The Computer Blog

Monday, December 25, 2006

Quick Look – Using Parallels Desktop with Boot Camp

I’m not sure if Parallels Desktop was available when I set up my wife’s Core Duo iMac using Boot Camp. All I can tell you is that for the last few months, she’s wanted to launch Windows XP without having to reboot. So, one of the gifts I gave her for Christmas was a copy of Parallels Desktop for Mac. There was only one hitch. I didn’t have another copy of Win XP Pro to use with it.

A couple of weeks ago, Parallels announced that they were releasing a beta copy that would work with Boot Camp. Since that seemed to be exactly the solution I was looking for, I decided to download the beta and try it out on her machine. It took me a while to dig up the proper link to find the download; like the Adobe Photoshop CS3 beta I downloaded a week or so ago, I found a notice and the proper link in a forum. The notice stressed I also needed to download Parallels Tools and install it before installing Parallels Desktop itself, so I complied, performing the download from my wife’s iMac and its XP desktop.

Parallels Tools installed invisibly; once I was sure the installation was complete, I rebooted the iMac into OS X. I then downloaded the Parallels Desktop 2 Beta which I installed on the machine and launched Parallels which greeted me with a wizard that wanted to configure the system for Windows XP. But as I stumbled through the thing, I learned it was built to lead one through a new XP installation. I was on the wrong road for using Boot Camp; and how to get to the right one, I couldn’t see. I did a search in the Help function for “Boot Camp” causing the links and articles explaining it all popped up in Safari. I needed to use the Custom Installation function, it said. Once I did, I found a radio button allowing me to “Use Boot Camp” as the Parallels hard disk. I stepped through the rest of the installation process in a few steps.

Once I was done, I was looking at a white window telling me about a Windows XP virtual machine. When I punched its Start button (a green arrowhead), the white window flipped around using a Cube transition to present me a window containing black and white text, just like a PC BIOS screen. It presented me with two choices, i.e., Windows XP Professional and Parallels Configuration. It took me a couple of starts to understand that the “Windows XP Professional” choice was the same as offering me a boot into XP using Boot Camp, something that wasn’t going to work from where I was. Choosing Parallels Configuration led me to another window that asked me to pick from “Profile 1” and “Parallels Configuration”. After playing with it awhile, I felt that “Profile 1” was the machine/XP configuration as set in Boot Camp, and the Parallels Configuration was XP configured to run with Parallel’s virtualized components. The latter worked with fewer annoyances.

Windows XP speed under Parallels appeared to be very good. For the most part, I was able to control window size (including giving the virtual machine the full screen) and keyboard and mouse functions fairly easily. After running XP in Parallels, I shut it down and booted the machine into XP using Boot Camp. When I did, XP sent me a message telling me the machine’s configuration had changed noticeably, and I needed to Activate XP again. I did that. It took. I discovered though, that this would happen each and every time I booted from Boot Camp into Parallels or vice versa.

Yes, this was using beta software and might get changed; but since the activation is being controlled by XP, I have some doubt this will be fixed. If it doesn’t, that’s a major problem. No one’s going to want to hold their breath every time they’ve got to walk XP through activation. That said, if you activate Windows either in Boot Camp or Parallels and then return to that medium the next time you work in Windows, reactivation is not required.

The other thing I noticed was that it now took more work and time to get into XP via Boot Camp. The two text menus I mentioned earlier during the Parallels based boot up now also show during the Boot Camp boot.

Maybe all this will get fixed when the final release hits the streets. If not, though the situation is workable, my recommendation would be that one either set up their Intel Mac to work via Boot Camp or install XP through Parallels. The dual set-up sounds like it would be the best of both worlds; but, in this case, it doesn’t turn out to be true. Triggering multiple activations of Windows XP is like playing Russian Roulette; one never know when they’re going to get hit with the bullet and die.

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