Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac Review: Bring Windows to OS X

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One of the biggest challenges for businesses looking to adopt the Apple Macintosh platform is the fact that OS X doesn’t run Windows applications. Apple’s solution to that issue is to set up a MAC to multi-boot, using a technology called Boot Camp – in other words you can natively run OS X or you can reboot the system and run a different operating system, such as Windows, Linux, or something else.

However, that dual (or multiple) boot ideology introduces a plethora of hassles and denies the user the ability to truly leverage multiple applications running across multiple OSes. Simply put, that shiny new Mac may wind up only running Windows’ business applications, turning it into little more than a very expensive PC.

Virtualization to the Rescue:

Thanks to virtualization technology, there’s no longer any excuse to constantly reboot your Mac to run other OSes. Yet, historically, virtualization has been anything but simple – proving to be complex to deploy, set up, and use reliably.

What’s more, virtualization software comes in many shapes and sizes, with free products such as Oracle’s Virtual Box and for cost products such as VMMare’s VMWare Fusion for Mac (around $80) leading in the name recognition game.

While the aforementioned products are the primary competitors for the latest iteration of Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac (also around $80), Parallels takes a different approach. The software focuses on tighter integration, ease of use, and support options to take the mystery (and hassles) out of virtualization for those looking to maximize productivity on their Macs.

A closer Look at Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac:

In a world filled with free and low-cost applications, $80 may seem like a king’s ransom to pay for bringing multiple personalities to the typical Mac system. However, that $80 does buy a great deal of functionality and enables your Mac to do things previously thought impossible. What’s more, $80 is a lot cheaper than having to buy two systems (one for OS X and another for Windows) to accomplish what you may have to do on any given day.

With that in mind, $80 seems like a bargain. However, does the value offed by Parallels equate the initial cash outlay? That’s a question that can only be answered by taking a look at what the product brings to the desktop and determining whether its features, capabilities, and user experience surpass those of other options, especially Oracle’s VirtualBox, which for all intents and purposes, is free.

Software System Requirements:

  • Mac OS X
  • Processor, Storage, RAM capable of running native OS X, and one or more Virtual Machines.
  • DVD, Image, or other source files for Alternative OS installation

NVM_WizardHands On with Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac:

Ease of use seems to be the evident theme with the latest version of Parallels, with wizards and guided menus doing all of the heavy lifting. For example, creating a new virtual machine can be accomplished in just a few mouse clicks – using the new virtual machine wizard.

What’s important to note is that the NVM (New Virtual Machine) wizard offers several options, including simply installing an alternate OS, migrating Windows from an existing PC, and downloading and installing alternate (free) OS, such as Ubuntu Linux, Chrome OS, Android, and even another OS X session.

NVM_Install_WindowsFor the majority of users, a Windows install will be the most likely choice, and for simplicity’s sake, Windows 7 might be the best option for those looking to transition from a Windows to a Mac. However, there are situations where Windows 8.1 may be merited, especially if someone needs to to run the latest Windows applications on an OS X system.

Parallels offers several different paths to install Windows, it can be accomplished using a Windows DVD, installed from an image file, or installed from a key drive (USB drive) – all of which should share something in common, an installable image of Windows.

NWM_WindowsKeyWe tested all three methods with the latest release of Windows 8.1 and found that the USB drive method was the quickest (we didn’t have to copy any files to the local hard drive or mount any DVDs) and simplest way to move forward. The USB drive can be either a bootable drive or just simply contain an image file of the Windows install. Once the install source is chosen, Parallels takes care of the rest, including asking for the product key.

Once a key is entered, next comes one of the most important steps for defining how the virtual machine will function. Parallels provides four canned scenarios for Windows: Productivity, Games Only, Design, and Software Development.

NVM_Windows_SessionEach choice sets up environment variables that provide the best functionality for that option. For example, the Games Only selection runs Windows in full-screen mode and offers the most resources to Windows. Meanwhile, the others balance memory usage, resources, and disk space necessary to provide a great experience without taxing the Mac system. 

One nifty feature that’s unique to Parallels, is the ability to control the Windows 8 experience. During the final steps of configuring the virtual machine, users can select between a “Windows 8” experience or make Windows 8 function like “Windows 7.” For many users transitioning to OS X, the Windows 8.1 experience was the primary catalyst for using an alternative OS or eschewing an upgrade all together.

NVM_7or8Here, Parallels makes a very wise choice and offers a path to the Windows 7 experience, bringing perhaps the best of both worlds (Windows 7 and OS X) to a single system in a very usable fashion.

Finalizing the install takes little more than assigning a name and validating some settings – most users can choose to go with the defaults and wind up with exactly what they would expect from a virtual machine. However, power users may want to delve into the additional settings to customize the environment and choose who will have access to the virtual machine.

NVM_Win_SpecsParallels provides plenty of tuning options during the creation process. Hardware choices, sharing options, security settings, and general options can all be defined during the final installation steps, and most of them can be changed later on to tune the virtual machine experience.

Overall, the setup took roughly 15 minutes, experienced Parallels users with fast MAC systems could probably pull off an install of Windows 8.1 on Parallels much more quickly.

Working With Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac:

We installed Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac on a Macbook Pro Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014 system, running OS X Version 10.9.4, with a 2.6 Ghz Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 GB 1600 Mhz DDR3 ram, and a 251 GB Flash Storage drive.

Parallels_Menu_ShortcutsUsing the Parallels NVM wizard, we created two virtual machines, a Windows 8.1 VM and a Windows 7 Ultimate VM. The NVM wizard automatically provisioned the virtual hard drives, created desktop shortcuts, and added the two VMs to the Parallels menu.

Launching a VM takes little more than clicking a choice on the Parallels Desktop Control Center or clicking on one of the desktop shortcuts created by the NVM wizard. You can also use the Parallels Desktop Control Center to alter VMs, switch between active VMs, pause VMs, and so on.

Parallels allows users to simultaneously launch multiple VMs, monitor the activity on those VMs from the control center, and seamlessly switch between native OS X applications, as well as applications running under VMs. Users can select between VMs using the mouse, touchpad, or keyboard shortcut keys. When resources are limited or one VM is given priority over another, Parallels will automatically pause the inactive to free up resources.

Paralells_7and8Conclusion:

Users will find that VMs perform adequately for using most Windows applications. However, the more powerful the host machine, the better a virtual machine will run. The MacBook we tested Parallels on was able to run Windows applications with aplomb – we tested most of the Microsoft Office suite and also ran applications such as Quicken, Quickbooks, and Photoshop.

While there was some lag running Photoshop, as well as other graphics intensive applications, the overall experience was acceptable. Some processor and GPU intensive tasks, such as video encoding and data encryption showed signs of impaired performance; we didn’t encounter any errors, crashes, or other problems. Comparatively speaking, the applications running under a VM on the MacBook proved to perform well enough to give an experience equivalent to a PC a couple of generations behind the current latest and greatest powerhouses available today.

Simply put, Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac solves what may be an ever increasing problem – one where users need to run multiple OSes, access legacy applications, and transition to new systems. Considering that this functionality elsewhere, the $80 is a small price to pay. 

Of course, users could choose to go the free route and select Oracle’s VirtualBox. That said, free comes at the price of constant tinkering, manual configurations and limited support.

Pros:

  • One of the easiest ways to run alternate operating systems on Mac OS X
  • Supports multiple concurrent OSes
  • Wizard setup makes it easy to configure and control virtual machines
  • Allows users to import existing windows systems into new VMs
  • Automatically optimizes VMs for user preferences and supports rollback

Cons:

  • More expensive than alternatives
  • Limited number of predefined virtual machine environments


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