At a Glance: Parallels Desktop 6

Parallels today released their latest and greatest instalment of their virtualisation software, Parallels Desktop 6. Now I have actually been testing the Beta version for the best part of 3 months now in private (as with most testing programmes) so I know the software pretty well now.

The user interface hasn’t changed much at all – just minor UI tweaks and they have removed the silly animated virtual machine names that looked good when you first saw it but it soon became annoying. You still have a list of all your virtual machines and the actual virtual machine itself is ver clean and un-cluttered with icons to do everything like directly interface with certain devices.

Now if you read the ‘What’s New?’ page on the Parallels site, you might be forgiven for saying not much has changed. Phrases like “immersive environment” don’t really mean much and making things “easier than ever” are good selling points but not enough to warrant the upgrade price just shy of $50 unless you really love your frame rates in games and 5.1 surround sound on your mac. This isn’t to say they haven’t done enough to warrant it in these fields but for someone who already uses Parallels, they are not what I would consider selling points.

What I think are bigger selling points are the “Manageability and Mobility” and “Enhanced performance” as the Parallels marketing team puts it. In non marketing language, they have a remote control app for virtual machines now for you iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch etc that will let you control your virtual machines over WiFi or even 3G.

I have already done some basic tests on it and I must say I am incredibly impressed with the way you turn it on. As with most cool features that involve handing your computer’s screen over to another device, it is disabled by default but a quick trip to Preferences and the Mobile tab will sort you out. Just log into your Parallels account which you created when registering your product and open the app on your iDevice and fill in the same details.

There is nothing amazingly special about the application itself – it behaves like any remote desktop app. Pinch to zoom, tap to click and other finger based gestures to tell the computer. Seems to work very well over WiFi and I was surprised at the performance of it over 3G so now sitting in that meeting going – “does this site work in IE6″ or the far more likely want to play Call of Duty on your iPhone in a meeting, is now a possibility.

Back to the software itself. The other feature I would like to draw on if the increased performance. If you have a recent mac that supports the snow leopard 64bit kernel, the upgrade is a must! The performance increase is fantastic. I cannot yet quantify the improvement as this is more of a first thoughts affair but the virtual machine is now a lot quicker to boot, struggles less with multitasking and seeing as it uses less CPU time, will quite possibly be a huge improvement for MacBook Pro owners. They have supposedly upgraded the graphics capability but being the non-gamer I am, I do not own a single game that could put this to the test.

With regards to the other features, they are all very standard. Coherence allows you to merge both the virtual machine’s desktop and you macs together so you can enjoy “Your computer might be at risk” warnings from your mac’s top bar. You can install pretty much any OS you can get your hands on and its a breeze to do – takes around 15 minutes for me to get from nothing to a full windows 7 installation. I can’t really say any more than is already listed at the Parallels website so to save your time, I will not bother repeating any of that as its all pretty much the same as version 5.

So to conclude this short review – Parallels Desktop 6 is well worth the upgrade if you want the ability to manage your VM’s on the go, own a 64 Bit Mac or just really love Call of Duty with insane framerates. If neither of these really apply to you and you already own Parallels Desktop 5, I would save your money for now.

If you have not yet bought a virtualisation package, I can highly recommend this for first time users as Parallels guides you through every step and makes it as simply as possible.

Disclaimer: I do not work for Parallels and never have. All views in this review are my own and I am not paid to write any of the reviews – I do it as a bit of fun.

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Three UK MiFi service

One of the main problems I find with working on the go is connections. I have an account with the three major WiFi providers yet when I need internet – there is never a hotspot around. I have used HSDPA modems and phone tethering but none really deal with the issue and never seem to work that reliably. In my experience, USB Modems are great but usually no good as the sensitivity of the units genrally sucks. I have been looking in to getting a new unit to connect my upcoming iPad and laptop together and to save some cash – the Three MiFi modem seemed to fit the bill. The MiFi is a branded Huawei E5830 and is very compact. It features an internal battery that allows around 4-5 hours of use solid and a small LED based display to show you when there is signal, battery level, WiFi and connection status.

This is also partly a review of the Three network itself. In the past I have stayed away from Three as when they first started, the based a whole company based on a technology that hadn’t even rolled out over 95% of the country and where it was, you were charged a huge premium just to make a video call to someone who wasn’t in a 3G area. That said, since 2002 they have made some real headway and Ofcom’s network map [PDF] shows that Three is actually now the network with the most national 3G coverage. This is reflected with the speeds you receive just in the middle of no-where. I am currently sitting in the car going down the M6 at 70mph yet I have enough bandwidth to stream podcast on my iPhone, syncronise my files to Dropbox and write this blog post.

If you are in a static location then you can get ridiculous speeds both down and up with personal experience of download speeds up to 5.2Mbps down and 2.5Mbps up. Three says the maximum throughput on the network is 3.6Mbps but if Hardware permits, some places can get up to 7.2Mbps. On the road however you do get some issues. If you are on the train or in the car and switching between base stations (mobile transmitters) the network seems to be a bit patchy and the MiFi unit does not alert you if it disconnects, it just ignores requests sent to it.

