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.
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 parallels.com 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 parallels.com 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.
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