Submission by: John Lamont – Background – On a PC Since discovering Homeseer as a Home Automation controller for my X10 modules throughout the house, I’ve been in gadget heaven. Flicking on/off/dimming lights and with some Hawkeye’s, basic motion detection is possible.
Buying a Mac Mini Then I discovered Apple macs. What drove me to this was having a young family wanting to surf and email while we endured Windows XP issues (virus, attacks, malware etc). This was around Service Pack 2 release. Anyhow I bought a Mac mini and fell ‘in love’ with its durability, parental controls and plesant GUI. It helped that I worked in a company that did UNIX, so I knew the claims of security, stability and scalability would be true.
Time went by and I moved more apps from the noisy PC (5 year old home-built Athlon XP 3200). Very quickly I moved email, browsing, image management and video creation to it. Then the rest of the family were tooled-up with seperate accounts and we all Fast-User switched between accounts on the one mini. The kids got some gmail accounts while I approved their email buddies and websites and all is safe and snug. Oh and it ran near silently. Despite the kids using PC’s at school, using a mac at home has not held them back. Remember how you coped (mostly) with warm school milk…
Macs bring a whole different ecosystem. It is slightly more expensive than Dell hardware, but then the service events i’ve needed have been flawless. The software is mostly first rate. The interface is a nice place to work, is productive, but no mac equivalents of Homeseer and VWS exist. There was Perceptive Automation’s Indigo: www.perceptiveautomation.com/indigo/
But this didn’t cut the mustard with poor conditional event control. Similarly a mac-equivalent of VWS was more elusive. So I put-up with the fans whaling away until…
MS Windows on a Mac Then Parallels arrived for Intel Macs: www.parallels.com
I bought a pre-release copy of it for £30 and loaded it onto my MacBook Pro (2Ghz Intel Core Duo- Yonah, 1GB ram, AirPort, Bluetooth etc). Incidentally they have moved to the slightly faster Core 2 Duo. The installation went smoothly and it ran well, It ran as a typical virtual OS emulator (Virtual PC) did, within its own window on the mac desktop eg:
From this you can see the iMovie app over the Parallels PC Window and Itunes below on its own. The current Release Candidate of Parallels has some nice features like ‘coherence’ mode where MS apps and OS X apps co-exist together, without the MS apps restrained to the MS desktop. This is the magic sauce that is simply amazing to see and experience. I’ve not got a new application out of this, its just bringing the best apps I use together, into one workspace and the all interplay. Part of the magic sauce is in the simple things like mouse transition from an OS X to MS app, again seamless with only a slight flicker as the mouse pointer changes from the mac to windows shape. Networking is seamless whether the mac is connected through ethernet or WiFi. Part of the install is a Parallels toolkit within Windows that allows you to enable various hardware eg. USB devices, DVD drive etc It also does little things like sync the PC clock to the macs. Its biggest component though is to install Windows drivers for mouse control, to have elegant screen resolutions when resizing Windows, networking drivers to talk to macs Ethernet and WiFi ports, Shared directory setup etc The current Parallels beta is here: www.parallels.com/products/desktop/beta_testing/
Picture of Parallels running in coherence mode:
In this mode you won’t see the windows Telly-tubby backdrop. Instead MS apps occupy windows on a common OS X backdrop and each app type retain their User interface properties. This is amazing to see. Of course there is a boring full-screen mode whereby the whole screen changes to show only the Windows interface and if you want to switch back to OS X, ALT+RETURN takes you back. Amazingly some people are gob-smacked to see a mac running XP in full screen. But the coherence mode is slick, elegant. Can OS’s be flirtatious ?
Features of note for this RC release are :
- aforementioned coherence mode
- drag ‘n drop between OS X and MS
- A cloning app (I think like ghost) so once you’ve installed your apps cleanly, clone the image then after 12 months when XP bogs down, open the clone image and restart with a fresh and fast XP session pre-installed with your apps at day 1. Not tested this.
- USB 2 support, much improved. Both Homeseer and VWS require serial connections to their devices and I used Keyspan Serial-USB adaptors. Worked out-of-the-box!
- Transporter which land-grabs a current PC session and ‘transports’ it into Parallels for running on your mac. Not tested.
