The Unholy Trio: Mac OS X, Parallels Desktop and Windows Vista

September 20th, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I made a promise on The Tech Night Owl LIVE to attempt to install Windows Vista RC1 with the latest version of Parallels Desktop for Intel-based Macs. I like to keep promises, but their support for Vista remains purely experimental, according to Parallels, and Microsoft’s installer crashed shortly after it launched. This was a known problem.

Although I was able to get Vista Beta 2 up and running with almost adequate performance, it was far too unfinished to probe further beyond a cursory examination of basic features.

Vista RC1, however, is allegedly something resembling what the final release will become, although it isn’t quite finished either. In any case, with a new Parallels update at hand, I decided to give it another go on my 17-inch MacBook Pro. The results weren’t entirely unexpected, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now in case you’ve tuned in late, Parallels Inc. is a young company on the fast track. Earlier this year, they released a PC virtual machine application for Intel-based Macs that provides stellar performance with various versions of Windows, Linux and other PC operating systems.

A few months later, Microsoft discontinued Virtual PC for the Mac, its spin-control people claiming it would require extensive retooling and would be no better than a 1.0 product. Now maybe too much of their resources are devoted to producing a Universal version of Office for the Mac, but they were clearly caught with their knickers down.

In any case, rather than update a previous version of Windows, I decided to start the Vista installation from scratch. So I used the setup assistant in Parallels Desktop to create a new virtual machine. This is the disk image file that will contain the elements of the operating system, and I managed to get the Vista RC1 installer started in just a few minutes.

From here, the Vista install was reasonably inconsequential, as Windows installations go. It took roughly an hour from the beginning of the process until I installed the Parallels Tools drivers, and then there it was, the lumbering beast that Microsoft has fumbled — I mean labored over — for the past five years.

Since Parallels as yet doesn’t support accelerated 3D graphics, I was probably getting a reduced amount of eye-candy, but it was typically garish anyway. Microsoft hasn’t learned the art of subtlety in its user interfaces.

Control Panels have been somewhat reordered, with interfaces more cluttered, so performing basic setups has become a bigger irritant than before. Note that, as the result of efforts to deliver a more secure environment, the act of entering a password during the setup process produces automatic login screens at startup and when exiting the screen saver.

While Microsoft’s enhanced efforts at security in Vista are commendable, the execution leaves a whole lot to be desired. I’m sure many of you have read about the constant barrage of confirmation prompts when attempting to perform certain options, such as launching some of those Control Panels. Again, the art of subtlety is lost on the world’s largest software maker, so the process becomes an irritant rather than a help, and you end up wanting to ditch the security layer and take your own chances.

I can’t say whether Microsoft is going to deliver an RC2 to the public, or whether there will be any substantial changes before this huge resource hog is sent to manufacturing. At this point, however, unless there are some killer bugs, I suspect Microsoft will rush to get this the thing out, and worry about fixing the serious excesses and defects later on.

It’s a tribute to the smart programmers at Parallels that Vista actually runs reasonably fast in most respects. Since the virtual machine is experimental, you have to expect a few bugs, the worst of which is sound, which stutters a lot. After installing the Parallels Tools drivers, I found mouse movement quite fluid, thank you, but I was unable to switch from the virtual machine window to my MacBook Pro’s desktop without a Control/Option (Alt) keystroke.

All this shall pass, however, and I expect you’ll see a tidied up version of Parallels Desktop within a few weeks that’ll run Vista as well as it runs XP.

That is, if you feel you must exist in that irritating environment, as I, unfortunately, have to do from time to time.

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6 Responses to “The Unholy Trio: Mac OS X, Parallels Desktop and Windows Vista”

  1. Erin says:

    And if you ran OSX in emulation (yea right it’s not possible), everything would go smoothly?

  2. And if you ran OSX in emulation (yea right it’s not possible), everything would go smoothly?

    Most of my comments about Vista are part and parcel of the operating system, not artifacts of “emulation.” The interface oddities, for example. Do you think the obsessive/compulsive emphasis on permissions dialogs is strictly designed for Mac users who happen to run Vista on their Intel-based computers?


  3. Bill Bird says:

    Hope someone can answer the following question. When one installs Windows on a Mac with Boot Camp, OSX is isolated from Windows viruses because the hard drive is partitioned, and even though the Windows side will be crippled, the Mac side will remain OK. Will a Windows Virus cripple the whole computer when running Windows and OSX side by side in Parrallels desktop?

  4. Ron says:

    If the parallels instance of windows were to get a virus it should not impact the mac since parallels creates virtual disks for each OS you install. Although it may be possible to mess up things in the parallels shared folder or if you had something like macdisk running in windows.

  5. KT says:

    Vista RC1 security prompts are certainly fewer than beta 2, but Gene’s right they’re still numerous and annoying. I also get them much less frequently in OS X. Generally, I just hate this security paradigm. I mean if I’m admin, I should be GOD so to speak – no prompts, no in-my-face interruptions, and if I make stupid security mistakes it’s my problem. That’s why we can assign various rights to users, set up idiot accounts, etc. But admin should be ADMIN!

  6. Shower Caddy  says:

    Windows Vista actually sucks, it is full of bugs and very unstable-;`

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