Workflow on the Road: 24 Hours With Parallels Access

As I continue on my path to find the perfect personal workflow for my SOHO (OK, technically it’s just a home office, but HO doesn’t really work), I’m constantly trying new gadgets, software and apps. I’ve outlined a few of my must-haves previously, but it’s an ever-evolving list, as I’m on the lookout for new ways to manage my content, eliminate paper and make my beloved iPad do everything I need it to do. So when I saw Parallels had launched a new service called Parallels Access, I had to give it a try.

Parallels, of course, is known for desktop virtualization. I’ve used it for years to run Windows programs on my Mac since, as awesome as Macs are, there’s some software you just need Windows for…and some that is such an unpleasant experience on a Mac that you’ll go out of your way to not use it (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Office). The interesting thing about Parallels Access is that the desktop client is available for Windows or Mac – meaning you don’t have to be running a Parallels virtual machine on a Mac to be able to use it. Right now I’m simply using two separate machines rather than virtualizing Windows, and the PC is the one I want to access. The Windows agent is in beta, and while I’ve read in a few places that the trial period is indefinite, my machine says I have 90 days. There is a two-week trial period for the Mac agent. Both will cost $79.99 per year per computer once that period ends. Worth it? Well, that’s what I’m trying to decide. Is this the game-changer that allows me to leave my laptop behind?

Remotely accessing a computer from an iPad isn’t a new concept. Splashtop and LogMeIn, to name two, perform similar functions, and I’ve been happily using Splashtop for quite a while. The difference with Parallels Access is that it goes a step further in creating an applike, touch-friendly environment in its interface. When you log in, you’re presented with a customizable home screen showing the programs on your computer in a very applike fashion. Clicking on any of the app buttons opens the corresponding program. There are numerous touch shortcuts that allow you to make mouselike gestures and also bring up the iPad’s contextual menu for cut, copy, paste, etc. – one of the biggest differentiators between Parallels Access and other similar apps.

I’ve only been using it for about a day, so the jury’s still out. I’ve tested it on Quicken, one of those programs that keeps me tethered to my PC. I was successful in downloading bank information and reconciling my account, so I’ll call it a win; I’ve searched endlessly for a financial app that works on the iPad. Still, I can’t find anything that works quite the way I want, and ultimately, this wasn’t anything I couldn’t have done through Splashtop.

Another reason I like remote desktop programs is because they provide the ability to manage my email. The Mail program only syncs my inbox, and I have years of archived email on my hard drive. If I want to dig up an old email while I’m on the road, I need my computer – or at least access to it. I also like being able to accept meeting invitations in Outlook and know they’re getting on the right calendar. (You want to see the opposite of good workflow, I’ll show you my calendars. They’re synced about three different ways, and I have absolutely no recollection of how I did it. And I can’t change anything, or my entire life will fall apart.) Still, though, it’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish with other programs.

On the other hand, a unique feature of Parallels Access is the ability to copy and paste between iPad and computer. I copied text from a website on the iPad into Word on the computer so I could get a simple word count, and it worked perfectly. That seems to me to be a pretty important feature, as it allows the user to easily move content from computer to iPad and vice versa – and it may be the feature that edges it out over Splashtop. Is it an $80-a-year-worthy feature, though? I’ve got 89 more days to decide.

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