Parallels Desktop 7: The Next Generation of Virtualization

Although many developers are porting or even rewriting applications designed for Windows to the Mac, many these days still find the need to run Windows on your Mac. I find that need every single day at work.  While there are three main ways to get the job done, Parallels has always been my favorite.

Parallels Desktop 7 is a dramatic improvement over the previous version, and brings along a few cool new features. If running alternate operating systems on your Mac is a priority, read on as we dive into the latest version of Parallels Desktop!

Getting Started

Getting started with version 7 of Parallels Desktop is a familiar, but different experience. You first will need a copy of your operating system of choice along with a product key, if needed. Also if you lack of an optical drive or physical installation disc, you can purchase Windows 7 directly from inside Parallels.

Parallels 7 includes a download center to offer a convenient solution for purchasing and downloading Windows, Ubuntu, Google Chrome OS, and Fedora. You can also migrate from your existing physical Windows computer and import virtual machines from VMware Fusion.

Parallels Wizard

Parallels Wizard

Interface & Design

The design of Parallels Desktop 7 while running your virtual machine is almost unchanged. Your VM is still allowed to take up most of the screen real estate. The screened view in Parallels is simple and unobtrusive, with all essential functions needed to control the settings in the bottom bar. After you install Parallels Tools, you will be able to resize the window, and your VM will automatically set the resolution to match. Or, you can use OS X native full screen mode, using Windows in a separate screen that you can swipe between like other full screen apps. That makes it much easier to use a virtual machine along with your other Mac apps.

Parallels Desktop Window View

Parallels Desktop Window View

Along with full screen mode you can use coherence mode. Coherence mode allows you run your Windows or virtual machine applications as individual windows in your Mac environment. It’s almost like natively running Windows applications right inside OS X.

Internet Explorer in Coherence

Internet Explorer in Coherence

Unfortunately, your start menu is left floating over your Mac windows and your content, which could pose a problem for some with cramped screen real estate. Also, when in coherence mode, your menu bar may become cluttered with little icons from your VM. I’d rather not have those excess icons cluttering up my already overcrowded menu bar, so its frustrating Parallels doesn’t have an option to help reduce the clutter.

Coherence Mode

Coherence Mode

If the taskbar at the bottom in Coherence mode is a deal killer for you, you might want to check out VMWare Fusion instead. It keeps Windows hidden a lot better in its Unity mode, fully hiding the taskbar and giving you control over tray icons.

Functionality

While it is quite obvious that Parallels allows you to run other operating systems on your Mac, it may not be obvious that you can also run another installation of the Mac OS. It is possible to run server editions of OS X; this is a great feature for those in the enterprise.

Mac OS X Server in Parallels Desktop (stock image from Parallels)

Parallels has also stepped up and taken advantage of iOS as well. While your iPhone or iPad can’t directly run Parallels with a virtual machine, Parallels has made it easy to access your virtual machine apps from your iOS device. You can run Windows applications, watch flash video, listen to audio, controll your Mac, transfer text to your VM, and more!

Parallels Mobile

Parallels Mobile

Performance

Perhaps the best feature of the new version of Parallels is its speed improvements. From the very beginning, the biggest struggle people have with using virtual machines is that they’re usually woefully slow. On Macs with low amounts of ram and slower CPU speeds, this has been a problem that has kept many I know from utilizing virtual machines.

Parallels Desktop 7 has turned totally 180 degrees in the speed category. Speed has been refined and it is an obvious improvement. Not a single function that needed speed improvements has been left untouched! Starting my Windows Vista installation takes only 30 – 45 seconds, which is faster than in the previous version of Parallels. Along with boot up improvements, you will also notice subtle improvements in pausing and resuming your VMs.

Video and graphic problems have also plagued various virtual machine solutions for years. Parallels 7 tries to alleviate that problem by allowing you to choose to allow your VM to use more video memory. The improvements to increase performance of gaming and video are really subjective based upon your computer, and having a discrete graphics card in your computer will really help increase your performance the most. With that in mind, you will still see an improvement with Parallels 7, it just might not be enough to allow you to play 3D games on it. You will also see better performance if you host your virtual machine file on your local hard drive and not an external USB drive, though it is nice that Parallels lets you store virtual machines on external drives if your main drive is cramped for space.

Conclusion

Parallels Desktop 7 is a worthy upgrade to version 6. It offers great and noticeable improvements in speed and a few cool compatibility updates as well. Parallels offers an intuitive and unobtrusive user interface and design that allows the content and your VM to shine. Parallels Desktop increases functionality with new apps for iOS mobile devices. Out of 10 possible points, Parallels Desktop 7 gets an 8. If you already own a previous version of Parallels, version 7 is a worthwhile update.

