That Parallels Beta Again

December 4th, 2006  |  Published in etc

I fiddled around with that new Parallels beta a little more this evening to see how a VM from a Bootcamp partition works. I think it might fall under “here there be dragons,” because while it’s working, it tried really hard not to.

The Bootcamp installation part was easy enough … as simple as I remembered it from the first release. When I got to the choices for filesystem, and was offered a choice between FAT32 and NTFS, I went with FAT32. The logic of my choice was pretty simple … same reason I always pick ext3 for Linux installs: I know that it or ext2 will be supported on just about any machine I could throw an orphan hard drive in. FAT32 works the same way: If the machine ever goes and I need to pry the hard drive out to recover its contents, I’ve figure I’ve got a marginally better shot of finding a machine that can read FAT32 than NTFS.

But as it turns out, Parallels isn’t so fond of Bootcamp installs using FAT32 and wouldn’t load the Bootcamp image. So I found some instructions and converted the fs to NTFS, which is a really simple procedure. Not as simple as converting ext2 to ext3, and it’s a one-way conversion, but pretty simple.

So armed with an NTFS Bootcamp install, I fired up Parallels again. It turns out it installs two hardware profiles … one for plain old Bootcamp boots, and one for VM boots. Neither worked at all initially … the mouse and keyboard would die when I brought up the VM. A boot into Safe Mode somehow and for some reason fixed that glitch.

It probably seems like a big, fat “so what?”, but having both choices using the same installation is pretty nice. Most of the time I need Windows just for IE, and a VM running Windows in my second display and eating only 384MB is fine for that. There are a few things (like some games) I wouldn’t mind having a full-fledged Windows machine for. By being able to use the same installation for both, I don’t have to download the same sets of patches twice, I don’t have to synchronize file locations, juggle bookmarks, run two different sets of anti-virus updates, etc. etc. And I’m only giving up one chunk of hard drive space.

The other cool thing about this beta is drag and drop between desktops. I can drag a file from the Mac desktop on the primary display to the full-screen Windows desktop on the secondary display and it does a nearly instantaneous copy operation from desktop to desktop. No more shuffling things through network shares or the Parallels shared folder doodad. Curiously, it doesn’t work quite the same from Windows to Mac: You have to shift the Windows desktop to a windowed display to drag a file from the Windows VM to the Mac desktop. It’s a similar issue to the thing I got with “Coherency” when moving windows around last night.

So … recommendation: If you already have Parallels and it’s not completely mission critical (meaning it can be down for an hour while you fiddle) it seems like a safe enough beta to play with. If you don’t have Parallels, don’t let the beta be your introduction … download the current stable version for the demo and wait ’til the new release is out before making that move, keeping in mind that the drag-n-drop and Bootcamp-based VM are both new features only found in the beta. Also decide if 25 pages worth of people alternately wildly succeeding or abjectly failing with this build won’t represent a reasonable deterrent to experimentation. If a beta release, for instance, would cause you to unplug your brain and set fingers to keyboard to type something like this:

I’m afraid that Parallels has torn its britches on this little episode. It will be a long time before any serious Intel Mac user thinks about using the Parallels software as anything other than a toy. You need to come clean about this debacle, show some transparency in your release process, and rebuild your reputation, guys.

… then you should leave it alone.

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