Saturday, February 24, 2007

Using Parallels Transporter to migrate a Microsoft Virtual PC image to an Intel Mac

My wife is taking a class at a university, and though they say they are Mac compatible, a preparatory sample testing application is Windows only (and this wasn't disclosed before signing up for the test) which is why we had to know if it was sane to buy her a new MacBook now. We got Parallels for her, and I needed Windows XP installed, so I figured this would be the perfect time to see if Parallels Transporter could do all the cool things it says it can. Transporter is supposed to be able to migrate a PC, real or virtual from either VMWare of MS Virtual PC, into a Parallels VM, even over the network. I had a Virtual PC for Mac image which was terminal since MS had famously killed the product, or at least won't go forward with a version for Intel Macs. I had created this image on my iMac G5 for the occasional Windows only application when I bought that machine 2 years ago, but the image was in cold storage on DVD since with the MacBook Pro I hadn't needed it. So what was it like?

Transporter was a phenomenon. I put the DVD my wife's MacBook (white, 2.0 Ghz), pointed Transporter at the image file, and about an hour later, I had the same machine I had mothballed from Virtual PC in Parallels, it was amazing. Of course, there are always some caveats, but it's mostly all on Windows or Microsoft. I mean, I wanted to start with this image to avoid reinstalling XP and SP2 again...
  • Re-activation. Of course I knew this was going to happen, but it still sucks.
  • Driver Update Notification Spasm. This is kind of expected too, and I just cancelled out of all of them, because...
  • Parallels Tools for Windows not automatically installed. I didn't expect this to happen before Windows booted, but I did excpect Parallels to be set to autolaunch the Tools install. A minor annoyance, but if you didn't know you were supposed to install the Tools, they probably never get installed because Parallels wasn't also prompting to install
  • Virtual PC Add-ons had to be manually removed. This would be really great if Parallels automatically removed whatever previous tools where installed in the VM from your previous VM environment, if that was where you sourced the new VM from. Instead, I had to manually remove the bits, and I do mean manually because using Add/Remove Programs, the Virtual PC add-ons wouldn't let me uninstall them. I had to be running the uninstall from within a VM I was told. I am not going to be too hard on MS on this, but the restriction, and I am surprised they even implemented the check, seems on the surface just unneeded. Virtual PC like Parallels installs Services and drivers, so I had to rip some stuff out of the registry by hand, and I had to use Device Manager, showing hidden devices (View menu -> Show hidden devices -> then Uninstall everything Virtual PC-like under Non-Plug and Play Drivers). But this was easy compared to...
  • Windows Update Hell. I decommisioned the Virtual PC image on July 16, 2006. That's only 7 months from yesterday, but it took longer to get XP updated to current patch status as it took Transporter to migrate the Virtual PC image over to Parallels. The really irritating part of the process is you have to keep going back to Windows Update after the last cycle to poll and see if you are completely done. Oh, and I wasn't offered IE 7 once, I had to install that manually. This is why the process of not releasing more service packs is such a terrible decision, you always a bajillion (totally a scientific term btw) updates away from the last service pack to get a clean or not recently patched machine up to spec. I have a question for Microsoft on this. If each of the patches are good enough to release individually, and I have to take them all anyway, why not save us all some pain and put all the most current post-SP2 files in one installation wrapper. Half the time in these Windows Update pain cycles is downloading, verifying, and installing each of these patches by themselves.

What a coincidence that Tom Yager at InfoWorld wrote How to scoop the brains out of a Windows PC and dump them in your Mac in one step published today after I had used Parallels Transporter just last night with equally startling positive results. There is an error in Tom's column though, Transporter has been included for a while in the lastest series of Parallels betas and release candidates.