Parallels Desktop 9
In January of 2006, Apple released the first Intel-based Macs. A few months later, Parallels released Parallels Desktop for Mac. Parallels Desktop quickly began gaining fans, largely because it made it much easier to run Windows apps on a Mac than the only alternative at the time; Apple's Boot Camp. (Boot Camp was actually in beta at the time.) Almost 8 years later, Parallels Desktop (now at version 9) is still gaining fans. The reason is simple; Parallels Desktop provides a seamless way to run your Windows apps on your Mac without sacrificing convenience or performance.
Performance in Parallels Desktop is nothing short of amazing. Even when playing HD video in our browser window or working in complex OpenGL applications, performance remained excellent.
Parallels Desktop is an application runs on your Mac and allows you to create virtualized machines in which you can run other operating systems. (It's quite similar to VMWare Fusion or Oracle's VirtualBox.) Parallels Desktop can run as a typical VM where Windows (or another installed OS) runs inside of a window and your applications launch within that window. However, for a more seamless experience, you can run in what Parallels calls coherence mode where your Windows applications run side-by-side with Mac apps.
In the screenshots below, you can see the difference between non-coherence and coherence mode. In both screenshots, Internet Explorer 11 is running in Windows 8.1 running inside of Parallels Desktop 9. In the first screenshot, coherence mode is turned off. Notice that Internet Explorer is running within a window that is running the Windows 8.1 operating system. In the second screenshot, Internet Explorer 11 is running in coherence mode. As you can see, it's running seamlessly within my OS X environment.
Performance in Parallels Desktop is nothing short of amazing. Even when playing HD video in our browser window or working in complex OpenGL applications, performance remained excellent. Parallels Desktop 9 introduces many performance improvements over previous versions. We have little experience with previous versions, but we can certainly attest to the performance of the current version.
Parallels provides an astonishing array of preference settings so that you'll surely be able to configure your Windows virtual machine to behave exactly the way you want it to.
You can choose to run Windows full-screen so that your Mac is transformed into a Windows computer. However, if you just want to run a few Windows apps while maintaining the OS X experience, coherence mode is a great choice. We initially had a hard time swapping between Windows keyboard shortcuts and OS X keyboard shortcuts. Fortunately, you can easily configure keyboard shortcuts in Windows so that they're identical to your Mac, and you can do it by just changing a single setting.
Parallels takes care of ensuring that working in Windows apps is completely transparent. Common folders are shared by default, so if you save a file from a Windows app to your Desktop, that file is immediately available on your Mac Desktop. Parallels also enables clipboard sharing between OS X and Windows. If you're a user of Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud user, Parallels makes those folders available in Windows as well.
If you'd prefer to have an isolated Windows VM, you can do that as well. All of the shared features we've mentioned can be disabled if you choose. In fact, Parallels provides an astonishing array of preference settings so that you'll surely be able to configure your Windows virtual machine to behave exactly the way you want it to.
It's important to point out that Parallels isn't just for running Windows. You can actually install many different operating systems in a Parallels virtual machine, including other versions of OS X. We installed Xubuntu Linux on a VM in about 10 minutes, and without making any configuration changes, everything worked perfectly. This was a pleasant change from some other virtualization apps that require complex configurations in order to access the Internet and use other basic operating system functions.
Parallels deals quite well with devices that you plug into your computer. When you plug in a new device, Parallels will ask you which one of your operating systems you want to use the device with. For example, if you are running a Windows VM and a Linux VM, Parallels will ask if you want to use a new device with your Mac, with Windows or with Linux. If the device is one that you use only with a specific operating system, you can choose to have Parallels remember your choice so you're not prompted in the future.
To use a device with another operating system, you'll need a driver for the device. Depending on the operating system, getting a driver can be easy or it can be not so easy. Windows is generally very good at locating and installing drivers. Your mileage may vary with other operating systems.
If you're not already convinced that you absolutely must get Parallels Desktop, what we're about to show you will seal the deal. If you own an iPad, you're likely one of the many iPad owners who has long sought after a way to use your iPad as a true notebook computer replacement. Many iPad apps have promised to deliver on that goal, but in our opinion, they've all fallen short. Simply allowing you to remote into your computer from your iPad just doesn't quite cut it.
We were able to fully use Photoshop Elements in a Windows virtual machine on our iPad using Parallels Access.
Parallels solves this problem with an iPad app called Parallels Access. Access makes it easy to log into your computers from your iPad, but it goes one step further than other apps. Parallels Access transforms your computer into an iPad-friendly interface so that you can launch and interact with your applications using your iPad's touch screen. iPad features like copy and paste are added to applications that don't already have them, and even the iPad magnifier is available.
We were skeptical about how usable Access would actually be, but we found it incredibly usable. In fact, we were able to fully use Photoshop Elements in a Windows virtual machine on our iPad using Parallels Access. The screenshot below was taken on our iPad 2 using Parallels Access to access Windows running on our MacBook Pro. Yes, it boggles the mind, and yes, it works perfectly! Parallels Access is a subscription service that will allow you to access 10 Windows PCs or Macs for about 5 dollars per month or 50 dollars for a year. It's a little pricey, but we believe it's positively worth the price. Parallels will also give you 6 months of Parallels Access free when you purchase Parallels Desktop 9.
Our Tips for Using Parallels Desktop
Here are some tips based on our experience using Parallels Desktop.
Install Parallels Tools
Parallels Tools is an application that greatly improves the experience with Parallels virtual machines. Parallels Tools will improve video resolution and performance, mouse operation, and virtually everything else in your virtual machines. You can install Parallels Tools from the Virtual Machine menu.
Set Your Resolution for Retina
If you're using a Retina display on your Mac, you may find that your Windows apps have tiny fonts and tiny user-interface elements. You can fix this by changing the resolution to Scaled in your virtual machine's video settings.
Depending on the apps you use, you may want to set your resolution differently than we did.
Use Windows 7 Look
If you're not using coherence mode on a Windows VM, use Windows 7 Look. (You'll find it on the View menu in Parallels Desktop.) When you enable Windows 7 Look, Parallels will install a couple of apps from Stardock that will enable features such as the Windows Start menu. Even if you don't miss the Start menu in Windows 8, you'll appreciate it in your Windows VMs running in Parallels.
If you have any interest in running Windows applications or any other operating system on your Mac, you cannot go wrong with Parallels Desktop. Performance is great, the features are great, and Parallels keeps making great even better with updates. We were blown away by Parallels Desktop and Parallels Access and we cannot recommend them highly enough. Check out Parallels Desktop 9 by downloading a free trial at www.parallels.com/products/desktop/.