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  • Newsletter Issue #342

    June 19th, 2006

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it comes to the show's Special Correspondent, David Biedny, you know those opinions will be forthright and sometimes controversial. But it's often difficult to know just what buttons he'll push and where.

    On our June 15th episode, for example, David was talking about what's lacking in today's PC operating systems, and just happened to toss out an offhand political comment about the world's need for oil, consisting of a single, short sentence. That was sufficient, however, to anger a listener or two. Rather than get into the specifics of the argument, I'll only say that we don't do political shows, although some of the comments must inevitably be political. What's more, we enjoy hearing both sides of the argument, and we hope folks who don't agree with simply tell us why rather than click fast forward.

    Also featured on the show was our old friend Bob "Dr. Mac" Levitus, who regaled us with great hints and tips about getting the best performance from GarageBand. One product he mentioned, which I can also recommend, is the Blue Snow mic. This USB-based mic not only looks unique, but also offers pro-class sound quality, and you can get it for roughly $150 or less, depending on the reseller.

    For our June 22nd episode, we'll be featuring noted industry analyst Joe Wilcox, of JupiterResearch, who will be speaking about the impact of the impending departure of Bill Gates as a full-timer at Microsoft. Other guests will be announced shortly.

    Now about our other show, The Paracast, on June 20, David Biedny and I will interview Photographer and UFO researcher David Sereda, who will discuss the DVD he directed entitled "Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs." He'll also reveal his own sightings and those experienced by Dan Aykroyd.

    We had to delay the appearance of Dr. Steven Greer of the The Disclosure Project, but we hope to reschedule him soon.

    And don't forget our weekly contests. So far we've given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, video tuner/recorders, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

    If you haven't heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.

    PARALLELS DESKTOP: THE BEST WAY TO RUN WINDOWS ON A MAC?

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★☆
    Ups:
    Near-native performance; great compatibility; relatively easy installation
    Downs: Graphics performance needs work; some interface oddities

    Strange how things seem to come in three's. Take the discovery of a trick to make Windows run on a MacIntel by some programmers looking to claim a cash reward. It didn't take long for Apple to release the public beta of an officially-sanctioned version to do the very same thing. But Boot Camp was only the beginning, and its not the best way to run Windows for many of you.

    Sure you can get great performance, particularly with Windows games and other resource-hungry software, but for the majority of you who just need Windows to run a productivity application that isn't available for the Mac, or just to check the compatibility with your Web site in Internet Explorer, being able to do it side-by-side, in parallel with your Mac environment, is a real plus.

    With Microsoft's Mac Business Unit still figuring out where to go and how to get there with a Universal version of Virtual PC, a VA startup company has shown the way. The early beta versions of Parallels Desktop for the Mac become available not long after Boot Camp debuted and I already gave a preliminary evaluation several weeks ago, in an article entitled Running a Parallel Operating System with Parallels Workstation. Now the actual release version, with its new name, is at hand, it's time to take a closer look.

    Like Virtual PC, Parallels Desktop consists of an application that lets you install and configure guest operating systems or virtual machines. It supports up to four at a time, limited only by the amount of RAM and storage space on your Intel-based Mac. The supported operating systems include a rich variety beginning with early versions of Windows, Linux, and even OS/2. But there's no bundling, as Microsoft does with Virtual PC. You need a full installation CD or disk image for each operating system that you want to use and that can get fairly expensive when it comes with recent versions of Windows XP.

    The instructions for making it happen have been revised extensively from earlier versions and are fairly easy to follow. The interface has been improved somewhat, but there are still a few questionable choices. You don't, for example, activate your copy of Parallels Desktop until after you've actually created a virtual machine, and haven't begun to install an operating system. That seems like a odd choice. The other is asking you to click a separate Save button after pressing OK when making a configuration change.

    Once you get past these interface eccentricities, however, the going is fairly easy. My guest OS was Windows XP Pro. The full setup process was otherwise little different than a standard Windows installation on a regular PC box. The only additional element is the need to install Parallels Tools, a set of drivers that enhance input device, networking and graphics capability.

    When you're finished working in your virtual machine environment, quitting the Parallels Desktop can either suspend the guest OS or shut it down. Again, similar to the way it's handled in Virtual PC.

    Parallels uses Intel's virtualization technology to gain its stellar performance and benchmarks have shown that it is roughly 80% to 90% of native. Applications start quickly, and window movement is quite fluid, with only a small amount of raggedness. In fact, if you expand Parallels Desktop to its full-screen mode, you'd think you're working on a real Windows PC.

    As the beta progressed towards final release, compatibility with Mac OS X improved. You can now create a shared folder for easy transfer of your files from Mac OS X to your virtual OS of choice, and peripheral support is pretty good. I was able, for example, to add my Xerox Phaser 8550 DP network printer without too many hassles. USB device support, however is limited to version 1.1, although I understand support for USB 2.0 will be added later.

