Parallels Desktop 8: New and Improved

Not too long ago, we reviewed Parallels Desktop 7 and deemed it to be a great app for all those needing to run alternate operating systems on their Macs. Now the team behind Parallels has release a new version of their flagship app and we decided to take a renewed look to see if they managed to improve on an already excellent product.

Join us as we discover some of the improvements and tweaks Parallels Desktop 8 has to offer and work around the few snags we found along the way.
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Installing and Upgrading

The upgrade path from Parallels Desktop 7 to 8 is far from smooth. Prior to installing version 8 you are required to completely remove Parallels Desktop 7. In the process, you loose previous settings and are therefore forced to re-import all your existing Virtual Machines. While it is a simple task, it can quickly become tedious if you have numerous Virtual Machines, and quite frankly is the sort of thing that shouldn’t be necessary for a version upgrade.

You can alternatively select all your Virtual Machines in the finder, right click and choose to open in Parallels Desktop 8. Word of Caution: This will not only import all your Virtual Machines but also attempt to start them, which could result in a performance impact on your system.

On a more positive note, Windows Virtual Machines upgrade Parallels Tools automatically once started. For Linux Virtual Machines however you still need to manually update Parallels Tools. I stumbled into some problems here with missing kernel modules on some Linux Distributions, however reinstalling Parallels Tools a second time around solved this problem.

The Parallels Wizard shown when creating a new Virtual Machine

The Parallels Wizard shown when creating a new Virtual Machine

When creating a new Virtual Machine you are presented with the already familiar Parallels Wizard. Here you’ll find two new additions, Download Android Free and Install OS X Mountain Lion Using the Recovery Partition. The possibility to install OS X from the Recovery Partition was removed from version 7 with the advent of OS X Mountain Lion, although it was still possible to install from an install disk.

System Integration

Parallels Desktop 8 brings a slew of tweaks and improvements when it comes to integration with Mac OS X. It now boasts support for Mountain Lion’s Notification Center and even though I couldn’t reliably test this, Parallels states that Windows 8 Toast Notifications appear in Mountain Lion’s Notification Center (this has been noted elsewhere too so the problem doesn’t seem limited to my testing).

The previous version was plagued with reports of problems when working in Full Screen mode, but Parallels Desktop 8 seemingly ironed out all those wrinkles. It now supports OS X Mountain Lion’s Full Screen mode flawlessly. In a dual monitor setup you can even run 2 simultaneous Virtual Machines in Full Screen mode each on their own separate display. While on the topic of Full Screen mode, you can now switch to Full Screen or Coherence mode by simply clicking the buttons on the title bar of the Virtual Machine’s window.

Coherence mode does however continue to have the same shortcommings that were discussed in our previous review, namely the unsightly icons on the menu bar and the floating Start Menu along the bottom of the screen.

The improvements don’t end there though, Parallels Desktop 8 intelligently detects when you’re running on battery and disables non essential animations so as to preserve battery life. The ability to Drag and Drop files between Guest and Host is possible for both Windows and Linux Virtual Machines making sharing files even more seamless now.

Windows Virtual Machines can also take full advantage of your Mac’s bluetooth allowing you to send files to bluetooth enabled devices from within the Virtual Machine. There is also an extension installed in Safari that enables you to open the current page in Internet Explorer with a single click. For those running Windows 8 you’ll be happy to know that Coherence mode works correctly as do Metro Apps in Full Screen mode.

With a click of a button you can open the current Safari page in Internet Explorer.

With a click of a button you can open the current Safari page in Internet Explorer.

Support for OS X as a guest operating system has also seen vast improvements. You are now able to use OS X in Coherence mode, copy and paste text and images between Guest and Host and use the same keyboard shortcuts to control the Virtual Machine.

Preferences and Settings

The Settings have also received some much needed attention in certain areas. One such area is the Shortcuts Pane (Keyboard Pane in version 7) in the apps Preferences. The manner in which keyboard shortcuts are set, not only for the app itself but for each individual Virtual Machine, has been greatly simplified. The settings are now clearer and easier to get to.

The Shortcuts are easily accessible and configurable. No need to dig through various layers to adjust them.

The Shortcuts are easily accessible and configurable. No need to dig through various layers to adjust them.

