Parallels in a Work Environment

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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