Parallels Desktop for Mac

By | 2010/09/15

Recently Parallels Desktop for the Mac was updated to v6, and like the last couple of major version upgrades, the update process was a fairly seamless process.

I run Parallels Desktop on both my Mac Book Pro and my Mac Pro. On my MBP, I typically run just a single virtual machine, which I use for accessing certain “windows only” systems at work.

My Mac Pro however is a real work horse. At any one time I’ll have 50 or 60 virtual machines defined on a 3TB RAID-0 stripe, and at any given time I’ll have up to 10 or 15 virtual machines actually running. (I basically replaced a noisy ESX server with a silent Mac Pro, and never looked back.) Only slight percentage of these will be Windows, and normally Windows servers for testing; the remainder are typically Linux, with some Solaris/x86 systems also in play.

The User Interface in Parallels v6 is somewhat modified from v5. I have to admit, I’m not at all a fan of the darkened interface for the virtual machine list, and yet again as a power user I’m disappointed that there’s no way of having a simplified/reduced size view of virtual machines. A long scrollable list of wasted space annoys me:

Parallels v6 Virtual Machine List

I’m also disappointed that there’s no way to specify custom key strokes to be sent to a virtual machine. This means that if I want to control an ESX guest via a VCenter Console running within a Windows Parallels guest, in all reality I can’t, because I can’t send the right sequence of keys to the VCenter Console – instead, they get intercepted by Parallels. This is a major annoyance, and it’s very frustrating that it’s continued into v6.

That being said, I’m overall still very happy with Parallels. Speed tests on virtual machine guests running on my 3-drive RAID yields write speeds of over 90MB/s, which is fantastic for test purposes.

But I blog not to talk about Parallels Desktop v6, but the functionality it brings via the newly updated iOS Parallels app.

The previous Parallels app for iOS was dedicated to the iPhone only, and was limited in functionality to being able to start, suspend, reset, resume and shutdown virtual machines. Ever since the iPad was released, people had been clamouring for a more advanced version of the Parallels app on the iPad, and with version 6 of Parallels desktop, we got that in spades.

Apparently at VMworld there was quite a stir over announcements of impending iPad apps allowing VCenter administration, etc. I’d mentioned my belief that we’ll see a lot of iPad management apps coming some time ago in my main blog, and the Parallels iOS app now demonstrates the fantastic potential of these sorts of applications.

Parallels v6 integrates a new feature called “Parallels Mobile Server”, which allows remote management of Parallels virtual machines, directly from their consoles. With this enabled, the new version of the Parallels iOS app is breathtakingly useful.

Once you connect via the iOS app to the Parallels Desktop host, you get a list of the virtual machines on the host:

Parallels Guest List

Any virtual machine, regardless of OS, can have its console accessed just by touching the virtual machine. You can not only interact with the virtual machine as if attached to the console, but also adjust configuration, suspend/resume/shutdown/reboot, etc.

Parallels iOS Console Access 1

A virtual keyboard can be brought up, and via the virtual keyboard, a plethora of keyboard sequences can be entered – including the hideous CTRL+ALT+DEL sequence we’ve come to know and ‘love’ within Windows:

Parallels iOS Console Access 2

Within the console, most functions can be emulated, though I’m currently not sure if a mouse drag operation can be emulated yet.

[Edit: 2010-09-16]

Turns out I was wrong about that. In the screen shots, notice the selection icon (rope with mouse cursor at the top); with this clicked, the touch emulation of mouse clicks transfers to recognising click/drags – meaning you can either drag windows around, or actually do a dragging selection of multiple items. I thought it was odd this might have been left out, and I’m pleased to see that it was more just odd that I hadn’t noticed it 🙂

[Back to original content]

Overall though I’m quite satisfied that accessing virtual machines via the iOS App is functional enough, and will become a useful tool to anyone running Parallels Desktop with multiple virtual machines.

Parallels iOS Console Access 3

To me the worth of Parallels Desktop v6 for Mac is not necessarily in the app you run on your desktop, but the app you can now run on your iPad (and iPhone):

Parallels app for iPhone

In the long run, it would be handy if the iOS app could be used to also create new virtual machines; that layer of management seems to be the primary thing missing from the app. However, given this is primarily aimed at a Desktop virtualisation system, and a high percentage of users are going to have one or two virtual machines at most that they rarely, if ever, recreate, it’s understandable this didn’t make it into the current version of the app. Fingers crossed a future version will get it.

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