In a time of expensive SSD drives where disk space is a precious commodity, we see a much welcomed addition to the General Pane of the Virtual Machines Configuration Screen. It now shows exactly how much space the Virtual Machine is using and gives you the ability to reclaim space with a click of a button. While you can still perform this action from the Hardware Pane, this clearly shows that Parallels is looking to simplify things as much as possible for the user.

With a quick glance you can see just what is taking up space and with a press of a button reclaim some of it.

With a quick glance you can see just what is taking up space and with a press of a button reclaim some of it.

Conclusion

Although there were a few quirks with the instalation process, Parallel’s latest incarnation of their Virtualization Software for the Mac Desktop continues to impress. The speed improvements made in version 7 continue to progress in this version and for those in dire need of working with either Mac OS X (Mountain Lion) or Windows 8 in Coherence mode then this upgrade is a must.

Having said that however, Parallels greatest drawback is it’s price tag. If you already have Parallels Desktop 7 and don’t really need any of the features mentioned above then there isn’t much to gian from the $60.00 upgrade. However, if you have Parallels Desktop 6 and have been waiting then the upgrade is worthwhile for the speed improvements alone. Personally I’ll be sticking it out with version 7 for a while longer. What about you?

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.


Summary

Parallels Desktop for Mac 8 is a virtualization software for Mac OS X, allowing you to run alternate operating systems without the need for rebooting.

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  • http://ampersandwich.co.uk Ampersandwich

    7/10/10? Are you giving date formats instead of ratings now? Does this mean it’s software I’d expect to find in 2010?

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Hey, sorry about that. Basically, our WordPress adds the “/10″ to the end, and we forgot and wrote the /10 in manually as well this time.

  • MacWho

    7/10/10 ? seems legit, you should be new :) good review tho

  • wilhelm deussen

    Parallels uses these “upgrades” to fix bugs that remain unfixed for the previous version. This means that for a reasonably bug-free system, one needs to stay on top of all their upgrades. New Parallels versions (paid upgrades) are released every 7-8 months on average, priced anywhere (randomly?) betwnee $40-70. Buyer beware!

  • Augure

    This deserve no more than a 6/10. Because while it still is a good application (you’d have to compare with VMWare 4) there is very few new features.

    AND the main problem of Parallels is size: while it’s hard to change or find a way to reduce an OS size, virtualization software should do everything to use and take the less space possible.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Augure,

      While I do understand where you’re coming from and do agree to some extent, this is not a comparative review (with VMWare) but rather a review of the app, taking into consideration the updated features.

      The app is a good app and in my humble opinion deserves the 7/10, however you will notice that I mentioned it isn’t worth upgrading from version 7 because the new features don’t merit the upgrade price.

  • danielrp

    I never had the Windows Taskbar showing in coherence mode in version 7, nor do I have it version 8. You are obviously doing something very wrong.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi danielrp,

      I went back and did some further testing and apparently it was something buggy with my particular VM, Creating a new one solved the issue.

      What was happening was that when switching to coherence mode, the task bar flashes above the dock for a few seconds and then disappears. For some reason that wasn’t happening. However with this new VM it’s behaving as it should.

      Therefore I stand correct. Thanks for calling me out on that.

      Cheers,
      PL

  • Guy Piggford

    Umm, I upgraded to Parallels 8 just after it came out (I’d guess about one month ago) and I never had to remove Parallels 7 first. I had none of the upgrade hassle that you spoke of, I just ran the upgrade and retained all of my settings. As I started up the VMs later they had their version of Parallels tools upgraded – all in all very painless.

    I generally use Parallels to run the odd bit of old Windows software that doesn’t support Windows Vista or later, to run MS Access (the rest of Office I just run on my Mac) or to look at the odd game. As such the new version has been running very well for me. It’s clear that the graphics performance is faster then 7 wrt 3D games on Windows but honestly it’s still a bit too choppy to use so I still end out running bootcamp for that sort of game. It’s pretty amazing that Skyrim can run under Parallels at all, but realistically it’s still pretty unplayable (on my 2011 mbp).

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Guy,

      I happy that you had a smoother upgrade experience than I did. I can however only report on what I experienced and unfortunately it wasn’t as smooth. Possibly it could be some buggy install or weird VM problems I was having because apparently coherence wasn’t working as it would too.

      Chhers,
      PL

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