Parallels Version 4: Not what we’ve been waiting for

For a company who clearly have their sights set on becoming one of the must-have applications no self respecting Mac user can be without, Parallels have some considerable way to go.

Back story

The idea is simple enough. Because of the amazing technology Intel have put into their Core 2 Duo chips, which power every Apple computer, Parallels software is able to “cheat” (which isn’t really how it works but stay with me) your computer into thinking it’s not just a Mac, but a regular off the shelf Windows / Linux PC as well–and one which can run these two operating systems alongside Mac OS X, in what’s know as a virtual machine–complete with a virtual video card, sound card and software simulations of everything an operating system expects to “see” when it’s installed on regular real PC hardware.

Being as I was in the market for a new computer around the time Apple switched from IBM PPC microprocessors to the Intel architecture, the addition of Parallels to my order from Apple seemed like a natural step. $49 seemed like a small price to pay for the ability to run Windows and Linux whenever I might need to, without leaving the OS X environment. Unfortunately that early version delivered little and felt uneven and buggy. It wasn’t long before at least two point releases had been issued and some but not all of the early teething issues were addressed.

Then along came version 3. A paid upgrade. The alarm bells began to ring, that Parallels might not be so much interested in making great software as much as they were in charging their customers twice for something that still didn’t work right. But I dutifully paid for the upgrade, eager to give the much hyped Coherence Mode a whirl and try out some Windows only games with the promised Direct X support and numerous other bug fixes, which should probably have been addressed in a free upgrade for those of us who simply wanted Parallels to work as promised from the start.

Sadly in version 3 neither of these new features managed to impress, and in reality simply sapped all available RAM. An experience akin to that of an early 90’s PC attempting to run Windows XP. More disk grinding and stuttering audio, before the inevitable “bong” of the Windows error message and the occasional system lock up, than a smooth computing experience the marketing hype had suggested.

Parallels to customers: “More cash please”

The launch, then, of Parallels version 4, yesterday, did not greet me with a great deal of excitement–and having used it for less than 24 hours I can’t say I’ve had my mind changed.

Installing Parallels version 4 was a nightmare. Convincing to cough up a trial serial number was like convincing a lazy old arthritic dog to beg for a treat. Then the software didn’t work anyway, giving the above error message.

Then, once I eventually got the thing installed and working, it attempted to convert the old Parallels version 3 disk images of Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux into version 4 compatible virtual disks–which despite assuring me this had taken place successfully, didn’t once apologies for freezing the entire computer for 10 minutes while it did it or that this had to happen twice (both times “successfully” except not) before I conceded defeat and reinstalled both operating systems from scratch–happy that at least version 3 had been so buggy I’d never entrusted any important information to the now unreadable disk images of either Linux or Windows XP which I now had to delete in order to use the “new and improved” version 4.

If at this point I had simply decided version 4 wasn’t for me, I’d be out of luck–as launching the previous version 3 now only displays the same error message as above and, despite its instruction to re-install the application, no version 3 download of the installer remains available on the website, since version 4 was launched. Again, clear indication that Parallels software are more about selling what’s already been sold than fixing what should never have been broken.


Help file?  More like hinder

Help file? More like hinder

Product “support” is yet to answer any of my emails on previous problems I’ve had with their software, so I won’t hold my breath for a reply to the one I fired off to them explaining my experience thus far–but to add insult to injury non of the shared folder networking problems have been fixed with Linux, nor have the much promised, never delivered enhancements to 3D graphics support–meaning anyone hoping that yet another injection of cash into the project would finally bring Beryl 3D desktop eye candy to Ubuntu or Aero interface to Vista, is going to be sorely disappointed–unless, that is, they can translate the hieroglyphic “help” documentation on the matter, provided by Parallels (shown opposite).

The one and only saving grace of version 4, apart from that it has been given a rudimentary make-over in it’s appearance (icons, window transition animations and a more user friendly preference and configuration pane) is that Kubuntu 8.10 is now supported by Parallels Tools, which means you can glide between OS X, Windows and the latest version of the most popular version of Linux without having to “focus” the mouse with a keyboard shortcut–although aside from that non of the other benefits of using Parallels tools are currently working as promised, i.e., folder sharing or Open GL interface graphics and even then getting Parallels Tools to actually install and work properly under Linux is nowhere near as simple as the documentation leads you to believe.

Not even close

All in all, I have to admit, I’m one of the biggest shout from the rooftops Apple Mac fan boys out there, when there is something to shout about–but Parallels version 4 is just annoying. From the demand for more money, to the failure to fix things which were never addressed in previous versions, a lick of paint to the interface and an updated set of Linux tools is simply not worth the asking price.

$39.99 for existing customers to upgrade from version 3 is insulting when it should be free. As for the whopping $79.99 being asked of new customers, to my mind, this is daylight robbery, when it has to be presumed, from their track record, that Parallels Software won’t be issuing any bug fixes free of charge.

