Parallels Toolbox for Mac 1.5 Review

Originally included as part of the Parallels Desktop machine virtualisation application for Mac, Parallels Toolbox can now be purchased as a stand-alone package and contains a suite of tools that most Mac users will find very useful.

Following installation, the Toolbox is initially accessed from the Menu Bar. In a useful innovation for version 1.5, the tools can be dragged from this window and dropped onto the Mac Dock or Desktop for faster access.

Libraries

The tools are either stand-alone or grouped into logical libraries (with a shaded background.) In the screen-shot above, tools relating to the Camera library are visible. This approach makes for a less cluttered window while specific tools within a library can be dragged and dropped elsewhere (for example, the favourites section) for faster access.

In Use

Parallels Toolbox 1.5 certainly follows the mantra of ‘it just works’ and is a great example of a clear and consistent user interface. The majority of the tools are very self-explanatory, although context sensitive help is available with a mouse click.

The Tools

There are 25 tools in the Toolbox, some of which are grouped together.

The Archiving library, as its name suggests, provides tools to archive or unarchive files dragged onto its window (with password protection if required.)

The Camera library allows for the blocking of the Mac’s camera (following entry of an administrative password and a reset). People requiring this function may be better to make do with a bit of duct tape over the lens to guarantee privacy. In addition, blocking tools are provided to take a still photo using the Mac’s camera or video, with a choice of video and audio sources (if you have more than one camera or microphone attached). The resulting files are then dropped onto the Mac’s desktop.

The Record Screen library might as well have been designed for me. It contains tools to create a video recording of the entire screen, an application window or a specific part of the screen. The source for the audio of the recording can be selected, much like in the Camera library, allowing for narration. I can see this tool being particularly useful for reviewers or for the creation of demo or training materials. As with the Camera tools, the resulting file is then dropped on the desktop.

For those with a memory as bad as mine, and lacking either the time or inclination to get to grips with OSX’s byzantine screen-shot key combinations, the Take Screenshots library provides a means to capture the entire screen, a window or a highlighted portion of screen without having to resort to holding down a sequence of seemingly random keys. Again, it does seem very much as though the Toolbox was designed with me in mind.

The Time library provides four tools – an alarm (only one alarm can be set, although it can be scheduled to repeat during the week), a timer, a stopwatch and a countdown to a specific date. Some, for example the timer or countdown, will appear in the Dock with animation while running. However, it is quite easy to accidentally close the tool instead of hiding it, which will also remove the animation.

The remainder of the tools are not grouped into libraries and have varying degrees of usefulness depending on the needs of the user.

The Convert Video tool provides a means to downscale videos to 1080p or 720p for use on IOS devices and either save them to the same location as the source video or add them to the local iTunes library. It is a shame that this tool cannot also be used to change the format if required (as the name suggests) or even allow editing of common video tags.

The Do Not Disturb tool turns off notifications for a given period of time and is useful when the user is trying to focus on a task in hand.

Stopping my Mac from going to sleep has been an ongoing battle for me since I tend to leave my Windows VMs running overnight for updates, only to find that my Mac has switched itself off by the morning regardless of the power settings. The Do Not Sleep tool has resolved that for me and, when running, stops the Mac from sleeping.

The Download Videos tool is a very interesting tool, capable of downloading 4K videos from YouTube (or other sharing sites – I was also able to use this tool with Vimeo) by taking a copy of the URL and then downscaling the output video to 1080p, 720p or 360p if required. Downloading local copies of online content can be a bit of a legal minefield (for example, the sorry tale of Microsoft’s YouTube app for Windows Phone), so it will be interesting to see where this tool goes in the future.

The Eject Volumes tool takes the ‘nuke from orbit’ approach to safely removing all external drives, network volumes and locally mounted volumes (such as ISO images.) One click can immediately unmount all three types of media (or it is possible to select the types that this Big Red Button should apply to).

The Hide Desktop tool removes all folders and icons from the Desktop – handy for when doing presentations – and will put them all back again.

The Launch tool allows the user to group a number of applications and documents together and have them open simultaneously with a single click.

The Lock Screen tool simply locks the Mac with a single click, requiring the user to enter their password to unlock the Mac.

The Mute Microphone tool prevents any apps listening to the input from the Mac’s currently selected mic.

The Record Audio tool simply creates an audio file using the Mac’s currently selected mic.

Conclusion

How useful you find the Parallels Toolbox for Mac depends on how many of the tools you think you will use. There is certainly something for everyone here; to be honest, I use some of these tools on a daily basis and would be lost without them.

There is an argument that there are free or open source options available for many of the tools and that some of the them (for example the screen-shot tools) can be accomplished using functions already present in OSX. However, the convenience of having these tools in one place with a consistent user interface should not be underestimated. And at £7.99 in the UK ($9.99 in the US) Parallels Toolbox 1.5 for Mac represents excellent value for money.

About the author Richard Speed:
Spaceflight enthusiast and tech hobbyist.

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