Parallels in a Work Environment

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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 SETUP
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.

AT WORK
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.

AT PLAY
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.

AT HOME
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.

VERDICT
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.

27 Comments

Eric

Chester, you were pretty much on the money. I wasn’t able to make CTC work with Safari, but I changed the JRE like you suggested, downloaded Firefox, and CTC ran like a CHAMP!!!

Have started buying Mac’s for our company now, starting with some of our NOC positions.

Of course, the week after I did this, Cisco started shipping all new nodes with Rel 8.0, which won’t run well on either a PC or a MAC. I don’t know what they did differently with Rel 8.0 but it’s obviously a dramatic shift. On the Macs, have tried changing the JRE back to 5.0, using Safari and Firefox, but no luck.

I don’t care…the Macs are phenomenal. It’s AWESOME not to have to reboot several times a day, which would inevitably be in the middle of working on some kind of critical traffic.

Chester Rieman

CTC will work natively with safari:

Go to /Applications/Utilities/Java/J2SE 5.0/Java Preferences and change the JRE from 5.0 to 1.4.2, then relaunch safari.

Eric

I bought an iMac for my wife, but have been looking at whether it’s realistic for us to progressively shift to Macs at work. I work for a telecom service provider and use Cisco Transport Controller (CTC) at work on a daily basis for managing SONET nodes. On most days, CTC is slow and cumbersome on most days on a PC platform, whether I’m using IE or Firefox to launch. In theory, CTC should run like a champ on an iMac due to the Unix core and the native use of Java. However every time I’ve tried to start it up on an iMac, it gives me a fail to load error as follows: Fatal Error: The classpath is incorrect and CTC cannot relaunch itself to correct the problem. I am not a software developer by any means, merely a humble user, and through minor research understand that classpaths are apparently one of the most challenging things for Java users to configure. Should I be using Paralllels with Windows XP to try and launch CTC launcher from there? Or is there a way I can launch CTC natively within Mac OS X? The Cisco support website says nothing about OS X with CTC, but other Cisco apps like Cisco VPN run great over OS X. Several of the other open source applications we use for work like Cacti run probably close to 10 times faster over this iMac.

Andy

How odd. I think you are me. I’m a system admin who runs around with a Macbook (black, 2 gig of ram) and a Dell latitude. I have to admit that since I got parallels I haven’t touched it. wonderful.

weldon

Is it possible to run networking apps in promiscuous mode under Parallels so you can use packet analysis and intrusion detection tools?

jtw

I’ve been using Parallels at work now for XP on my Quadcore 3Ghz Xeon. Has worked beautifully. Installed Vista without a hitch just for the fun of it. Hoping to install and play around with Linux in the near future.

Strongly recommended!

Fred

You’re first mistake was installing a beta version of Vista. Don’t use Vista, period. Vista will make your life hell, especially in a virtual environment. XP works with everything out there NOW, and you won’t have to deal with crap like IE7.

I use XP under parallels to access our company’s ERP system and file server. I’m able to switch back and forth with zero lag, including switching between windowed and full screen mode. I have all the service packs installed but I don’t use IE7. On the rare occasion that I do surf the web on XP I use Firefox. Mostly I use OS X to surf the web. That way I don’t have to deal with all the spyware crap. Parallels makes my work life wonderful. My XP apps run faster now than they did with my brand new Dell.

I use a MacBook 2GHz Core Duo with 2GB of RAM.

Seriously, why in the world would you want to use Vista? I know it looks pretty compared to XP, but that’s why you’ve got Mac OS X. It’s the real thing.

Mr K

I just started a new job where I needed both Mac and Windows – like you I decided to test with a Vista Beta I had lying around (pre-RC1).
So far I’m happy, Vista runs well – better than it did on my old HP laptop. I’m not using anything intensive under windows – really only needed it to QA projects – so web browsers are the main use – it’s just so great to be able to jump from browser to browser/platform to platform – at the wave of a hand (yeah I’ve the light sensor working with VirtueDesktop)

shane blyth

I dont think you mention what version of Parallels you used ? might of missed that but have you tried the new beta… these guys sure move quick in adding interesting features.. The better USB support in the new Beta is good though I am still waiting for full support . multi nics is also great and the improved video speed too and the coherency mode sure is a very very cool way to work and the drag and drop from ither os to the other rocks ..

Judi Sohn

After 3+ years of a Mac on one side of my desk and a PC on the other, I’m finally back on a single MacBook Pro thanks to Parallels. It’s been about 2 weeks, and so far I’m thrilled with how it’s working.

If you select the easy install option (in build 1970 and I assume beyond) in Parallels it automatically does the Parallels Tools install for you.

Dan Moren

Hey Nick, are you running Parallels off a Boot Camp installation? I was doing that on my 2.0GHz MacBook and experienced the same processor overload. Turned out Apple’s Keyboard Manager for Boot Camp (kbdmgr.exe) was eating a ton of processor cycles on the Windows side. If I kill that via the Task Manager, CPU levels drop a lot. Don’t know if it helps.

Gareth Potter

Using a USB-connected hard disk to boot an operating system is insane – real world performance is far too slow. USB is fine for your cache of movies and MP3s, and for backup, but for OS boots, you have to use FireWire.

Alan

Nice setup and informative. What if you used Windows XP or 2000 through Parallels? Maybe that might solve some of the problems with the USB to Serial connector. That wouldn’t cost you as much hard drive space as Vista, as well as a lot less eye candy (especially with 2000 or XP running the 2000 looks).

jrobcet

I do a lot of AMX programming (tools and apps for this are strictly Windows only), and Parallels has been the proverbial “smoking gun” for me at work. My old Dell laptop and G4 PowerBook (I was constantly switching between them) are now collecting dust since I’ve gotten my new MacBook at work. It also works perfectly for those times when I need IE – such as WSUS administration and company web pages that require ActiveX. I’m also called upon to occasionaly write VB scripts or batch files which I can quickly do without a reboot or going to another computer with Windows.

And as a side note – I love the new coherence feature in the beta version of Parallels. It still needs a little polish, but it is headed in the right direction and appears that it will allow Windows to be seamlessly integrated into the OS X desktop.

drew

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.

Thanks

Nick Santilli

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!

brett

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.

Nick Santilli

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…

r.b.

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.

Nick Santilli

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.

Nick Santilli

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.

joe

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).

Nick

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.

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