Multiple monitors? You should buy VMWare Fusion instead of Parallels Desktop

In a post three years ago, I waxed lyrical about how much better Parallels Desktop was compared to VMWare for the very common task of running Windows on your Mac.

It’s time to take that back.

Parallels Desktop is no longer fit for purpose if you are an advanced user.

How Parallels Desktop broke multiple monitors

In older versions of macOS, virtual desktops spanned your whole set of monitors. Therefore if you had a left and right monitor, switching spaces (or virtual desktops) would switch both, giving you two “Desktops”, Desktop 1 (left monitor A and right monitor A) and “Desktop 2”, (left monitor B and right monitor B). Switching between desktops would switch both screens. The major downside of this was that when applications were run “Full screen” (rather than just maximised), they would go full screen on one monitor and leave the other one completely blank, which was complete madness

In Parallels 11, Parallels supported two ways of rendering full screen on multiple monitors. The first was using macOS’s built in full screen function (more on that in a minute) and the other using a “non-native” method that involved drawing a windowless fullscreen window on top of the whole screen. 

To work around the full screen issue when using multiple monitors, macOS Yosemite introduced the option for displays to have their own “Spaces”. This meant that your left and right monitors have their own sets of virtual desktops. However, this meant that each monitor could be switched desktop independently, introducing say 4 different combinations when you had two monitors and two desktops. This was a context switching nightmare. Most power users turn this off, especially if they are using keyboard shortcuts (CTRL+arrow keys) to switch between spaces because the monitor that would switch would be the one your mouse cursor was over.

The combination of turning off “Displays have separate Spaces” in macOS, and disabling “native full screen mode” in Parallels was the perfect, wanted behaviour that Parallels users of multiple monitors had become accustomed to for many, many years.

Parallels 12 changed all that, by removing the non-native full screen mode option that was working perfectly in version 11, leaving users with no satisfactory multi-monitor display mode.

Users were up in arms:

8 pages of complaints on the official Parallels forum when Parallels 12 launched with this

“Usable” multi-monitor support feature request

Did Parallels listen? Well, only a little. Near the end of version 12’s shelf life they pushed an update out that contained a work around – an option to “switch” all other spaces to Parallels when you clicked Parallels on another space. Sounds great but still doesn’t allow you to switch in and out of Windows on all of your screens at once.

Users were livid. The pithy Knowledge Base article didn’t help either.

Then Parallels 13 came out with no new fixes for this. Parallels was effectively dead for users with multiple monitors.

Other reasons not to use Parallels any more

The push for yearly subscription pricing. You aren’t Creative Cloud guys. The last thing users want when buying a piece of utility software is to set calendar reminders that they are going to be auto-rebilled.

The shovelware and crapware that Parallels pushes on you, even via advertisements with the application that you paid for. Who doesn’t want a subscription to Parallels Remote Access or “Parallels Toolbox”?

Only 9.99 USD a year!!

The resurrection of VMWare Fusion

Back in the day, Parallels spanked VMWare Fusion on performance. They became market leaders and deserved it. I fondly remember running Parallels 4 against a Bootcamp partition on a now clunky old Mac Mini and being pleasantly surprised.

I’ve recently given VMWare Fusion 8.5 a go and I am pleased to say the performance against Parallels for my main use case (Visual Studio on Windows 10) is indistinguishable. It imported my Parallels VM flawlessly. It didn’t pester me to install anti-virus in my Windows 10 VM (something so completely pointless Parallels must be getting kickbacks). There will be a free upgrade to VMWare Fusion 10 this October. And most importantly…

It works correctly with multiple monitors!

Yes, VMWare Fusion 8.5 behaves the same way Parallels 11 used to work.

RIP Parallels Desktop.


Why use a Macbook Pro as a Windows .NET Software Developer (Updated)

Update December 2016: Apple has released a new version of the MacBook Pro featuring the new Touch Bar feature. I do not recommend buying this model.

