Parallels Desktop 10
We've been a big fan of Parallels Desktop for a long time. In our review of Parallels Desktop 9, we highlighted some of the reasons why it's our choice for running Windows apps on our Mac. Parallels Desktop 10 makes the Parallels experience even better, bringing some serious performance improvements, nifty integration with OS X Yosemite and more cool features. Let's have a look at what this latest version offers and see if it's worth the upgrade price for existing users.
One of our favorite features in Parallels Desktop is the Coherence feature. This feature makes Windows applications feel like they're running natively on your Mac. Most people think of virtualization as running one operating system within another operating system. While that's an accurate description, the experience doesn't have to feel that way. With Coherence, Parallels Desktop 10 is able to make your Windows applications feel like they're running on your Mac natively instead of running within the Windows operating system. It can seem a little weird at first because the Windows interface elements are still present. (For example, to close an app, you click the X in the upper-right instead of the upper-left as you might be used to.) Still, this is a great way to run Windows apps on your Mac without leaving the OS X experience entirely.
Coherence isn't new to Parallels Desktop 10, but Version 10 does add some cool new capabilities to even further integrate your OS X experience into your Windows applications. For example, you can select and right-click on a phone number in Internet Explorer or Outlook and easily call it on your Mac with one click. (The call is actually placed on your iPhone using the Continuity features that Apple released with OS X Yosemite and iOS 8.) You can also share items with social networks configured in OS X Yosemite or send something to a contact via the Messages app using either iMessage or SMS right from inside of your Windows apps.
Parallels Desktop 10 also brings iCloud Drive integration to your Windows apps. (This requires OS X Yosemite as well.) You can save directly to your iCloud Drive from within Windows making it easy to share documents and other files between devices.
All of these features make using Parallels Desktop 10 a joy. It's one of the concepts that Parallels obviously puts a lot of thought and effort into. When you're using an application in a virtualized environment, nothing is more annoying than having to jump through hoops to share files between the guest OS and the host OS. If nothing else, having to do so ruins the illusion that you're using one operating system. Parallels adds new and better features with each version of Parallels Desktop that effectively propagate the notion that your Windows apps are magically running on OS X. Even when you know it's just smoke and mirrors, it's still quite a thrill when it all comes together this well.
Parallels adds new and better features with each version of Parallels Desktop that effectively propagate the notion that your Windows apps are magically running on OS X. Even when you know it's just smoke and mirrors, it's still quite a thrill when it all comes together this well.
Parallels also worked on performance improvements in Parallels Desktop 10. They boast huge improvements in speed, and while we weren't able to confirm the percentages that Parallels claims, we can certainly attest to the fact that just about everything feels quite a bit snappier in this new version. Amazingly, Parallels was able to squeeze out better performance without sacrificing battery life. In fact, Parallels claims that there's a 30% improvement in battery life with Version 10. In our testing, we did find that Parallels Desktop 10 was more battery-friendly than Version 9 (measured using the OS X Activity Monitor.) In fact, Version 10 uses less energy than our Chrome browser is using as we write this review while editing images in Photoshop running on Windows.
Keep in mind that your experience with battery life and power usage in Parallels Desktop is going to rely on what you're doing in your guest OS. For example, if you're using a CPU-intensive application in Windows, that's going to use considerably more power. Given that, it's hard to confirm the 30% improvement in battery life. However, in talking to plenty of people who use Parallels Desktop pretty regularly, it seems that the typical pattern is for people to use it for a few applications that don't run natively on a Mac. Therefore, we suspect that the usage patterns for most people are pretty consistent, and that being the case, you should see at least some improvement in power consumption. Since you're also likely to experience some pretty significant performance improvements, that's pretty impressive.
Amazingly, Parallels was able to squeeze out better performance without sacrificing battery life. In fact, Parallels claims that there's a 30% improvement in battery life with Version 10.
Of course, how well your Windows apps work in Parallels Desktop depends on how you configure your virtual machine (VM). For example, if you are going to be using it for graphic design, you might want to allocate more CPU and more memory. If you're just going to use it for browsing and email, you can lighten up on the resources you allocate to it. In order to make things easier, Parallels Desktop 10 will ask you how you plan on using Windows when you create your VM. Based on your answer, Parallels Desktop 10 will auto-configure the VM to give you the best performance. Parallels calls this feature 1-Click Tuning and it appears to work quite well. Of course, if you change your mind later, you can always reconfigure your machine easily.
Parallels Desktop 10 also makes it super easy to add new virtual machines with other operating systems. Want to give Ubuntu Linux a try? You can be up and running in just a few clicks! Want to give the next version of Windows a spin? Again, a few clicks will get you started. You can also migrate from an existing PC on your network or using the Parallels Transporter Agent available at http://www.parallels.com/pc/. Of course you can also install from a DVD, USB key, or from an ISO image. In fact, you can simply drop an ISO image onto the Parallels Desktop icon and it will kick off the whole process for you.
There's much more that's new in Version 10. You'll find that is uses less memory on your Mac than it did before, 10% less according to Parallels. You'll also see a decrease in disk usage because your VM's disk space is optimized on-the-fly so that it uses as little as possible. Oh, and check this out! Parallels has made the Windows 8 Start screen work just like the OS X Launchpad, making the line between Windows and OS X even more diffuse. In the figure below, that's my OS X wallpaper showing up being the Windows 8.1 Start screen. I can instantly return to my Mac by clicking the wallpaper or by clicking the Desktop tile on the Start screen.
It's important to note that with all of the good things Version 10 brings, the goodness you experienced in previous versions is still there. For example, you still have access to Parallel's excellent Parallel's Access service, an almost magical service that transforms your computer into an iPad-friendly interface. If you've ever tried to remote into a computer from your iPad, you know how frustrating it can be. Parallels Access removes that frustration. Read our review of Parallels Desktop 9 for more information on this incredible offering.
We started this review off by asking if Version 10 is worth the upgrade price for existing users. I think we can safely answer that with a resounding "Yes!" We realize that the upgrade price is pretty close to the price for the full version, but we still feel that the added features and performance (especially if you are moving to Yosemite) are well worth it. (If you're using Parallels Desktop 8 or earlier and you want to move to Yosemite, you have no choice but to upgrade.) The fact is that 80 bucks for new Parallels Desktop users is a steal. If you've got any need to run applications in a virtual machine on your Mac, you absolutely must check out Parallels Desktop 10. Head on over to the Parallels website and they'll get you set up with a trial version so that you can see for yourself why Parallels Desktop has been the number 1 way to run VMs on a Mac for more than 8 years.