Parallels 4.0: Triumph or train wreck?

Parallels recently released version 4 of Parallels Desktop, their Mac virtualization app that lets you run other operating systems such as Windows and Linux alongside Mac OS X. The new version promises even better integration with the Mac, and up to 50% faster operation.

I’m a relatively happy Parallels 3 user, but I’m not upgrading to 4 – at least, not yet. The Parallels support forums are inundated with upgrade problems, reports of v4 being slow as molasses, horror stories involving Windows BSODs and Windows activation issues, complaints about poor technical support, and lots of irate users demanding their money back. Enough to put me off for now, thank you very much.

This Register article paints a pretty gloomy picture of the whole torrid affair. Of course, you’re going to get problems and complaints on a support forum, but nevertheless it does sound like version 4 has some serious issues.

I had a hunch this would happen sooner or later. Parallels strikes me as a company that has grown at a faster rate than it can handle. They caught the Intel Mac wave at just the right time, trouncing the market leader, VMware, with a solid, fast app that let a whole bunch of new Intel Mac users run Windows on their Macs. Along with Boot Camp, Parallels was probably a big contributor to the success of Apple’s move to Intel.

Now, Parallels may have become a victim of its own success. With over a million Parallels Desktop users (and all the sales and support issues that entails), and growing competition from the likes of VMware and VirtualBox, the company seems to be groaning under the strain. In their rush to catch up with VMware’s Fusion 2.0 release, it sounds like Parallels’ developers may have rushed Desktop 4.0 out the door without proper Q&A or beta testing.

This is all a shame because, at its heart, Parallels Desktop is a very nice product. I’ve used Parallels versions 2 and 3 for years now, and, for those times when I do have to hold my nose and boot Windows(!), it’s perfect. What’s more, it sounds like Parallels Desktop 4 is potentially a big improvement over both version 3 and VMware Fusion 2.1 – if only it worked properly.

I hope Parallels manages to sort out the version 4 issues soon, before their reputation gets too badly tarnished and more disgruntled customers jump ship to VMware Fusion or VirtualBox. Personally I’m holding out for 4.1 before I consider upgrading.

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9 Responses to “Parallels 4.0: Triumph or train wreck?”

  1. John Says:

    PIECE o’crap.
    I installed this turkey and when trying to install a second program, ended up waiting hours for the installation to finish,. Then it wouldn’t work.
    Installed the SAME program on 3 in a few minutes.
    I am not sure what machines this was tested on, but I am not sure it included any Apple Computers as it doesn’t work on them.
    In fact, I plan on calling them and insisting on my money back.

  2. Mark Barton Says:

    I upgraded and was reasonably happy once I’d gotten everything installed, but indeed the installation was a bitch. Something about the new virtual machine triggered Windows activation which then threw off the rest of the sequence. Eventually I discovered that if I let the installation time out, a button for manual installation would appear that would show me the VM screen and let me dismiss the activation. But I needed to do that on each of about four restarts that were required, and it wasn’t obvious at the time that I wasn’t just stuck in a loop.

  3. Aaron Says:

    Really? I’ve had nothing but success from the upgrade. It is noticeable faster and I haven’t had any major issues as of yet. I haven’t run any major apps, though (3D, CAD, Pro-E types), but everything else hums right along. I’m running Ubuntu Linux, XP Pro & Vista Ultimate under Parallels 4 on my Core2Duo iMac aluminum.

  4. Matt Says:

    Thanks for you comments folks. It sounds like the install/upgrade works perfectly for some (the majority?) and is a disaster for others!

  5. Glenn Says:

    It has been a total disaster for me. Issues with drivers when I switch from native booting windows to running it as a virtual machine. I’ve had to restore from a disk image twice already. I’ve had corrupted boot sectors just by installing and rebooting in Parallels, nothing seems to work and when I get it running correctly, I won’t boot it for a day or two and suddenly, it no longer works. Total POS. I’m leaving Parallels for VMWare now, after this and their SNAFU with XP’s SP3. They just aren’t on top of it.

  6. Matt Says:

    @Glenn: Sounds nasty. I’m thinking of jumping ship to VMware too. Did you have any hassles with Windows XP re-activation when transferring your Parallels VM to VMware?

  7. Marc Pelletier Says:

    Slooooowwwwwwwwww. Downloading fusion as we speak. Horribly slow. Just like in the days of running Virtual PC with XP on a powerbook G3 500…

  8. Matt Says:

    @Marc: Sounds like a nightmare! Brr… Fusion is looking even more tempting…

  9. Says:

    I just recently installed Parallels 4.0, never having tried 3.0 or any version before it, and I love it. I have an ancient (in computer terms) 3+ year old Mac mini Intel Core Solo, 1.6 which has been upgraded from 512mb of ram to 2gb, and it runs Windows XP great. It’s obviously not as quick as when I ran Windows XP via BootCamp, but then that is to be expected, especially on such a mediocre machine.

    But even still, I use Spaces with 2 for OS X (1 for work with Photoshop CS3/Coda/Terminal/Safari, and one for iTunes, Adium, etc.), and then 1 for Windows XP @ full screen mode, so as to keep things separate (I like coherence mode but it’s just easier this way), and the only slow-down is from switching between spaces. It lags a tiny bit, but again, underpowered computer processor and not to mention running HyperSpaces with fade-effect transitions for different desktop backgrounds for each space might have a bit to do with that 😉

    I upgraded to IE7 (the reason I wanted XP, to test my sites in), as well as installed VB2008 and C#2008 for some WinForms programming hobby/time-killing (ah, the memories of VB3.0 in Win95 days =D), and everything works fine. Surprisingly, both Windows and my native OS X 10.5.8 run very quickly for running both in tandem. I’d think that it would slow down my whole computer terribly, but there is very little slow-down, even with all the aforementioned apps open at once. I am very, very pleased with the results and will definitely be installing it on my MacPro dual 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon/6gb when I buy it!

    P.S. I suggest anyone who has a previous version of Parallels REMOVE the older version, backing up your VMs first, and then do a clean-install, as a clean-install worked perfectly for me even for my first time doing it and not really being familiar with the process!