When you receive the device, it comes pre-configured with a unique SSID (network name) and Security Key (my unit was WPA2 by default). However it suffers from being locked down by Three and the only configuration utility is available through Three’s proprietary Windows only application so if you’re on an alternative operating system like Mac OS X or linux, you can’t customise the settings like SSID or Security Key. This lack of windows also means you cannot receive SMS messages and therefore register for the online account ‘My3′ service that allows you to view you usage. The great thing is – no drivers or programs are necessary to just get online – just grab a WiFi enabled device and turn on the MiFi and press the connect button on the side .

The MiFi device is great for people who love gadgets and want to connect multiple devices to the internet meaning you can write blog posts from a bench in the middle of the local park!

Google’s New Design?

Google has stuck with the same design for many years now. A few changes here and there but on the whole, it is the same design. I was faced today with what appeared to be a new design of Google and it’s results pages.

Now imagine my surprise when I go onto Google one day and I’m presented with a slightly different logo. Not one to commemorate a certain person or to highlight a holiday, a new Google logo (pictured below).

That was not all thats changed on the main search page. Google introduced fading on the main splash page about 6 months ago and I have to say it makes it look a great deal simpler but with the new homepage revisions, they have cleaned up the screen completely. When moving the mouse, the details and account information return as per the change back in october.

So without further ago, I present the new Google homepage

It is clean, clear and concise. A way all designs should be but gives the user a chance to get all the functions at the move of a mouse. Nice one Google. Now this isn’t a huge deal of change really, its just a tweak but the search results page, that’s changed the most.

The search results page is even more simplified. You no longer have the search query you entered or the option to define it. You also have a selection of new features like searching updates which brings up a screen showing all the latest Twitter, Facebook, Friend Feed etc. statuses updates.

So to conclude, the new design it is a very nice improvement over their long standing design but things have moved on and for it to compete against others gaining popularity, like Bing, they need to make sure that there are significant improvements in ease of use and features.

Now I’m slightly bemused at this point why this is visible to me and not others yet. This may just be a test they are carrying out on certain users but nonetheless the design I would expect to be showing up very soon if not already!

If you can’t see it yet – dont worry, it seems that for some unknown reason one of my connections could see it but the other one couldn’t so they may just have been testing it out.

SeeSaw Online TV Review

SeeSaw, for those who don’t already know what it is, is the attempt at co-ordinated online TV for all the major networks in the UK. You may have already heard of it under the heading of Project Kangaroo, a project that was blocked by the European Competition commission amid fears that it would turn into a monolithic beast of a service, and promptly eat any startups in its way.

SeeSaw Splash Page

That said, Arqiva saved it from certain death and continued to develop it until this point in which they have started inviting people to try their private beta.

Now I am lucky enough to have one of these invites so I shall give you an insight into the service itself.

Firstly once in, you are presented with a very intuitive screen laying out the popular shows, the last few shows you might have missed and a channel selection.

As with most of the web services delivering video, the site uses Flash to stream video straight to your computer offering no chance to purchase or download shows for later viewing.

The range of shows for a very new service is very good but I noticed that despite agreements with ITV, no content was available at the time of this review but this is likely to change. The shows listed tend to have a few series available so you can start watching at series one and follow it all the way through to the latest episodes. The content wasn’t just limited to any one genre with everything from reality tv to documentaries and I was very impressed with the catalogue.

Now as a free service, it goes without saying that see ing that none of the TV license’s money is used t support this, it is a commercial service which does means there are adverts. Now personally I’m not a huge fan of ads being shown as a pre-roll to every episode or clip of television but the ads themselves aren’t a bore and are a huge amount better than pop-ups and side ads like those on youtube that interrupt your viewing experience.

SeeSaw Player

The player appears to be minimalistic and very CPU efficient. It offers standard features like scrobbling through the video, volume, pause etc.

The quality of video is fairly good, with it being standard definition broadcast quality or higher and it you have not got the bandwidth, it shows a message to gracefully downgrade.

I haven’t yet found any episodes in HD yet, but that is sure to be in the pipeline when the bandwidth of most home users increases to a stage where it becomes fairly mainstream.

Another good feature, that is featured in Hulu, is the site shade so when you are watching a video, a dark shade covers the site content so as to now distract from the video being watched.

I did find however while using the service, if your internet slows to under 1.5Mbps – you will be unable to watch much even on the lowest setting. Sorry 1Mbps users!

Conclusions

The SeeSaw service looks very promising and I would class it as a serious contender in the IPTV space. The range of shows is comparable to that of Hulu with each member broadcaster giving a broad range of shows in a wide selection of series. A version of the site for mobile devices with the ability to watch on Android or iPhone would be desirable for those on the move. All in all a very good service!

You can sign up for your beta invite at http://www.seesaw.com

A new year, a new blog…

Facebook Quizzes

For the past 4 months, my usage of social network like Twitter has gone up as appose to Facebook which I now rarely visit. The main attraction being you dont get hounded by pointless quizzes about what type of superhero your friends cat is.

The problem now with twitter is I only have 144 characters to get across messages to followers which, in most cases, really isn’t enough! This quite nicely brings me to my next point, as you are currently reading this, the first post of my brand new shiny blog.

This blog will effectively allow me to post all my tutorials, reviews and general comments on the world around. If you would like a tutorial/review on a certain area of technology, drop me a line and I will endeavor to get an article written.

Hope you enjoy the upcoming articles!