Bootcamp & Parallels

I currently have three(!) copies of Windows on my Mac Book Pro 😀


I have Windows XP and Windows Vista (or is it now just “Vista”?… it’s the MSDN Home Premium edition, at any rate) running under Parallels, and Windows XP installed via Bootcamp.


The concept (which I may or may not stick with) is to have Windows/Bootcamp available for games, and Parallels for Office and other Windows-only apps.


It’s worth mentioning that I’m very impressed with Parallels – I like the way that the installation Wizard performs all of the OS setup to get Windows installed, and that the “Vista” option was present way before that OS was released. There were only a few things I could see wrong with the product:

  • When a Virtual Machine is started, the Virtualised system clock is synchronised with the real system clock. However, on resuming a VM from being suspended, this doesn’t happen, whether the VM was just paused seconds ago in the same session or whether it was last run months ago and the application has just been loaded. The problem with this is that Windows, for example, will only query NTP time-servers once every 24 hours – so a manual re-sync is necessary for the clock to be correct. This should be automated.
    (It’s worth noting, though, that I only noticed this with Vista… I’ve not retried Windows XP since to see if the same happens there)
  • The Parallels Pause and Stop controls aren’t linked to the OS’. Perhaps I take this for granted having come from using VMware before, but I’d hope that invoking the OS Sleep or Hibernate function would trigger the suspend function of the host application. However, on both Vista and Windows XP, hitting Sleep causes the system to drop to a DOS-style text screen, then just sit there. The only way to get things going again seems to be to manually stop and restart the VM, which causes the OS to complain about an unclean shutdown on restart.
    While we’re on the subject, suspending and resuming VMs (via the application) is a mind-numbingly slow process. Admittedly my system has 2Gb RAM of which I’ve reserved up to 1.5Gb for Parallels and allocated 1Gb to Vista, so it might not actually be possible to peed things up… but it is noticably slower than suspending or resuming the same OS on a slower machine with the same amount of memory.
  • Finally, it’s shame that you can’t add or remove virtualised hardware features whilst the VM is running, and that the Parallels client software doesn’t have the option to install keyboard drivers for Apple’s also-US UK layout.


Two other issues that I’ve seen pop up inconsistently are that Parallels unmounts any connected removable devices, such as any inserted CDs or DVDs, and isn’t always successful at returning them to the OS. I had one situation where after quitting Parallels, OSX was convinced that the drive was empty, and the only way I found to eject the disc was to reboot whilst holding the trackpad-button down! The second issue is that sometimes Parallels seems to block the dock from hiding or magnifying, and the only way to bring the dock back is to turn hiding off (to force it to be shown) – but then it doesn’t hide again (despite the dock hiding settings) or magnify. It sorta feels as if Parallels has hooked mouse movement routines in order to maintain a single cursor between the running OS and the virtualised OS, but then hasn’t restored them correctly.


These are all very minor issues, though (except suspend integration – that’d be a nice-to-have in the next release) and, especially given the price, Parallels is a truely excellent product. VMware are really going to have their work cut out to make a dent in this market now without giving enormous discounts on their product, if they ever finish the Mac version. I think the ultimate recommendation, though, is that almost everyone I know who owns a Mac has also bought a copy of Parallels.


Update: AppleInsider reports that Parallels are readying an update to fix many of the existing problems.


Bootcamp is the other system I’ve been playing with recently… the MacBook Pro machines are (as I think I mentioned ;)) incredibly powerful, especially for a laptop, and plays Half-Life 2 incredibly smoothly even at native resolution (an eye-pleasing 1440×900 16:10 widescreen aspect, which the Source engine handles with aplomb). Running the much more recent Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is likewise possible at native resolution too. Although in this case the framerates sometimes feel a touch low, in general the machine is more than up to the job. The only problem I’ve noticed is that sometimes if you come out of a menu “too fast” (just after having opened the menu, or just having changed something) then the framerate drops to a level that could only be measured on a “seconds per frame” basis. A quick-save followed by immediate load solves this problem though. Given that this issue is clearly not environment-related (because reloading the exact same position fixes the problem) I suspect that this will with be a graphics driver issue, or a bug in the game. I’m using the drivers form Apple’s bootcamp CD, so the latest ATI ones may give even better results.


Which neatly brings me to the issue of this aforementioned disc…

Bootcamp is a great idea, and I thoroughly applaud Apple for releasing it – but it also has its fair share of problems. Having seen the sophistication of the Parallels setup mechanism, it feels a little of a shame that Apple hasn’t come up with an equally user-friendly method (although Bootcamp is only a beta-release, so this may change).

The real problem is one of drivers. When I first started the automatic installation from the Apple drivers CD, Windows crashed with a bluescreen on installing the mouse driver. On restarting the installation completed, but various things don’t work properly.

One of these, unfortunately, is the laptop’s trackpad. Moving works, left-clicking works. Double-tapping the pad for a right-click doesn’t work (and, infact, if the Microsoft Intellimouse software is installed, this seems to break double-tapping even further, with the cursor teleporting between the relative position of either finger at random) and I’ve not been able to get option-click to work either.

This may be a non-US keyboard issue, because even though Windows insists that I’m using the Apple UK layout, there are still several keys mapped to the wrong place. Additionally, the double-quotes character seems to output an diæresis (¨) rather than it’s correct glyph (“). I assumed this must be a display problem when I first noticed – but even in a command-prompt window, what the double-quote key was producing was not visually a double-quote!

The final keyboard-related bugbear is that even when I’ve enabled the language bar and specifically installed the standard UK keyboard layout, any inserted USB keyboard is still treated as having Apple’s broken UK layout. This may be a Windows bug, but it looks as if the Apple drivers are stomping on other settings 🙁