My Virtual Machine Killed My Sony

The problem with moving from a Windows machine to the Mac is that there's always some program you think you can't do without that has no version for OS X. That happened with my Sony ST10 digital voice recorder and the associated Sony Digital Voice Editor software. Sony requires that I use its software to transfer sound files, encoded in a Sony-proprietary format, from the voice recorder to my personal computer. I then must use the Sony software to play and transcribe the files or to convert them to a standard format that will work with other editing software, such as MP3.

So far as I can tell, Sony does not offer a version of Digital Voice Editor for the Mac.

Scot Finnie, Computerworld's editor in chief, gave me some simple advice when I first set up the MacBook: Cut over completely. Buy new software where you need to, cut your losses and don't look back. Here's my advice: Listen to Scot.

I didn't.

I could have thrown everything away and bought a new voice recorder and software for the Mac, but I paid good money for my ST10 and it works great. So I decided to get around the problem by installing a Windows virtual machine on my Mac and running Sony's software within it.

It didn't work.

The problem I have with running the Windows software within a Windows virtual machine is that things seem to break down when programs try to leave the virtual machine sandbox to access hardware I/O devices - like the USB-attached ST10. The Mac and my Parallels virtual machine manager conduct a tug-of-war over who has access to devices and who does not. More on that in a minute.

A failure to show up

You'd think that because the ST10 uses a standard USB cable to transfer files to the PC that it would look and act like a standard USB device. No sir. And as luck would have it my ST10 uses internal memory, not a removable (Sony proprietary, of course) Memory Stick that I could have easily copied. So I was stuck.

To upload voice files from the ST10 to my Windows computer I connect it using a USB cable. But Windows doesn't recognize the voice recorder as a standard USB device. In fact, it doesn't see it at all. Only Sony's Digital Voice Editor software can do that. Once I've loaded Sony's software I can then drag and drop the voice files from the left most window, which sees and displays the ST10's content, into an adjacent window that stores it on my computer's local hard drive.

You can see where this is going. So I install the Digital Voice Editor software on a Windows XP virtual machine hosted by Parallels, only to discover that the software can't see the ST10 or its contents. And since neither the Windows VM nor the Mac OS detects the presence of the ST10 when attached to the machine's USB port, I can't try to force the issue by using Parallels to manually assign it to the virtual machine. You can't reassign a resource you can't see.

I/O tug-of-war: Who's in control?

The tug-of-war between the Windows VM and the host Mac OS doesn't stop with the Sony device. The virtual machine manager doesn't want to share. It wants to assign itself exclusive access to devices, such as a USB drive or my CD-ROM drive. In some cases the VM asks first. In others it just grabs the resources away from the Mac.

Attach a USB disk and Parallels asks to control it. But if the Mac grabs it first Parallels won't let you map it to the Windows session unless you eject and reattach the device. Only then you can reassign it.

The mouse will work with applications running on both Mac and Windows virtual machines, so long as it was connected before launching the Windows virtual machine. Attach a new pointing device afterwards, however, and you may see this message:

No mouse fail message

That's right: You've lost your mouse in the Mac environment until "disconnect" it from or suspend the virtual machine.

Launch the Windows VM while playing a music CD within iTunes and you'll see this error:


You'll need to quit iTunes and eject the disc before you can ask Parallels to assign the device to your virtual machine. But at least it asks: With the VMware Fusion virtual machine I set up the music stops. The virtual machine rips control away from the Mac and hands it over to Windows.

Some things are great about running Windows within a virtual machine on the Mac. Windows can go up in flames and you can simply yawn and switch back to your Mac apps, which continue to run happily away. But the experience is a bit less seamless than I had imagined when it comes to I/O. Although you can have Windows and Mac applications running side-by-side right on the Mac desktop, in some cases I find that it's best to just use one environment at a time and to suspend the Windows session when I want to return to a Mac app.

As for the Sony ST10, for now I continue to upload files onto a separate Windows XP machine, save them to a USB disk and copy them over to my Mac for replay and transcription. Perhaps Sony will come up with a version of its software for the Mac. At this point, however, it's looking like my next voice recorder will have to be another brand.

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