Reviews Software

Parallels Toolbox for Windows review: why the hell is this subscription software?

Parallels Toolbox for Windows
Recurring nightmare: you'll have to keep paying for these tools

The software industry has spent the past five years on a monumental piss-take. Parallels Toolbox for Windows is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of PC software. You liked a piece of software, you paid the price, you got to keep said software in perpetuity. The only swines who got away with charging a subscription fee were the antivirus companies, on the somewhat flimsy pretext that they were continuing to deliver updates that kept your PC safe. Because nobody got viruses in those days, right?

Then Microsoft pulled our pants down. Took us all for the cash-soaked frivolous idiots we clearly are. Instead of selling us a new copy of Office once every ten years, when they’d actually added enough new features to justify the upgrade, they launched Office 365. For only(!) £6 a month, you’d have access to an ever-updating set of apps that dropped new features in as and when they were ready. No more waiting three years for a new version of Office that you probably wouldn’t buy anyway. Now they just scrape £70 a year from your disposable income and add amazing new features such as… and, erm…

Once Microsoft had proved it was possible to convert millions of your own customers from occasional buyers to monthly donors, everyone wanted a piece of the action. Adobe pulled the same stunt with Creative Suite, the accountancy software firms cashed in (of course), even the sodding games makers got in on the act. Now it wasn’t enough to fork out £60 for the latest gouge of the Star Wars franchise, you had to pay another £25 for the ‘season pass’ to unlock new levels. All so George Lucas can continue to fund his attempt to grow the world’s fattest neck.

Parallels Toolbox for Windows

All of which is (as I’m sure you’ve sussed) a roundabout way of informing you that even small, innocuous utility suites such as Parallels Toolbox for Windows now think it’s perfectly fair to charge you an annual fee.

For £7.99 a year, you get a fairly sparse selection of tools, many of which are already built into Windows – Toolbox just makes them a little easier to access. The best of the tools are the ones that deal with multimedia. The Download Video tool lets you paste a YouTube URL into the window and instantly (and almost certainly illegally) download a copy of the video to your PC.  Record Screen lets you record either the screen, window or a designated area of the screen, although it doesn’t have the good grace to tell you where it left the recordings – it leaves you to work that out by yourself (it’s on the Desktop, since you asked).

There are various tools for recording audio and video from your webcam, or blocking the webcam off altogether if you’re worried about hackers watching you eat Marmite on toast in your boxer shorts.

The Archive tool lets you create a zip folder by dragging and dropping files into the window. You can password protect the folder if you’re sending sensitive stuff (videos of men eating toast in their boxer shorts, for example), but oddly you can’t rename the file – everything is merely created as ‘Archive’ and dumped on your desktop.

Some of the tools are almost insultingly basic. Mute microphone, lock screen (Windows + L key, in case you didn’t know) and eject volume are all far easier to perform in Windows than they are with Toolbox.

Toolbox resides permanently in your notifications area, ghosting in from the side of the side of the screen when you click on its icon. Individual tools can be pinned to the desktop or taskbar if you use them frequently, and they can all be searched for individually from the Start menu.

Parallels Toolbox for Windows
Quick, hide! All the tools are available from the Start menu

However, it’s not only your cash Parallels Toolbox for Windows is going to chomp through, but your CPU cycles. I quickly noticed that my laptop’s fan was spinning noisily into action soon after Toolbox was installed, and a quick look at Task Manager revealed why. Even when sitting idle, Toolbox is chomping through around 20% of my CPU’s cycles – and that’s a fairly spunky Core i7-6600U processor. That’s the kind of load I expect from Photoshop or InDesign, not a utility that’s going to switch off my webcam.

Parallels Toolbox for Windows
Resourceful: what’s that chomping all those CPU cycles?

Even for a one-off purchase of £7.99, I’d be hard pressed to recommend Parallels Toolbox for Windows. But a £7.99 per year subscription for little more than a resource-hungry set of shortcuts for existing Windows features? Behave, Parallels. Behave.

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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