Parallels Switch to Mac Edition is Daunting but Worthwhile

| In-Depth Review

StM box

The Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac Edition StME is designed to move an entire Windows or Linux environment, the OS and all settings and files from a PC to a corresponding virtual machine (VM) on a Mac. Because of the complexity of the process involved, Parallels provides a boatload of documentation. Users will have to plan, get organized and follow many pages of instructions. In the end, however, the reward is great.

The boxed product itself, 50 mm (2 in.) thick, is an imposing proposition and contains many components. See the picture below.

StM contents

Box Contents of StME (photo by reviewer)

Product Overview

Unlike many Apple hardware and software products in which the goal is to minimize documentation, (leading to the Missing Manual series) StME provides several beautifully produced and nicely bound manuals: Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac, Parallels Desktop 4 Switch to Mac Edition and a Quick Reference Guide. (Nothing changes in the recent release of Parallels Desktop 5.0). However, the Quick Reference Guide is not the place to start -- it doesn't serve as a launch point.  Rather, it merely highlights the viewing modes in Parallels Desktop 4 & 5  (PD4, PD5) and provides a list of Windows and Mac equivalent terms.

The user, instead, will have to peruse the collection of materials and begin to formulate a plan of action.  That is, translate the information in the manuals into an entry point and a personal list of tasks. That's because the wealth of information, taken as a whole, could stymie less technical users who may be accustomed to simpler install and launch techniques.

The manual that comes in the box for StME is focuses on the most likely scenario: PC with windows 2000, XP or Vista migrated to a Mac. Windows 7 is still too new. The USB cable is designed to work with that pairing. For those coming from a Linux environment (Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu and a few others) the transfer will have to be over a local network. The full manual for the tool that does this, "Parallels Transporter," is available at Parallels.com. On page 15 & 16, the supported host OSes, Windows and Linux, and file systems are all listed.

So if you're moving everything from a PC to a virtual machine on the Mac, you can use the included StME paper manual and the convenient USB cable (or a network). If you're moving a Linux system to a VM on the Mac, you'll need to download the full "Transporter User Guide" from the link above and be prepared to transfer over a local network only.

Becoming familiar with the terminology is also important. The Parallels Transporter Agent (PTA) is installed on the source computer and the Parallels Transporter (PT) is installed on the destination computer, a Mac. Both these software items are included on the DVD for Mac and PC. If your source is Linux, you need to download a different Transporter Agent, a Linux shell script. It's here, on the bottom right of the page, called "Parallels Transporter Agent for Linux."

Once you have the Transporter and Transporter Agent installed on the Mac and the source computer, respectively, and selected the corresponding communication path, USB or network, you're ready to look at the section in the StME manual (for PC) or full Transporter Manual (Linux) that discusses "Migration."  The corresponding manuals will seem somewhat daunting at this point because there are so many options.  For example, one can migrate from a Boot Camp partition, a remote physical computer or even a virtual computer, such as one from VMware, Microsoft Virtual PC, or Virtual Box (Sun Microsystems).

Because the StME system is so capable and has so many options, it would seem to be a good idea at this point to construct a plan that has a list of page numbers and a list of tasks.  Otherwise, you'll be lost in options intended for different kinds of migrations.  In fact, this is one reason why the package is so daunting: it has a hard time deciding between simplicity and completeness. Accordingly, it'll be your job to ignore the ignorable and focus on your own situation.

After you've done all of the above, then you'll be ready to actually touch the hardware and start the migration. For those who haven't already installed PD4, the installer app will install both Parallels Desktop 4 (PD4) and the Transporter app. If PD4 is already installed, then you upgrade, PD5 will delete PD4, install PD5 and the latest version of the Transporter app. An uninstaller is also included, which is high on my list of Good Things™ for any software package.