    Graphic support isn't complete either. It's fine for normal 2D display, but don't expect to play your favorite Windows games with any expectation of great performance. That's another area where Parallels has some work to do. For now Apple's Boot Camp, and the need to dual-boot, remains your best solution for games and the same is true for a 3D graphics application.

    For an initial release, however, Parallels Desktop is a great piece of work, but I'm hungry for more. In addition to better support for your Intel-based Mac's graphics hardware, I'd like to see an easy way to read a Virtual PC operating system disk image. That, and the ability to install the Windows Vista beta, are also promised for future versions, and I hope those wishes will be fulfilled real soon now.

    In the meantime, you have to wonder whether Microsoft will accept the arrival of such a strong competitor sitting down, or will try to deliver a killer version of Virtual PC in the near future.

    Right now, however, Parallels Desktop is my chosen method of running Windows applications. If you buy a copy from the company's site before July 15th, you can take advantage of the initial $49.99 purchase price, and remember you have to acquire your own operating system separately. The price goes up to $79.99 after that date. Either way, it's well worth the money.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: UPDATES OF ONE SORT OR ANOTHER

    It's very easy to write a review about a product and move on, oblivious as to how it stands on the long haul. But that's the way it is, because there is simply too much good stuff to stay ahead of the game and yet do proper follow-ups. However, I'll try to remedy that, at least in part, because I think some of the gear I've analyzed deserves some additional coverage and, in one case, a first look.

    So here are a few updates:

    Motorola H700 Bluetooth Headset: For a while, I really thought this was the best route for handsfree mobile phone use. It sounded real good, but I was concerned by the early failure of the unit. Without explanation, it lost its ability to "pair" with a handset. To be sure, Motorola sent a replacement with minimal red tape, but some of its shortcomings are growing on me, and not in a pleasant way. Sure, I quickly became accustomed to having that tiny appendage hang from my ear, but the inability to navigate through a company's voice menus can be a real downer if you make a lot of business-related calls. Now I have to pick up the phone and physically hit the appropriate keys to specify my language choice and choose the right department or extension number. So you have to conclude that this is a mostly handsfree solution; that is, until more companies allow you to navigate through their phone systems with voice commands.

    Xerox Phaser 8550DP Solid Ink Printer: For the most part, this printer continues to run perfectly. I do occasionally have problems feeding envelopes through the multifunction tray, but that is only a minor shortcoming. Print quality remains superb and the ongoing maintenance cost is, as I predicted, at the low end of what you'd expect to pay for a color laser. This is a superb product for a variety of uses, and only a top-of-the-line color inkjet will deliver better photo quality.

    Canon MP830 PIXMA Photo All-In-One Printer: Earlier this year, I rated Canon's MP780 as my favorite multifunction printer. But being the best is often temporary, and something superior eventually comes along, and in this case, it's the MP780's successor, the MP830, which has a street price of $299.99. Output quality is slightly better, nearly on a par with single-function Canon products, such as the PIXMA IP5200R, and speed is first rate. In fact, this is the first device of this sort that I've seen so far that doesn't seem to compromise noticeably in any of its functions. Yes, professional graphic artists will still prefer a dedicated scanner, but the MP830 is great for the rest of us. And its support for two-sided printing, copying and scanning is a real plus. I do miss a networking feature, but I'm able to share it from my Power Mac G5, so it's not a deal-breaker.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #342”

    1. I'm wondering if it's possible to run either boot camp or Paralells against the same Windows hard drive - that is, use boot camp when needed exclusively, otherwise use Paralells - but the same Windows setup/data. I haven't used either - still stuck with PowerPCs - but this might be an incentive for me. I often need high performance for database (sql server/Access) tasks which for me are more processor- and drive-intensive than games.

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    2. My understanding is that this isn't something you can do. Parallels Desktop uses its own proprietary disk image for its files, which are not accessible via a normal dual-boot process. And, of course, the reverse won't occur either. My suggestion is that you consider one alternative or the other. But unless you're using 3D authoring software or high-power games, Boot Camp won't be necessary. What's more, I expect the folks at Parallels will try to deal with most graphics shortcomings in a future release, and I hope they're successful.

      Peace,
      Gene

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    3. I would like to poster a different thinking process re: Microsoft and Virtual PC vs. Parallel Desktop. Simply being, that Microsoft will just purchase it, like they did with Virtual PC. Cuts their R&D to a minimum, and gets their product with their branding out the door much quicker. No insider knowledge on my part. Just looking at past actions of Microsoft (Excel, MS Money, Virtual PC, Great Plains, etc., etc.)

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