  • Worse battery life
  • Worse keyboard
  • Touch Bar feature is pretty useless for Bootcamp or virtualization – you will miss the usual function keys
  • USB-C only. Expect to spend 100s on adapters.
  • The original Bootcamp drivers actually physically blew the speakers when running Windows

Luckily Apple still sell the 2015 model without Touch Bar. I would recommend buying one of those.

Original post continues below…

I’ve been using OSX alongside Windows for almost 8 years now. In this post I will outline why a Mac is handsdown the best development laptop you can buy even if you are primarily a Windows or .NET developer. I use a Retina Macbook Pro 13 inch at home and for side projects, plus a Retina Macbook Pro 15 inch at work.

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Reason 1: You need access to OS X as a professional software developer

If you care about maximizing the value you can provide as a practitioner of building software, you need access to OS X. OS X is the only way to build native iOS applications – and as a .NET developer without access to OS X, you’ll never even be able to use Xamarin to run your C# code on iOS natively. You’ll also miss out on the wider community and the rest of the development world – Javascript, Ruby, Python and Scala developers all use Unix-based operating systems to do their work, not Windows, and most of the time their preferred platform is OS X. If you want to dabble in Ruby over the weekend, or even teach yourself a new skill, OS X on a Mac is the only way to get first class support as most non-.NET/Java developers run their stuff on Macs (a small minority use a Linux distribution to do their work). No laptop other than a Macbook Pro or Air will give you access to this world and you will find yourself increasingly isolated professionally if you can only use Windows.

Reason 2:  It’s the only laptop that lets you run OS X and Windows at the same time

Since Apple put Intel chips in their machines, you’ve always been able to run Windows natively on a Mac by creating a second partition using the built-in Bootcamp utility. Since the middle of 2014, this has gotten even better with the introduction of native UEFI support. Gone is the 80s-era BIOS emulation, and now Windows boots just as fast as OSX itself. The Windows 8 startup circle animation even starts rendering before the Mac bootup sound finishes playing.

You don’t have to reboot when you want to use Windows – you can attach that same native partition within a virtual machine using Parallels or VMWare Fusion. That means you can run both OSX and Windows side by side, rebooting into the native Windows partition when you need the full power of the machine. Plus, its really cool to be able to do this:

Swiping between OSX and Windows

(As a side note, I get much better performance out of Parallels Desktop 10 than VMWare Fusion when running Windows 8.1 or the Windows 10 Tech Preview – the Parallels virtual display driver is WDDM 1.2 compatible, rather than VMWare’s WDDM 1.0 compatible version. WDDM 1.0 is from the Vista era.)

Reason 3: Multiple monitor support is amazing

All the Retina Macbook Pros have two Thunderbolt ports, which double up as Mini DisplayPort ports, and an HDMI port. The Retina Macbook Pro 13 inch can support 2 external monitors under OSX, and three under Linux or native Windows. The 15 inch version can support 3 external monitors and the internal screen at the same time. Both these limits can be extended by using USB 3.0 “DisplayLink” adapters or docks at the cost of CPU power and graphics quality. With virtualisation, you can set Windows up to use any number of monitors.

Reason 4: You can test your work on multiple retina display implementations

Both the 13 inch and 15 Retina Macbook Pros have amazing high resolution screens. If you are building web applications, you need to be able to test your work on “retina” displays and this is the quickest way of doing it, without getting a 4K monitor. Most retina displays in the wild are on Apple devices too (iPad, iPhone etc). The ridiculous resolution of the 15 model (2880×1800!) even enables you to test your apps and sites in Windows at up to 200% DPI scaling without an external monitor.

Reason 5: The Apple Store retail support network

Say what you want about the “cult of Mac”, they have retail support available in almost every major city on earth through their Apple Store network. If you need a new charger or accessory, you can walk in and buy one from an actual shop. If you have a problem, you can go in and (sometimes pay for) a repair – not phone an offshore support line and get a box posted to you. Acer, Dell, Samsung etc do not have the meatspace reach of Apple (unless you like to shop at PC World). The thought of having to buy a replacement AC adaptor for a “Acer Aspire S3-392G” machine at short notice is quite scary. If you have a preference for the US keyboard layout, a Mac is the only laptop stocked in retail available with a selection of keyboard layouts – when in Tokyo, Apple were the only people in the whole city that stocked laptops with US keyboards.