Simply put, if you want to run Windows applications on a Mac, use Boot Camp. If you want to use a particular Linux application in Mac OS X, compile it yourself from source code using the free libre open source application Fink and spend your money elsewhere.


A big fat raspberry


28 comments on “Parallels Version 4: Not what we’ve been waiting for

  1. “Simply put, if you want to run Windows applications on a Mac, use Boot Camp.”
    Why not VMware Fusion? Or even Sun’s VirtualBox, which is free of charge?

  2. I’m a paid customer of Parallels. A happy one, in fact.

    I bought the 4.0 upgrade yesterday and migrated my VMs from 3.0 to 4.0. In all honesty, they apparently had a glitch in their key generator which had several upgrade purchases receiving identical software keys. However, they were proactive about it and I received a personalized email with my new code before I even knew there was a problem.

    I use Parallels everyday for work and haven’t found it to be glitchy or annoying in any way. I use both Windows XP and CentOS client images. While the migrations did take a while to run, converting from 3 to 4, they were ultimately successful and the process was uneventful. Overall, I’m very happy with their product. There are certainly other alternatives out there, such as Boot Camp or VMWare Fusion, but for me it works fine and has always been solid for what I do.

  3. When reviewing VirtualBox .. don’t let the fact that the taskbar is present in “unity” mode take all the good points away from the product. It is free. (and VirtualBox hasn’t been around as long as Fusion .. or Parallels).

    Fusion .. well, VMware let’s you try out the product for 30 days for free and usually give a hefty rebate if you want to switch from Parallels ..

  4. I would second the use of virtualbox. Compiling software is not that fun. But then again; hom much software that tuns on Linux doesn’t have a port to Mac? Openoffice brought mac support in version 3.

  5. hey
    nice review, but i think you should do a little more research into the history of vm’s, as of now

    only 3d acceleration is provided in windows, no matter the host (vmware can do 3d accelerated virtual windows (i think partial dx9 support) on any host as of 6.5)

    i don’t think ANY virtualization company tauts that the vm will be what the real hardware is, however lots of things do work very well
    just give it time, vm’s are an emerging technology and slowly becoming relevant in the server-space and could possibly lead to another revolution in electronics

    once your cell phone and tv have ghz of power, imagine virtualizing your entire os onto a portable device that takes the hardware of whatever you are using at the time

    it fits in your car, your tv, your watch perhaps, your phone, your desktop / whatever it is.

    if you want full performance from your mac when you run windows or linux, you gotta install it native, not through a virtual machine

    however, if you’re looking to just play some / most games, vmware / parallels are up to the task, i play age of empires 3 easily. obviously not with all the settings maxed, but it’s very playable

  6. How is bootcamp a recommended alternative? Remember that the big benefit of both Parallels and Fusion is that they allow apps to run alongside of Mac apps. Unless you’re doing something really exotic, it makes no sense to run bootcamp at all as far as I can tell.

    I’m quite happily compiling code with Visual Studio and Delphi while reading mail with Apple Mail, etc.

    It’s disappointing to hear about the grief with 4.0 and I did hear a similar story from a colleague who tried installing it — I’ll wait for 4.1 (I’d really like the speedup we’re supposed to get from it) but 3.x has been rock solid so I can’t complain about it.

  7. It seems 500 page views in 10 hours and a healthy thread on reddit is a better way to get noticed by Parallels support than simply sending them an email. When (if) they do eventually get in touch with something substantial I’ll report back.

    I’m encouraged by how many people seem to have had positive experiences of the alternatives to Parallels, especially VirtualBox, which is free. And the rebate on VMWare for Parallels switchers sounds interesting. So thanks to everyone for feedback and, as they say, watch this space.

  8. I have a very similar experience. Upgraded from Parallels 3 to 4 yesterday. It hung and messed up my vista bootcamp partition. It won’t boot to it now. It then failed to install tools on my xp vm but took 30 minutes at least converting it so that one has no input devices… nice. On to SUSE 11- forget it. screwed that one up too. Seriously the tools went in wrong. I couldn’t even get them to go in thru the mount point and had to move them myself, su- then run the script. Failed because an incompatibility with kernal source vs kernel sources pkg. Never will work. I then gave up and downloaded the ubuntu appliance today (8.04). It was for version 3. This time tools actually mounted. I su- then /media/cdrom0 and run the install. Guess what- now the box works, except when I tried amarok the sound just plays 1 second then silent. The login screen is in what looks like 800×600 but the login text box is much bigger so I have to guess at where I am and type the user and pass blind as I can’t see that part of the box. What a freeking joke! And I am the fool for paying the 39.99 upgrade hoping it would fix some other issues I had.
    I am sick of this company as well. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the having to delete hard drive data every 5 times I booted my bootcamp in Parallels 3 because it refused to boot all of a sudden.