- You can install Solaris, Linux, Windows 3.1! (Ha….I must dig out the 9 floppies! and put them into the….) and Vista
Installation The install sequence was as follows:
Download Parallels (free 30 day trial available)
Install your own copy of XP
Run the included Parallels Windows toolkit to install drivers for mac hardware, they are unsigned, but work…flawlessly (sorry)
Hit explorer’s Update button then stiback and take-in a series of 24 as the patches/security update XP. Hey look at IE7…funky and pseudo-mac-like !
Installed identical revisions of Homeseer (incl its plugins) and VWS applications
Then I cheated. Because my configs of Homeseer and VWS are so specific to me and the apps litter their xml and other set-up files in all sorts of nooks and crannies. So I decided not to rebuild and redefine the apps within parallels. This would take too long. eg. In homeseer each device (>100) would need defining, similar for events and so on for its plug-ins. VWS was similarly awkward to clone. So I COPIED my Homeseer and VWS program directories from the PC to the mac. Yes I know this is heresy, but I wanted a quick fix. I ran each app on its own to verify its connections to the world:
1. Homeser to iirc a CM12 mains/computer module through the Keyspan Serial-USB adaptor and got a connection. Sent some x10 codes and lights flashed, received some Hawkeye triggers. I felt queasy,,,it was flawless. Then quit Homeseer.
2. Started VWS, checked I was receiving the sensor readings from the Weather Station again through another Keyspan Serial-USB adaptor. Every sensor flashed from red to green as they sent their updates to the station, Check.
Then I ran both PC apps in tandem. I created the VWS devices in Homeseer as requested, pointed to the right VWS data file and all the Weather values then loaded into Homeseer, updating as designed and sensed by events. Flawless.
Performance comparisons & Testing Wile the mac only has 1GB of RAM it is managing to run Homeseer 10-20% faster within Parallels on-top of OS X. Initially I was freaked out at how this could be, I think perhaps its not just Parallels and Intel magic sauce at work. One important consideration I must remind readers is that the Windows install inside parallels is of course fresh XP, with SP2 and latest updates whereas the install on my PCi is 3-4 years old and so will be clogged with the usual detritus of 7×24 operation and patching with only a weekly auto-reboot to stay fresh.
So far i’ve done 36 hours of testing and it works…near flawlessly. Yes there was a little fettling required after I quit Homeseer and then restarted it, somehow it dropped the serial (through USB adaptor) connection to the CM12 module and wouldn’t talk to it. This was remedied by removing and inserting the USB cable. Homeseer restarted and connected with no problems.
Final thoughts I have been running homeseer 1.7.44 for years with DooMotion Motion plug-in 2.0.57. This not the current release of Homeseer 2.0 which has been out almost a year and was rewritten in MS .not BASIC Visual. A lot of early adopters found issues so I have been happy to remain on this release.
VWS Internet Edition is 13 p20.
Homeseer’s internal website was visible and controllable from my Power Mac G5 browser with no problems. Through my MacBook Pro’s WiFi connection. Parallels is one of two major OS emulators that run on the mac using intel’s virtualisation technology. Behemoth VMware is launching its own Windows-on-a-mac app called Fusion and knowing VMware it will be industrial grade virtualisation. Competition is good.
I started out testing Homeseer and VWS a few days ago in a rather chance-yer-arm way, hoping it would work expecting it to fail. After-all there are so many inter-dependancies that come when running windows on a mac and when you run Serial-USB adaptors on top – its a recipe for flakiness. Setting security concerns aside, i’d sum-up that Parallels is a stunning piece of software that achieves not just windows virtualisation on a mac, but does it so in a style that fits with the feel of OS X without changing the Windows UI. If you need/want a Windows app on a mac then this method would be a leading contender to do it all for you, and with style.
Caveats and Looking forward I have not tried to upgrade either Homeseer or VWS apps, so who knows if my ‘cheat’ will catch me out.
As I expect to migrate to new Mac Pro at some point, I was considering using this as my Homeser and VWS workhorse because I need my MacBook Pro to be mobile. An alternative workhorse would be to use the upcoming Core 2 Duo Mac mini ( should use draft n WiFi). This (or the current model) would provide a very very low-power compact, near silent (& headless) unit for Homeseer and VWS.
I hope my enthusiasm and shock of how well this setup worked does not lead to a mac vs windows spat (cos that’s history with OS X, I joke!) or promt the mac nerds to shout “traitor” – because life is so short. I also hope it does not come crashing down around my ears after I have flogged the PC !!! As ever your mileage may vary. John.
[Update] Check out Indigo Home Automation software for the Mac