Reason 6: The .NET Framework is becoming multiplatform

In case you missed the news, Microsoft have committed to making the core of the next .NET Framework version work on both Linux and OSX, instead of leaving it up to Mono to provide an implementation. This is a direct result of the leaders in the .NET space stretching C# out of it’s comfort zone of Windows and Visual Studio. ASP.NET vNext supports development using Sublime Text on a Mac. The OmniSharp project brings C# support to Sublime text, Emacs and Atom. Visual Studio is not required. From 2016 onwards, I expect ASP.NET vNext to start featuring in C# developer job ads, and they are going to expect you to be able to at least run applications without Visual Studio. Deployment of greenfield applications to Linux servers using Docker containers will start becoming the norm from next year.

In Summary

I haven’t even touched on the other reasons why this is now my preferred setup – the now native SMB 2.0 support in OSX, OneNote finally on Mac, the quality of the keyboards and trackpads – but using non-Apple laptops is painful sometimes. I was once issued the 2nd generation of the fabled Lenovo Thinkpad line of X1 Carbons that got rid of the function keys and replaced them with comedy touch “context sensitive media buttons” (the 3rd gen reversed this bonkers choice). My last two companies have eventually managed to sort out a top of the line 15 inch Retina Macbook Pro as my corporate machine and thanks to the proliferation of Macs in the corporate setting, IT departments are slowly warming up to the idea.

If you have any questions about how I use the above, drop me a line in the comments or send me an email and I’ll be happy to respond.

Sayonara Tokyo – returning to the UK

After almost six years living in Japan, I have made my way back to the UK. I am now based in London, working for one of the Big 4 Management Consulting firms as a Lead Developer.

I occasionally get emails from readers asking what it is like to be a software developer in Tokyo, some flat out asking me if I know of any jobs going. I tell them all the same thing – Tokyo is a hard place to be a non-native Japanese speaker doing software. I was very lucky to have a pretty sweet job working for a branch of a US company, but ultimately the job market there is not healthy. I very much needed a more senior role but there was nowhere to grow within the Japan R&D office – my boss was not going anywhere. Whilst foreign companies can pay pretty decently by Japan standards (expect anything from 5M for Junior to 9M JPY for a Senior development role, but this is only 50k-90k USD, not even US graduate level), Japanese companies take a very traditional view of compensation setting (think tying job ranks to age, salary to “seniority” rather than skill or value). Don’t expect to make anything like US or even UK salaries unless you are in senior management.

My primary skillset is the whole .NET stack – but .NET is not popular in Japan. The .NET community is so small in that at the time of writing this blog post I was at the top of Google for “ASP.NET MVC Tokyo”:

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If that isn’t a reason to move on, I don’t know what is.

Before the move to the UK, I flew over for a week to interview. A bit of planning beforehand lined me up with eight job interviews which resulted in five job offers, with the worst offer being 20% more than I was making in Tokyo. This blew my mind, but apparently it is normal in London for skilled developers. It is nice to be wanted. I also now have a family – my son was born this January and he deserves a successful father. Back in my homeland there are far more opportunities and I am not at a disadvantage in any way – there are no handicaps to being as successful as I can be.

This isn’t to say I don’t still love Japan. It is a lovely place to live, but a pretty crap place to work unless you are very senior or running your own business. The job market illiquidity (especially as a foreigner) means you will be paid far less, have to commute further and have less chance to grow than in the same level software development jobs overseas. Without the ability to instantly get job interviews (something you can do anywhere in the western world if you are good), you end up feeling completely trapped and at the mercy of your employer all the while knowing at the back of your mind that you could actually be having a career elsewhere. Not a good recipe for happiness. If and when I move back it will not be as a salaryman.

Relocating to the UK has been quite an adventure and I plan to blog some more about what it is like to come back after half a decade. Just the level of customer service in retail stores has made me miss my old home but I am sure the reverse culture shock will wear off in time.

To the next six years!