Observations

At this point, you may be asking yourself if all this is worth it.  There are a myriad of manuals, options, tutorials, and other resources.  The process must be conducted studiously, step by step, and one must have good organization and reading comprehension skills. Many PC users may not be ready that kind of technical work, out of the box, and that leads one to ask if there's room for improvement.  There is.

These days, Mac and PC users are accustomed to having great software carry the load.  I can easily see how a well crafted, single app, could walk the user through a series of questions and throw away all that's not needed. It may well be that Parallels has gone overboard here in the sense that if a little bit of documentation is good, a lot must be better. However, some people are more comfortable with paper documentation. Perhaps that's a concession to the primary customer, a long-time PC user.  Even so, it's a quandary. Less documentation has the appearance of false simplicity. On the other hand, more resources, more books, more online documentation makes for a more professional product, but can overwhelm.

The Parallels Transporter and Transporter Agent GUIs are great.  It's just that you'll have to wade through the materials, written and Internet, in order to get to the point where you can let these two great apps walk you through the process.

StME in Action

Because our family has expunged all PCs running Windows natively, I decided to do a real-world test with a custom PC (Core 2 Duo) running Fedora 10 natively. For those not familiar with it, Fedora is descended from earlier versions of Red Hat Linux:

Fedora is a Linux-based operating system that showcases the latest in free and open source software. Fedora is always free for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. It is built by people across the globe who work together as a community: the Fedora Project. The Fedora Project is open and anyone is welcome to join.

I should note that the latest version of Fedora that's been QA'd for the Parallels Transporter Agent is version 8. Fedora 10 is not on the list, but after consulting with Parallels, I decided to go ahead and try anyway. I was told the installer should still work, and it did.  I downloaded the Parallels Transporter Agent for Linux, a shell script, and ran it as root.  It walks one through a short series of questions and then installs the app in Applications -> System Tools on the Linux system.

 

PTA kick off (Parallels)

Parallels Transporter Agent installer kicks off on source machine 

The problem that I ran into, I think, is that the installer recognized that Fedora is running "SELinux," Security- Enhanced Linux, a set of modifications to a UNIX OS that allows for enhanced security policies. Even after changing SELinux to permissive, then after that, disabled, I still wasn't able to make the connection. That is, Transporter on the Mac side could ping the Fedora box but couldn't "see" the broadcast of the PTA. I must report that there's something about the Fedora 10 box and SELinux that I still don't understand. 

STAM launches

Parallels Transporter Agent app itself prepares to run on source 

As a result, a Parallels engineer kindly offered to show the sequence on Unbuntu 8 in a live WebEx session, which worked as intended. Afterwards, he supplied screen shots, a few of which are shown here, documenting the process. Note that this would be just a bit simpler on Windows because one doesn't have to install the PTA on the command line -- plus one can use the USB cable directly.

There are perhaps four or five of these steps on each of the computers, PT and PTA, and I've just shown a few to give a feel for what the process is like. Everything would be the same on Windows.

 

PT on Mac

Back on the Mac, run the Parallels Transporter

I

PT pick methoid

Pick Method: USB cable, Network, or External Storage

More to the point, Parallels told me that they've had many, many customers successfully migrate, notably on PCs to Mac. Admittedly, I tried something a little less battle tested and a bit of an acid test. If Parallels and I find out what happened with Fedora 10, I'll update this review.

Export method

The Migration kicks off and shows progress bar

Note that one of the options is to install the VM on a Mac's external drive.  The remaining disk space on the target MacBook Pro I used probably wouldn't have been enough to bring the full Fedora 10 system over, so making the target a VM on an external drive attached to the Mac that's big enough would have been necessary.  Parallels reported that they don't think there's a preflight test of available disk space, so you'll have to make that determination of what the target will be for the VM ahead of time -- or risk getting an error as the VM is created.

Also note that after you migrate your Windows system to a VM, you'll need to remove WIndows from the original PC in order to honor the Windows license.

