Running applications like Internet Explorer and Microsoft Visio in Windows XP, or Firefox and Terminal in Ubuntu Linux, seemed fast and responsive. As with the installation process, running the basic applications I tried (including security software for Windows XP like Grisoft AVG Free Edition and Microsoft Defender anti-spyware) ran as expected, without any surprises.
Network: Both Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP saw and used the virtual network adapter without any configuration. Both obtained DHCP IP addresses and had access to the internet for web browsing, email, and system software updates as expected. Accessing network resources like drive shares worked without any surprises. The Mac OS X windows share feature let me work with files sitting on the MacBook's Mac OS X hard drive as a drive share in Windows XP. Similarly, I could see and use files on a Samba share running on a Linux server. And, finally, I installed Apple's iDisk for Windows XP and could use documents stored on my .Mac account.
CD/DVD drive: Unless you configure it otherwise, the CD/DVD drive is defined as part of the virtual machine. This means that when that virtual machine is running its guest OS, only the guest OS has access to it. This lets you use it to install software and read data discs. Other types of optical media (music CDs and DVD videos) do not appear to be supported right now. Windows Media Player recognized a music CD disc I placed in the drive and obtained the play list from the internet, but could not play the audio tracks. However, this is, at worst, a minor inconvenience.
USB devices: Parallels Desktop for the Mac only provides USB 1.1 support for the virtual machine. USB flash memory drives were usable. However, I was not able to use an old Intel webcam or a new Microsoft Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition with ActiveSync 4.1. Both devices were correctly recognized and appropriate drivers were installed. However, the drivers failed to function in Windows XP as a guest OS.
Parallels Tools provides adds compatibility and usability features for Microsoft Windows versions running as a guest OS in Parallels Desktop. Figure 8 shows the tools components as: clipboard synchronization, mouse synchronization, network driver, video driver, tools center, disk compacting, and shared folder.
Figure 8. Tools components
The most noticeable changes after installing Parallels Tools are the seamless mouse and keyboard behavior. Prior to installing Tools, switching between Windows XP and Mac OS X required pressing a
Alt key combination. This was a mild but familiar inconvenience to anyone who had tried other virtualization products. After installing Tools, this escape keystroke combination became unnecessary. Say, for example, you are testing how your new website looks in both Safari and Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2. You click on IE7-Beta2 in a Parallels Desktop window running Windows XP SP2 in guest OS mode, and test the site for a minute or two. Then you move your mouse from that window to Safari on Mac OS X and click it to give it focus and test the site there for compatibility. The level of mouse and keyboard effort is no more than testing Safari and Firefox both running under Mac OS X.
Parallels Desktop for the Mac includes the Parallels Compressor utility. It uses compression technology to reduce the size of an installed guest OS virtual hard drive. When I installed Windows XP SP2 as a guest OS, I set the disk size at 8GB (on a 60GB physical drive). I also opted to use a dynamically growing system so that all 8GB was not allocated at the start. After installing Windows XP SP2, Microsoft Office 2007 Beta-2, Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus, Sid Meier's Civilization II, and a bunch of utilities, Windows reports 4.1GB used space. However, after running Compressor, the Mac reports that the file container for the virtual hard drive is only using 3.5GB.
Final Virtual Thoughts
CNET published an article providing some simple performance measures comparing tasks running on a MacBook Pro under Mac OS X, Windows XP Pro SP2 running natively using Boot Camp, and Windows XP Pro SP2 running as a guest OS in Parallels Desktop for the Mac ("Heresy: Windows XP Performance on a Mac"). They found that Windows XP running natively using Boot Camp ran applications faster than Windows XP running as a guest OS under Parallels Desktop. Anyone who has tried virtualization technology such as Microsoft Virtual PC or VMware Workstation could tell you that this is expected and unsurprising. The purpose of virtualization technology is not to provide exceptional performance. Its purpose is to take advantage of today's exceptionally powerful processors to provide the convenience and manageability of running multiple operating systems simultaneously, without the need for multiple physical workstations or rebooting a single one.
2006 is definitely shaping up to be the year of virtualization for Mac OS X. VMware's vice president of platform products, Raghu Raghuram, in an interview on Virtualization.info, said, "With Apple switching to x86-based processors, robust and proven virtualization capabilities for Apple users is an interesting opportunity. We have stated that we do have VMware running on Mac OS X in our labs--stay tuned for future announcements in this area." There is also tantalizing speculation that Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will include some kind of integrated virtualization support (AppleInsider: "Apple's Leopard Has Its Eye on Redmond").
Todd Ogasawara is the editor of MobileAppsToday.com. He has been named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the Mobile Devices category for the past several years. You can find his personal website focusing on Mobile Device Technology at www.mobileviews.com.
Return to the Mac DevCenter.