  9. Wish I’d read this before trying my luck with a v3->v4 upgrade. I’m giving Fusion a try after three days trying unsuccessfully to convert my old VM’s, and then watching even fresh VMs with freshly installed XP crash hard. I nearly broke down and bought a netbook instead of fighting any more.

    None of my three requests to Parallels support have had any response.

    Nice to hear about the free alternatives. Next time maybe.

  10. I’m thinking legal action. I want my 40 bucks back. I just spent another 4 hours trying fresh installs of both 32 and 64 bit suse. No answer from Parallels… no refund… nothing…. $#@$@ This company!!!! Seriously $#@$@ Them!

  11. Macstrik and David W:
    The only conclusion I can draw from Parallels absolute silence is that they’re working on the issue and plan on notifying everyone as and when they’re able–but that doesn’t change the fact this is a perfect example of how not to treat customers.

    Stay tuned for a full review of VirtualBox.

  12. Same here, spent a couple of hours fighting the conversion, removed it and cancelled the purchase.
    May not return to Parallels at all.

  13. Well, to test the directx9 on the one friking vm I have left I spent 2 hours installing Warhammer online. Guess what? The game failed because the video was not compatible. so much for the selling point of direct X. My GOD Why can companies like this continue to rip us off? Oh and as for the clown(for lack of a better term) that says “wait, it will get better”…. I bought a product based on the claims of the company. I did NOT buy a product based on the potential of said product. If you would like to buy something based on the potential of the commodity you are investing your money in, go to the stock market and STFU in this or any other venue. We bought something that was simply misrepresented. They say it works, it doesn’t.. enough said. I’m posting this on /. btw. hopefully it will generate enough to get these outsorced morons attention.

  14. Macstrik:
    I think we’d all appreciate as many people as possible to get involved in forwarding this entry around, until Parallels pay some kind of attention. I’ve lost count of how many e-mails to support have been ignored at this stage, although it’s certainly more than four—so any help in waking them up to exactly how many of their two and three time paying customers who are simply not impressed would be much appreciated.

  15. Hi,
    I wish I had read this before I “downgraded” to V4. V3 worked OK but was very slow to boot and the only thing I tried to do with it ( XP app to push data through a comm port via RS232 at 9600 baud rate did not work until several tries later) It really was a vain attempt to run XP side by side with OSX on my Mac. It was back to Bootcamp if I wanted to do anything real. Anyhow I digress. V4 – what can I say? Everything migrated after about half an hour OK. 50% faster – what a crock – Its now 50% slower to boot. The mouse will not migrate seamlessly between XP and OSX – I have to release it manually. Drag and Drop now does not work – and I cant even use their fancy modes because of the mouse problem. I have reinstalled 3 times to no avail. I want my money back too! Boy If this had been Microsoft that released this crap software – I can here all the Mac fanboys now baying for blood.
    By the way this software was recommended to me by a Mac fanboy – wait till I see him next!
    Dont get me wrong though – Apart from Parallels my conversion from a PC laptop to a Macbook has been relatively painless.

  16. I hear you Kym. A week after downgrading to the newest version (a very Microsoft oxymoron I agree) I’m still waiting to hear anything from Parallels. Guess they just don’t care?

  17. I tried posting on (ask) slashdot but article was rejected. Someone needs to post there. That will get more coverage than any 1000 places combined.

  18. Macstrik: Parallels are flat out ignoring my requests for support on this. I’ve uninstalled version 4, because it just wasn’t working. Now I can’t download version 3 and go back to the stable release, which I paid for—TWICE!

  19. I ran into a bit of trouble trying to upgrade from 3 + to 4.0 also. My MacBook Pro froze for a good 20 minutes and I couldn’t get the virtual Windows screen to do anything. I downloaded another 4.0 from the website and that installation went fairly smoothly, compared to the one that I purchased. I still can’t get the virtual sound card to work and I am not finding any help on the Parallels website. I am frankly disappointed with the 4.0 release, which in my opinion, was too early. They should have paid some of us previously impressed customers to upgrade, instead of asking money to deliver a headache. I hope within the next week they can work through a seamless install and offer a better build on their site.

  20. Well, No Reply to any email, no nothing, thats what happens when you outsource, I guess.
    I just spent another 59 bucks on VMware. It went into bootcamp and converted my old parallels vms. It (VMware 2) would/could not convert my disaster Parallels 4 vm stuff so I guess I got screwed for 79 then 49 by Parallels. Bites so bad. I know VMWare has a rebate for showing proof of Parallels ownership but I just needed to get my vm working so if anyone wants a 20$ discount on VMWare 2 when you are in the process of buying it, before final checkout, enter VMwareRocks in the promo code slot and it will make it 59 instead of 79.
    Good Luck with this crappy, Pile o #@$t company and their #@$t product. I am on VMWare now and NEVER LOOKING BACK.

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