Conclusions

One of the realities of a system like this is that once you've tested it over and over, you get a feel for how things go.  You become accustomed to the components, the windows and installer pages become familiar, and soon it's an old friend.  This must be particularly true for Parallels quality control testers who have done it dozens or hundreds of times. So it's easy to lose track of that original, intangible "first customer reaction."

The hurdle for the home user is that the first time can be imposing. Software has to be installed on two computers. A series of steps must be taken, and several different options, including connection mode, must be chosen. However, after spending some time with the package, I too became somewhat accustomed to the process. (Just writing this review helped me organize my thoughts better about the product. And, if anything, that should help you as well.) So I would suggest trying it several times, experiment, and select different options. After awhile, familiarity breeds ... confidence.

That said, this package will be one of the more technical pieces of software you'll encounter as a home user.  You don't need to be an experienced IT administrator or UNIX command line guru, but you will have to embrace the whole process studiously. You might very well spend all Saturday afternoon with it.  It's within your grasp and will work as intended.

Once you're finished, your entire PC will be moved to a virtual machine on your Mac. You can checkpoint it (that is, preserve the state at a given time) and always return to a specific, named state. You can back it up. Your PC will even run a little faster because of the optimized drivers in Parallels. So, it'll be worth the effort.

If I were to make one change to this product, I would dispense with all the paper manuals and have one piece of paper in the box that says, "Insert the DVD into your Mac's optical drive and double click the installer." Everything that happens next would be GUI driven. The video tutorial, in parts, could be included in the appropriate places in the GUI installer. Repeat on the PC or Linux side. The goal would be to encapsulate all the knowledge, all the options, all the advice and all that paper into the GUIs. (Think TurboTax from Intuit.) Because the package can be imposing for the average user, but is nevertheless very complete, I'm giving the Parallels Switch to Mac a "Great!" rating (8 out of 10), and we'll see what happens in the next version.

Why not "Outstanding!"? it's this reviewer's opinion that the overall customer experience needs some tuning even though the underlying technology is amazing and the PT and PTA GUI's are great. Aside from that, you'll find that the end result is very much worth the time invested.

Extras

Finally, I should point out that Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac Edition includes US$175 of free software designed to protect Windows from external threats. According to Parallels, "This includes Parallels Internet Security powered by Kaspersky ($79.99 Bonus Value), offering anti-virus, firewall, scanner, identity protection and more. Acronis True Image Home ($49.99 Bonus Value) adds backup/restore capabilities and Acronis Disk Director Suite ($49.99 Bonus Value) helps manage virtual machines giving better performance and data protection."

Parallels StME has also been localized to English, French and German.

Product: Switch to Mac Edition

Company: Parallels

List Price: US$99.99

Pros:

Straightforward migration of an entire Windows or Linux PC into a Macintosh/Parallels Desktop Virtual Machine.  Extensive video help and written documentaiton. Special USB cable included (for use with Windows only). Free software included that helps protect the PC from external threats. Great product value for the price.

Cons:

A bit overwhelming out of the box.  Could use additional software augmentation and better vision for UI.

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Comments

X

Having trouble trusting this review, when they talk about Fedora, then post screen shots of Ubuntu.

John Martellaro

It was my choice to try Fedora 10 because that’s the box I had as a standalone system.  As the review explains, I used an OS that hadn’t been QA’d.  So we walked through the Ubuntu 8, a distribution that *had* been QA’d, and that worked. Windows 2000, XP and Vista have also been QA’d and, as I pointed out, many, many users have migrated successfully.

Wayne

Is there a “switch FROM mac” version?  My wife has decided to go back to using Ubuntu on her Mac Pro at work.

John Martellaro

I don’t think so. That would be a project for Ubuntu… wink

ctopher

Also a “switch from Mac” wouldn’t be the same as you cannot run OS X in a virtual machine running on Ubuntu.

Why not just mount the Ubuntu volume on the Mac and drag-and-drop your files?

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