a Cisco switch. It’s kinda funny.

  9. Nick Santilli Friday, December 8, 2006

    brett – you’re the man! nice to hear someone’s doing it in the wild, beyond the little bit of testing I’ve put it through. I may have to see if I’ve got an old 2k disc laying around.

    I’ve been in a few meetings with Cisco folks and have been interested to see them sporting 12″ PowerBooks and similar Apple gear. Kinda cool.

    Thanks for the tip, and glad to hear it’s actually doable!

  10. I need help from Cisco people!

    I need to tunnel into a Windows XP PC from a Macbook, can I use Apple Remote Desktop to do this?

    I have to go through a cisco box to get in, right now I’m using a Windows laptop to tunnel in to the Windows desktop. I have a set IP address with login and password for the VNC thing but, when I go to Network info or whatever in XP it gives me a different IP address then the one I’m suppose to use for the VNC(?). On the Windows laptop theres an icon on the desktop and when I click it a box comes up and I press connect and it tunnels right into the desktop. I need to know how I can set the VNC thing up to get into the desktop PC from a MacBook using Apple Remote Desktop, I just dont know what IP addresses and/or logins I use/hoops I need to jump through to get through the Cisco box…. I’m guessing the two different IP addresses have something to do with having a Cisco box.


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