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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!