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Parallels makes a virtual PC type of software for the Mac which allows you to run Windows on the Mac. Great software, but the company has a little bit of a history of quality control problems. Today the company launched a new design of their website. Unfortunately the company forgot about supporting the default Mac browser, Safari!

Parallels website shows a dropdown in the wrong place in Safari.

Nothing big: a drop down menu is showing out of place. The site actually seems to start working after you resize it for the first time, or click a single link. It’s likely to be fixed by the time many people read this, but it’s still a little bit ironic that a company with a major Mac market would not check their site in Safari.

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We have written about Parallels for Mac before. That time it was about Parallels addition of Boot Camp support and drag and drop between Windows and OS X. Since then, Parallels has been steadily improving on their software to make the best use possible of their head start against VMware. The kicker was going to be 3D support in their next release. But did they do to little too late?

Parallels have been saying for a while that they’re working on 3D acceleration. On their official blog in January Parallels said, “We’re still on track to add this in the next major upgrade version.” But if this was Parallels great advantage, there is bad news on the horizon: they’re not the only ones on track. Engadget recently reposted a YouTube video showing VMware run full speed 3D graphics on a Mac. If this is an indication of how VMware will run when it’s released on the Mac, Parallels might have some serious competition on their hands.

It’s hard to overstate how much Parallels has benefited from being first to market. They got some very healthy buzz. Now they’re prominently on sale in the Apple Store, and have even been mentioned in a footnote in one of the Apple advertisements. But fame or no fame, it is also true that Parallels has not always been doing a great job with the actual software. Parallels for Mac is frequently riddled with little quirks and bugs. When the software was first released, it routinely caused kernel panics, at least on my machine. At the time of this writing a search for “usb problem” on the Parallels forum turns up 391 results.

The truth of the matter is that there has always been a sense of lack of polish with the Parallels software. Consider the following message which is displayed when starting the latest beta. It has some fairly peculiar grammatical structure.

Parallels Message

In case you can’t read it, the message is “Parallels Tools initializing [sic] is in progress. Please do not turn off or reset the virtual machine, and do not perform any operations in the guest operating system until Parallels Tools initializing [sic] will be complete, because it may result in data loss.”

I’m not an English expert but this sure sounds rather awkward to me.

When VMware releases their product it is likely to have been both proofread and carefully debugged. It is likely that it will look and feel like any professional application you use. The only saving grace for Parallels then will be established market share, and any additional features they managed to finish in the time between their release and VMware’s release. If Parallels was banking on their 3D support, they’re heading out into deep water if the video demonstration above is genuine.

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An Appleinsider article on Digg claims that “Parallel, Inc. is preparing to make a quantum leap in the art of Windows virtualization software for Mac with [a] new version of its Parallels Desktop software that introduce a refined user interface and greater support [for] Apple Computer’s Boot Camp software. Graphics performance increases of up to 50%, seamless drag-and-drop, tons more features!”

This is exciting news. The ability to run your Parallels software together with your Boot Camp partition is the most interesting new feature. Power users will no longer need to keep two Windows installations – one for rebooting into Windows and one for running in OS X – and can save some much needed hard drive space.

Unfortunately the most important thing has still been left out: support for OpenGL and DirectX. I believe that the main reason owners of the Parallels software still might run Boot Camp on occasion is because they use 3D software or games. Of course, even with some good 3D support in Parallels, hard core game players might still be inclined to use Boot Camp to get every drop of performance out of their machine, since Parallels only virtualizes one processor core. But for most users – those who are not hardcore – basic last generation 3D support would be enough to alleviate the need for the dreaded Windows reboot.

From a technical point of view it might be ‘tricky’ to do 3D graphics since a lot of those unruly games expect to be able to bang the metal, and take control of the whole graphics card. But most 3D games on the Windows platform can somehow run in a Window as well as fullscreen, meaning they must already have some means for sharing the hardware. A good driver pretending to be a 3D card should be able to accept OpenGL commands, and then simply turn around and give them to the OpenGL drivers in OS X for execution. On the OS X side the OpenGL environment would be set up to draw into a hidden frame buffer which then is copied right back into the virtual environment.

Either way, I use Parallels on an almost daily basis on my Mac. It comes in very handy when I need to run Internet Explorer to check what kind of damage Explorer does to the rendering of our websites. :)

See the Digg article. | Digg story

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