This week I’ve helped facilitate another Celebrate Oklahoma Voices digital storytelling workshop in Oklahoma City. This workshop is the first one for COV where we’ve used MacBook laptops running Windows XP via Parallels for all participants. This is a great lab configuration, since it lets participants choose their platform: Either WinXP or Mac OS X. Also, it permits demos of software features on the Mac side many participants have never seen before. Today, for example, when some participants wanted royalty free background music for their digital stories, I shared a 5 minute demo of “Magic Garageband.” Then they were able to “hide” WinXP on their own computers and run Garageband to give this a try themselves. We couldn’t have done this if we were running WinXP on a non-Macintosh platform. (I have other links and resources related to digital music making with Garageband, M-Audio Session for Windows, and other programs on the wiki page “Digital Music Creation: Engage, Inspire, Have Fun!”)

I’ve used Parallels for several years to run Windows, so I am fairly familiar with it, and overall everything has gone great with this Macbook lab setup. We did run into a problem yesterday and today, however, with unexplained static when we recorded and played back audio in Audacity running in WinXP.

I discovered the Parallels forum post “Poor quality recorded audio” from February 2008 today in troubleshooting this. Apparently this is an audio driver issue with Parallels. The post thankfully includes a workaround which did work for us, but it’s a bit of a pain since it requires that the Platronics USB headset we’re using be plugged into the computer BEFORE we boot up / start the virtual WinXP machine. If the USB headset gets unplugged, then it apparently requires a restart of WinXP to get the headset/mic recognized and working again by Parallels/WinXP. Yuk. This could be resolved by running WinXP via Boot Camp, but I think the benefits of virtualization still make the Parallels solution better.

Here is the workaround we used which worked to resolve this USB static problem.

After shutting down the WinXP virtual machine on the MacBook, under the EDIT menu we chose to alter the Parellels machine settings. On the SOUND settings, we changed the default input device to the USB headset. This screenshot shows the settings for the presentation computer, which still used the default audio OUTPUT settings so computer audio could be heard over the rooms’ speakers. For participant laptops, however, BOTH the input and output settings have to be set to “C-MEDIA USB HEADPHONE SET.” That is the correct driver for the Platronics Headset which is included in participants’ “digital backpacks.”

Setting USB input device in Parallels Virtual Machine Settings

We also verified that the Platronics headset was NOT selected as the audio input or output device in the Macbook’s OSX system preferences pane.

With this configuration, after booting into WinXP and running Audacity either “Soundmapper” or the “Intel Integrated Audio” driver could be selected for audio input and output. The Platronics headset recorded beautifully without any static, and other recorded audio (with the Olympus WS-110 digital recorders also included in participant’s “digital backpacks) similarly played back flawlessly without static problems.

Audio settings in Audacity

We’re not sure at this point if we are going to need “snapshots” saved with the Platronics headset as the default audio input and output devices, and another one with default audio as the settings.

Parallels Snapshots

It appears that if the Platronics USB headset is NOT available/plugged-in, the Parallels virtual machine will “default to default.” I wish (of course) this bug wasn’t present and WinXP running on Parallels would just recognize and use the USB microphone in Audacity without any static or problems. At least we were able to figure out a workaround for this problem. If anyone has other suggestions for what we can do to address this I’d love to hear them. This appears to be a USB audio driver problem with Parallels, which hopefully will be addressed/fixed in a future update.

I purchased a copy of VMware Fusion several months ago, but have not yet installed and configured it to run WinXP. I may try this over the holiday break. I’ve been told by others (including Miguel Guhlin) that VMware Fusion is faster than Parallels and also more flexible when you’re taking a laptop between different locations with different IP settings– it doesn’t require a complete reboot of the WinXP virtual machine to get a new IP address in a different location. I’m interested to see if that is the case. I don’t like to run WinXP except when I absolutely have to, but when I do have to it’s great to be able to run it on my Mac. :-)

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  • Brian

    Have you tried Crossover instead of Parallels? Was originally developed by gamers to play pc games on their mac.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    I haven’t tried Crossover but would like to know how it compares, Brian. I am going to do a new install of WinXP over the holidays with VMWare Fusion since I already own that software. I’d like to see a blog post or article by someone who does a side by side comparison of Parallels, VMWare Fusion, Crossover, and other options that are out there. Anyone have a link to something like that?

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