Parallels Desktop has long been one of the go-to applications for using your Mac to virtualize a wide variety of operating systems, and many considered its previous version 9 as more than sufficient for getting this job done. While the software shining point has always been its ability to run Windows truly parallel to the standard Mac OS X desktop, this version of Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac takes multiple strides forward, making it even easier than before to incorporate Windows-only applications—or applications from other x86 operating systems including Android, Chrome, Linux, etc.—into your Mac-based workflow.
Perhaps most importantly, Parallels again ups the ante in speed both in launching and runtime, turning virtualization into a native-feeling experience.
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A big part of Parallels Desktop 10 story is that the company is introducing very robust support for not only Apple’s upcoming Mac OS X Yosemite, but also Windows 8 and 8.1. In the past, Parallels has done a great job of intertwining the two popular desktop operating systems and making it ridiculously simple to use both simultaneously, but with Yosemite and Windows 8, the software has even tighter integration. For example, you can do things like right-click a link in Windows and choose to share it using social media accounts that are already configured in Yosemite. But that’s just the beginning.
There are even more useful Yosemite-based features that are coming to Windows via this latest version of Parallels. As you may know, Continuity is one of the bigger concepts that Apple introduced at WWDC earlier this year, giving users seamless integration between their Mac and other devices like a connected iPhone, for example. Using continuity to dial a phone number found online via your iPhone is built-in to Yosemite, but with Parallels 10 you can now do so with a couple clicks in Windows as well. Additionally, Parallels now supports iCloud Drive and iPhoto Library within Windows—so it only takes a drag and drop to save your Office documents.
You can also quickly “Save As..” in the latest versions of Microsoft Office to various cloud services that have already been configured on the Mac side. Namely, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Dropbox can all be quickly added to the list of save destinations, which would come in handy if text editing and productivity are your main reasons for using Parallels.
Another interesting feature that the team has implemented is a Yosemite Notification Center widget that displays your currently running virtual machines and displays the resources they’re taking up. I’ve actually found myself using Notification Center quite a bit in Yosemite now that I can do things like publish to social media via widgets, and this is a helpful addition and gives me an idea of how much stress my second machine is putting on my system.
One of the things that I found really nice was using the Windows 8 start screen in “Coherence” mode. (In case you don’t know, Coherence is a Parallels feature which lets you run applications from another OS natively within Mac OS X.) When running Windows 7 in Coherence mode, clicking the Windows 7 icon in the dock opens the traditional start menu. But if you have Windows 8 installed, clicking that respective icon will actually present the modern-style start screen in its full glory—much like Launchpad. The screen appears without a hitch and Parallels classily blurs your desktop background behind it.
But what’s most impressive is that all of these features work as advertised without any noticeable hit to performance. In fact, Parallels has done a bit of shaming of its own top-of-the-line virtualization software of yesteryear, touting some major performance improvements over the last major iteration. While I can’t really confirm scientifically that there are performance improvements happening here, I can definitely say that I never had a problem running Windows 7, 8, or Chrome OS on my less-than-beastly MacBook Air. Just to give you an idea, Parallels says that—compared to Parallels Desktop for Mac 9—battery life could be up to 30% longer, snapshots are up to 60% faster, and launching apps like Microsoft Office should be up to 50% faster. For one, I can attest that battery life was better than I expected it to be.
There’s definitely some optimizations happening behind the scenes that make all these performance boosts possible, but version 10 also includes a nifty new feature that makes squeezing every last ounce of performance out of Parallels possible for even the less technically savvy. Within the Parallels Wizard when setting up a new OS, the software asks you how you most intend to use the virtual machine. Your selection here will mean tweaking of some settings that you never have to look at and will in the end mean you get better battery life and a faster, more seamless experience. While this might not be a groundbreaking feature for those of us who are going to tinker with the settings anyway, it definitely makes the set up process easier for others.
There aren’t many downsides to Parallels 10 vs previous versions or the competition, but something convenient that is noticeably absent from version 10 is the ability to download and install Windows directly from Parallels. We’re told that Parallels had to remove this feature due to Microsoft licensing changes and they are working with Microsoft to change this policy. That’s a bummer and obtaining Windows media, be it a DVD or a USB stick adds a few steps to the installation process.
If you want to get access to your Parallels experience on mobile platforms, the company does have an interesting app that it tries to subtly push on you when installing a new virtual machine. It’s called Parallels Access, and while it does seem to be a great way of using desktop apps on a tablet or smartphone (which I would hope wouldn’t be necessary in most cases), it requires a completely separate desktop client to work and costs $19.99 per year to use. The app does go above and beyond other offerings in this space, though, bringing things like a mobile-style app launcher for desktop apps, better ways to control these apps with a touch screen, and more. Personally I think this is something I’m going to pass on (mostly because I just don’t need it), but the company obviously wants users to try it out because they made an entire settings screen just for downloading the apps and desktop client. We also found the solution quite impressive in our full review for those that can find a use for it.
Overall, this is just more of what Parallels Desktop 9 already brought us: a great—probably the best—way to run Windows and other operating systems within Mac OS X. There are countless other features shipping with this release, like support for 3 button mice, Windows apps automatically being added to Launchpad as you install them, the ability to insert Mac special characters on the Windows side, and other improvements. But if you’ve never taken the plunge and given Parallels a shot before, this version of the software is definitely worthy of a double-digit version number and offers more than just new features—it improves and innovates on the reliable and efficient formula of previous releases.
You can get Parallels today for $49.99 if you’re upgrading from either version 8 or 9, or it can otherwise be had for $79.99 with a few limited time bundled apps. Additionally, there is a 14-day trial available for those not sure if they want to take the plunge.