Friday, 30 October 2015 11:51

Parallels Desktop 11 makes OS X El Capitan and Windows 10 cohabitation a breeze

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Parallels Desktop 11 brings together OS X El Capitan and Windows 10 with ease.

With the rise of virtualisation computer users have enjoyed far greater flexibility in managing multiple operating systems. Not so many years ago dual-booting was the only way to have a Windows and Linux setup on the one computer, or to run Windows on your Apple Mac hardware via Apple’s boot camp drivers and process.

VMWare, Microsoft Virtual PC - the forerunner to Hyper-V, VirtualBox and other such programs provided an opportunity to escape dual-booting by running a PC in a PC. Such a setup allowed the use of both operating systems simultaneously, and even afforded the opportunity to easily snapshot your virtual machine and trash it or restore it if needed.

Yet, such setups weren’t without problems. Networking could be particularly tricky, sometimes requiring a myriad of virtualised switches and adapters to be created and configured. Sharing folders between guest and host operating system, balancing the memory and processing power, and certainly anything that used more than basic 2d graphics were not without effort.

Fortunately, technology has evolved and we find ourselves in this modern day spoiled for true cross-platform ease. I have had the opportunity to take Parallels 11 out for a spin on a new MacBook Pro, running OS X El Capitan and Windows 10 Professional together.

iTWire.com has previously covered Parallels Desktop 11 but that was prior to OS X El Capitan's recent release, making it timely to try out again with the latest versions of OS X and Microsoft Windows together.

Of course, for many people the first question may be why a Macintosh at all? For me, an important choice of system was cross-platform software development and ultimately, for iOS there is no other option but an Apple Mac environment. This comes down to Apple’s restrictions on the App Store signing tools being OS X-only, and also restrictions on running OS X within a virtual machine.

Your use case may be different: you may need to run Windows applications but prefer the OS X ecosystem, particularly if you have a range of iPhones and iPads and Apple TVs in your home already. Or you may just generally prefer the Apple hardware.

It was only very recently the Australian Tax Office made a web-based eTax application in favour of its previous Delphi-based Windows-only application. The ATO’s only guidance for OS X users previously was to run Windows in a virtual environment, then claim the software license as a deduction for managing tax affairs. http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/the-linux-distillery/26313-australian-linux-users-finally-have-tax-return-satisfaction

Whatever the specific situation, there is undeniably a raft of reasons why people may wish to run an alternate operating system - be it Windows or Linux or something else - on their Macintosh hardware, while at the same time not destroying the OS X installation itself.

I’m really delighted to say Parallels 11 made this such a snap, and such a breeze, that I can’t believe how much effort I have put into configuring virtual machines in all the years gone past.

Parallels 11 absolutely has the simplest virtual machine setup I have ever seen.

After installation, I launched Parallels 11, and it automatically found some Windows ISOs I had downloaded, duly prompting if I wished to use those, or if I wished to configure a whole new virtual machine from scratch.

It wasn’t without a glitch: I first chose Windows 10 Enterprise, but the VM setup kept complaining a license file was missing and rebooting itself. That wasn’t a great start, but on trying again and selecting the Windows 10 multi-version ISO from MSDN Parallels fared much better, prompting me only one time and that was to enter the license key.

All the usual guff - pressing Next, Next, Continue - was handled for me, silently and transparently.

When my Windows 10 desktop opened I poked around and found Windows 10 was activated, my desktop and recycle bin and downloads folder were mapped to the OS X equivalents, and even my DropBox and iCloud folders had been intelligently mapped as shared drives.

4Gb of RAM, 512Mb of graphics memory, and four virtual processors had been allocated to Windows 10. A 128Gb expanding hard disk had been created.

Advanced users should not lament; although the Parallels 11 wizard did all this setup work it still allows fine control by manually creating a virtual machine. The only question I had to answer was I would use the virtual machine for, from Programming through to Gaming. Had I answered gaming no doubt the hardware allocation would have been different. These options aren’t fixed; you can easily modify settings later.

One tip I have is to run the DOS command powercfg -h off pretty quickly, because Windows 10 by default reserves disk space for hibernating. Unless you plan to put your Windows PC to sleep, separately from the MacBook itself sleeping, this is wasteful. As my MacBook Pro is a 16Gb model that was 16Gb of my precious SSD space devoted to hiberfil.sys. This is, of course, not any shortcoming of Parallels 11, merely a Windows default setting.

At this point Windows 10 was running in its own window, with any apps launched running in this same window. With a quick click on the Parallels Desktop View menu the magic happens.

From this View menu you can choose to make your virtual machine - Windows 10 Pro in my case - run in full-screen mode or in coherence mode, as well as regular windowed mode.

Full screen mode, as the name suggests, opens your Windows desktop to take up the entire screen. Gone are the OS X menus and launcher dock and you find yourself sitting before a fully-featured and perfectly functioning Windows computer that happens to be running on Macintosh hardware. People would walk past your desk and not know you are doing anything other than running a Windows PC.

OS X El Capitan has nice gesture support built in, which includes a three-fingered slide on the trackpad to move between full-screen apps. I entertained myself for far too long sliding back and forth between my OS X El Capitan and Windows 10 Professional desktops. It was truly magnificent, after years and years of working with virtual servers and desktops, to experience such ease and simplicity in moving between platforms, even persuading myself I was operating Windows natively. Use Control-Command-F to switch full screen mode off and on again.

Coherence mode blurs the separation even further. In this mode your Windows desktop disappears. Instead, your Windows apps launch in their own window, side-by-side with your OS X apps. They will minimise to the OS X dock replete with animation.

You can launch Windows 10 apps straight from the Windows 10 Start menu, you can even dock Windows 10 apps in the OS X dock. You can see your Windows system tray icons in the OS X system tray.

Parallels Desktop 11 truly blurs where one operating system ends and another begins; it enables power users to free themselves from “where is this specific app” and focus on using their computer to perform the tasks they wish to do.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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