What is your favorite virtual machine application? Will you upgrade? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Let your voice be heard in the comments below, we love to hear your thoughts!


Summary

Parallels Desktop for Mac is the most tested and trusted solution for running Windows applications on your Mac.

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  • Barry

    If you’re going to fake a screenshot, at least try to match the window titlebar font…

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Oh, I’m sorry about that. I should have caught that when I was editing. I just replaced the screenshot with a stock image from the developer.

  • Chris Pratt

    Word of warning: if you have a new MacBook Pro w/Retina or a new 2012 MacBook Air, Parallels 7 is for all intents and purpose borked. Windows and Linux, both, kernel panic on install. They are aware of the issue, but there’s no ETA on a fix at this time.

    • http://digitalformula.net Chris

      Also, Debian 6, despite being released in February 2011, isn’t a supported OS under Parallels. It does run but don’t expect support from Parallels if you’re running Debian 6 (any version). For most, this won’t matter, but I’m currently stuck with a problem in my environment for this reason. In other words, check the supported OS list before you ask for help …

    • Dilbert Asended

      Why is the 2012 MacBook Air an issue?

  • Kdfukuyama

    I stopped using parallels on early versions because I noticed that after installing it on my Mac, the Shutdown time of the OSX(Snow Leopard) itself became too slow, I mean, 1 to 2 minutes to shutdown. After uninstalling it, problem solved. So, every new release of Parallels, I try to find information about this issue without success.

    So, the Parallels 7 has this problem yet? I am using OSX Lion now.

    Regards,

    Kdfukuyama

    • http://quest4sanity.com Chris

      Depends on whether or not you quit or suspend Parallels before you shutdown.

      I only open parallels when I have work to do, then I shut down, (rather than suspend) windows. I’ve had no affect on how long Lion takes to shut down since the install. If you have to wait for Parallels to suspend the virtual machine, then yeah, it’ll add some time.

    • NSDocument

      This is because of few kext Parallels require to load upon startup for their service process to work. Load time has improved drastically in a more recent versions. When Parallels 7 was first released, it has problem of clearing kextcache on boot, making boot time unacceptably slow but they were quick to fix that.

      Latest version of VMware Fusion has none of this kind of problem since it’s pretty much self-contained; all kexts are load upon application startup not when the machine boot up.

      Even so I’ve found performance and responsive of Parallels to be superior to VMware Fusion but you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’re going run a graphic/CPU/memory intensive application.

      If you choose Parallels’, keep in mind their upgrade policy sucks ($49.99 every 11 months? Really?)

  • SIN Willett

    Hey I’ve been using parallels 7 since MacUpdates June 2012 bundle was released and I migrated from Oracles Virtual Box.

    I use it because I switch very regularly between Ubuntu and OS X 10.6.8 and the only issue I have found is the inability to switch off Native OS X trackpad commands (such as 4 Finger swipe down) temporarily.

    Besides that it is most definitely the best alternative to dual boot I’ve found.

  • eliot

    Sadly, Parallels, for my purposes is still inadequate speed-wise. I daytrade the futures markets. And while I run a full 6 screens in Win7 on Bootcamp on a 2008 Mac Pro (which runs beautifully)… when I travel, I use a more compact 2 screen workspace in Win 7 on a 2011 MBP with 8GB and a more than adequate internal Parallels partition (that runs unacceptably slowly).

    Granted, a couple of trading apps with a half a dozen tick charts in Win 7 VPN’d to specific servers updating live market action every second is a serious demand on the virtual machine. Parallels is still resolving multi-processor issues (have told me to set the processor use to 1), and their tech support is still unable to deliver a realistic level of functionality (wonder if it could have to do with my 64 bit Win 7 space and apps?). That said, my last Fusion attempt (V3) to do the same thing had similar results. Wonder if a more recent version of Fusion might be better?

    Only Bootcamp (on the Mac Pro) has provided a realtime solution without compromise. Perhaps I’ll need to give up multi-tasking while trading, though I prefer to remain productive when the markets are slow, and setup a Bootcamp partition on the MBP to achieve realtime speeds. Retail trading is at a handicap speed-wise under the best of circumstances, let alone with a deficient virtual box. Anyone actually trading have any thoughts?

  • Rudy

    I don’t get this article, Parallels 7 has been out for almost a year now.

    The windows task bar *can* be hidden, it’s right there if you right click the parallels icon on the dock.

    Poor article….

  • Richard Liu

    According to Wiki, Parallel Desktop 7 was release on Sep 2011. Why post such an article of “Introduction to PD7″ at this time ? Don’t you think it meaningless to compare PD7 and the “previous version” (PD6) after 10 months ?

    BTW, according to the record of Parallels company, the next major release shall be announced soon after they gave out a huge discount — the $49 bundle at MacUpdate ended a few days ago.

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