Buy me ! Upgrade me ! Register me !

It had happened just once before, but now that Parallels (the virtual environment of choice for Mac users) has launched its version 7, trying to use it is a constant source of irritation. Every other time I open the application, I am greeted with a huge colorful popup ad prompting me to upgrade. The “do not show me this again” checkbox is basically useless. I asked it politely to refrain from soliciting, to no avail.

I remember when shareware was a novel concept, and I used to download it by the dozens : nagging screens were part of the deal, something to be expected until you paid for a registered version. Since when those “features” have become cricket for bought wares ?

After wondering if I should open a support ticket, I’ve just reported the pestering behavior as a bug. Lets see if the development team will agree.

Oh Turing, Why Hath Thou Forsaken Me ?

I am flabbergasted by how the simplest things can become huge hairy juicy nightmares when it comes to computers. Making your printer get the margins straight, for example. Or imposing a booklet the way you want and not the way the application software/printer driver guess you should.

In the aftermath of the death of my Dell D620, and the ensuing hell of finding an adequate successor, it happened: I have bought a Mac. The ones with Mac OS X, yes. What can I say ? The experience has so far had its ups:

  1. The Time Machine, I don’t know how I was living without one of those: just plug your back-up disk and instant peace-of mind;
  2. The Dashboard: it turns out good software come indeed in small packages;
  3. The wonderfully designed power cord, beautiful and functional. The 1920’s would be so proud;
  4. The head-turning, sensuous to touch, “you deserve it” case (though in crime-ridden Brazil, the bling-bling factor is not always an advantage).

It has also had its downs:

  1. Keyboard nightmares: no home, end, page up, page down keys. Wait: no forward delete key ! Two whole extra modifier keys (“command” and “function”), which are actually important (forward delete, for example, is function+delete). Completely different short-cuts. Talk me about “intuitive” !
  2. The interface design is sleek, but I would gladly trade some of the sleekness for more functional windows, with more predictable stacking behavior (nowadays, 17.4% of all I type is either commant+tab or command+` vainly looking for lost windows before I give up and resort to Exposé), and resizable from the entire border, not only from the isty bitsy lower right corner;
  3. Don’t get me started about the standard behaviour of pasting over folders, which instead of sensibly merging the trees, just crushes the poor older folder. I inaugurated my Mac OS life by loosing all my photo collection (save the few folders in the last paste). While I restored the backup and reorganized everything again, I repeated this mantra “Finder is not safe. Finder will bite your hand. Watch out for Finder. Finder is not safe.”
  4. The “Magic” Mouse, which is now serving as a R$ 220 magic paper weight, in all its bluetooth glory. I prefer mice with right buttons which actually work, and I much prefer mice which do not require other mice to bootstrap by clicking on Bluetooth... Mouse of Valle... Connect... every single time the computer wakes up ! (Think on this: R$ 220 is about US$ 136, so the “Magic” Mouse costs magically twice it’s original US price ! And you talk about taxation abuse in America ?)  (Think on this also: does anything bluetooth actually work ? Isn’t it time for customers to declare it dead already ?)

Of course, I could not survive in this hostile environment but for Parallels, a virtual machine environment which allows you to run your faithful Windows applications side by side to your Mac ones (in its seamless “Coherence” mode). The advantage of Parallels, in comparison to alternatives without a price tag like VirtualBox is that it is worry free: it guides you to install your copy of Windows and it has a great compatibility with software you might want to run, like Microsoft Office. And then it configures networking and printing so you can use everything out-of-box.

Or so it should.

I was facing the strangest of problems: printing from Microsoft Word 2007 to my HP 8500 All-in-one printer on the Windows XP virtual machine using the conveniently pre-installed “Use Mac Printer” resulted in an exaggerated top margin and a cut bottom. It was like the host machine was trying to “fit” the already typeset page into the printable area of a new page, resulting in disaster. I have tried the “chat support” of Parallels (you get 30 days of free support, then you pay per event) but the person behind the screen was as sympathic as inneffective, suggesting things like “let’s change the paper size to A4” (okay, I’d love to — I much prefer ISO paper sizes — but this one must be “US Letter”) and “lets now try to reduce the top margin in 0,3 mm” (no, just no, for ugly turnarounds I don’t need tech support, I can do it alone with the doors locked and the lights off).

The solution, as I suspected, was to bypass the Mac printer driver completely. I downloaded the newest driver from HP and installed in the virtual machine. This was not without its hassles — my printer is on ethernet and HP driver will refuse to cooperate if the machine and the printer are on different IP subnets (assuming there might be firewall blocks ?) so I had to change the networking mode of the virtual machine from “Shared” to “Bridged” . This last step was unsettling easy — from the Parallels Tools taskbar icon, hit Devices... Network... Configure... and then select one of the Bridged adapters. I have just selected “Default Adapter“. I didn’t even had to restart the virtual machine. (I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.)

Then, and only then, the printer spit out a page worthy of WYSIWYG.

(P.S.: Happy end ? Imagine the feeling of a user, at 2 a.m., getting 5 mangled envelopes out of each batch of 10, and thus finally realizing why every digital press in the town had told him “sorry, we don’t do envelopes”.)

(P.P.S: Little sobering exercise for the computing industry: type on Google “I hate X” × “I love X”, substituting X for some major companies on the field. Compare the hits. Interesting, uh ?)