Despite being a long time Mac user (it’s the platform I’ve used the longest ever since I got my first computer which, for the record, was a ZX-81) I find that, on occasion, I need access to Windows.
The main reason for this is that I’m a developer. I need to make sure that web sites I create work on Windows. I also develop dedicated apps for mobiles and tablets so although I can do this exclusively on OS X there may come a time in the future when I need Windows for something app related.
There are two ways of running Windows on a Mac. One is to use Apple’s own BootCamp firmware that allows you to dual boot into either system. It means your Windows installation will run as quickly as possible because you’re effectively using a PC. Frightening thought, though that is.
The alternative route (and the one I’ve always gone for) is to run a virtual copy of Windows within OS X. That’s something that’s relatively painless to do since Mac’s have been Intel based and there are several options out there to choose from. One free option is Virtual Box, however most people go for one of the two paid software solutions out there – either VM Fusion or Parallels Desktop.
Since it was first released, I’ve always used Parallels Desktop. I’ve found it to be, on the whole, a reliable piece of software and has enabled me to run Windows on my Mac for some years now. I’ve been on their beta program for a long time now and always give the latest version a go, feeding back my experiences to the dev team.
That’s where (this time) things started to go wrong!
I ran Parallels Desktop 11 beta and found it didn’t play at all happily with Windows 10. I reported multiple issues to Parallels including video driver problems, network drop outs and what is most likely some kind of kernel panic where the VM would die horribly for no apparent reason.
No fixes were supplied for these issues during the beta period and Parallels Desktop 11 launched without any of them being resolved so I switched back to Parallels Desktop 10 only to find that Windows 10 didn’t play well on that version either. I’ve since found that running SQL Server Management Studio 2012 appears to be the catalyst for some of these issues and so I’m sticking to 2008 for now.
A rival to Parallels Desktop is VMWare Fusion. VMWare have some considerable experience in virtualisation technologies so I decided to give their software a go and downloaded a trial of the latest version.
I spent most of the trial period with VMWare trying to get Windows 10 activation to work. Understandably as I was running it under a new VM, Windows 10 thought I’d changed my computer so wanted to re-activate. However, what Microsoft don’t tell you is that this can’t be done. The only way is to go back to Windows 8.1, reactivate that and then convert to Windows 10 again. Problem was, I’d removed my Windows 8.1 backup from within Windows 10 to save space when I copied the VM across from Parallels to VMWare.
So I had to re-install Windows 8 (I have a licence so no problems there) and then update to 8.1 and from there update to to version 10. Meanwhile my VMWare trial was about to run out so I bought a Fusion licence (with a helpful discount for being a Parallels customer).
I quickly realised, however, that long term use of Windows 10 under VMWare Fusion 8 was going to be even more problematic than my experiences under Parallels. OK, so the software actually ran without bombing out, however it was very slow in operation, mouse movement (despite being on maximum) was very slow indeed (I had to lift and replace the mouse several times to move across the display). Most annoying of all, the accuracy of the mouse pointer was terrible – I’d end up clicking on the wrong thing and had very real problems highlighting things.
Very VERY annoying!
Finding a solution
To be fair to VMWare, one of their operators connected to my machine via TeamViewer and tried his best to sort things out. For most of the 45 minutes he was connected he tried doing things that I’d already tried by following recommendations in their knowledge base. At least he was being thorough.
He eventually gave up and told me last Friday that he’d speak to some techies and ring me back on Monday.
It’s now Tuesday. (They called back on Wednesday – see my update at the bottom of this post)
Switching back to Parallels
So with VMWare Fusion increasing my stress levels, I decided to have another crack at Parallels Desktop. I thought I’d try going from a Windows 8.1 backup of my Parallels virtual machine and then install 10 and see what happened. That worked, and was OK for a day before I installed SQL Server Management Studio 2012 and discovered that that seems to be at the route of at least some of the problems.
So I’ve decided to stay on Parallels after all. I’ve wasted 30 quid on a VMWare licence I won’t use now, but hey ho.
VMWare isn’t as good – and that’s official!
One other thing to mention. When I was talking on the phone to the VMWare engineer, I pointed out that the display performance wasn’t very good and had been much faster under Parallels Desktop. He said that it is a known “feature” of OpenGL in VMWare that it’s graphical performance is not as good as Parallels Desktop. He actually said that.
Which one should you go for? Goodness only knows, but if you’re like me and pushing lots of pixels around the screen (I have a 4K retina display) then Parallels is probably your best bet, but as always with these things YMMV.
UPDATE 16/9: VMWare phoned me back today. I have to say they’ve tried to be helpful and to be fair to them they say that they’ve had no other reports like this under Fusion 8. The engineer said they tried on a retina iMac, a MacBook Pro 15″ and a Mac Pro with a Dell monitor and all was fine on there. It’s clearly something to do with my set up but what that could be is baffling both them and me. I’ll stick to Parallels and try Fusion again once it’s had a few bug fix updates – you never know!
A Manager at VMWare wanted to speak to me to know the details (he’s not happy that they couldn’t fix the problem). He’s going to monitor and I’ve asked him to let me know when Fusion is updated so I can try again. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens. Watch this space!