Parallels For Mac

Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac

I recently reviewed VirtualBox in a previous article and gave it a good review, despite some shortcomings. Since that time I decided to try (and subsequently buy) Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac. Part of the reason for my decision to do so was simply down to the fact that VirtualBox is now maintained by Oracle and I’m no fan of Oracle. They write great database apps but they have no business at all buying MySQL (except to inhibit it’s growth) and I see no reason why they should have bought Sun (and therefore VirtualBox). But that’s a different story.

The good news, from Parallels perspective is that Oracle buying Sun made me look at Parallels more closely!

So – what is Parallels Desktop for Mac?

Just like VirtualBox and VMWare, if you want to run MS Windows applications you either need to dual boot your Mac using Bootcamp, or you need some sort of ‘virtualisation’ product. Virtualisation enables your Mac computer to run another operating system (either MS Windows, Linux, DOS, OS/2 or even another flavour of OSX if you like) at the same time your normal OSX is running. It does this by kind of putting the other operating system (known as a guest operating system) inside it’s own virtual machine.

You can think of computer virtualisation a little like a greenhouse in your back garden. The world is your computer, Parallels/VMWare/VirtualBox are the greenhouse. They both have an environment, but the greenhouse is encapsulated within the main environment. If it rains in the real environment it doesn’t necessarily do so in the greenhouse. The greenhouse might be warmer. They’re essentially completely separate environments, but the greenhouse cannot exist without the world. And so it is with computer virtualisation. Your Mac is the world and Parallels provides a greenhouse – or guest environment.

What’s Good About Parallels?

Installing Parallels is extremely simple. Download a trial from www.parallels.com and double click the Installer icon that should autostart when it’s finished downloading. You don’t need to any more than that to get started.

Parallels seems to be faster with less configuring/tweaking than VirtualBox. I was surprised just how quick it runs. It also doesn’t seem to interfere with the normal operation of your mac quite as much either. I found I didn’t need to put the video card into ‘performance’ mode just to run Safari for instance.

parallels-ss-1

Parallels provides fantastic integration with the DockBar. If you run in Coherence mode, you’ll find that your Windows Start Menu becomes an icon on your Mac dockbar. Clicking it will bring up the familiar Windows start menu where you can fire off other applications. These applications show separately on the dockbar too, so if you have Internet Explorer and QuickBooks open, you’ll see those icons on your dockbar, making switching between Mac apps and Windows apps almost seamless.

If you can’t see where you left one of your Windows windows, fear not because you can use Expose to see all your Windows apps just as if they’re Mac OSX apps if you’re using Coherence Mode.

Parallels will import Virtual Machines from VirtualBox and/or VMWare and does so with little to no user input required. It even installs the Parallels Guest Tools automatically, hiding the installation behind a ‘feel good’ window – but bringing the guest out to the front if something goes astray.

Parallels supports Aero in Vista and Windows 7. Whether that’s a good thing is debatable depending on your tastes of course, but it’s a feature that is claimed to work on VirtualBox but doesn’t. At least I could never get it to work with VirtualBox. DirectX 9 is claimed to be supported in both VB and Parallels and although I’ve not yet tried it on Parallels it was another one I could not get going on VB. Given that Aero does work, I suspect there’s more chance of some of my 3D games (especially the older ones) running under Parallels. Which will be nice.

One of the best features, from a seamless integration point of view, is that Parallels supports Multitouch. This means that if you are viewing a web page in Internet Explorer and the font is a little small, you can use the pinch gesture to zoom out. Along with the two fingered stroke to scroll around too, it’s fantastic.

Drag and Drop of files between Finder and Windows Explorer is out of this world. You don’t need to use Shared Folders any more (though you can if you want). If a file is on your Mac drive but you want to move it into the Windows Virtual Machine, open up Explorer, open up Finder, drag the file from Finder onto Explorer and it’s copied, just as if you were going from one Finder window to another. It couldn’t be easier.

Given the performance footprint of Parallels I’ve actually found on occasions that I’ve forgotten that I’ve left it running. The Parallels software will automatically optimise memory usage so you don’t have to specify using a certain amount – and I’m sure I saw somewhere that it will put the guest OS to sleep if it’s not being used. But I can’t seem to find that option again now!

What’s Not So Good?

Well, Parallels costs money, VirtualBox is free. Although to be fair, if you’re using VB in a corporate or non personal setting you’re supposed to buy a license too. To be honest, $79 for Parallels is actually extremely good value.

Copy and Paste of images is touted as a big Plus of Parallels but I couldn’t get it to work. I’m probably missing the plot on something there though.

The MacLook Windows theme is pretty awful. It uses Window Blinds under the hood and I’ve previously had no end of trouble with Windows Blinds causing some serious system instability under Windows. That’s more Windows and Window Blinds problem than it is Parallels, but by offering it as an option they’ve made it their problem too.

Parallels seems to absolutely require Intel VT-X hardware virtualisation. I’m not sure how much of a restriction this is for genuine Apple hardware (it certainly isn’t on both my MacBook Pro nor iMac) but it can be a restriction on Hackintosh. It may be a restriction on earlier genuine Apples too.

Like any virtualization you really do need the RAM to be able to make it work well. My 4G MBP barely notices its running, but if I only had 1G I suspect I’d struggle.

What’s Not So Good About This Review?

There’s SO much to Parallels Desktop for Mac – the various ways of integrating with the OSX desktop (Window Mode, Coherence Mode, Crystal Mode, Modal Mode) and so many features available that this review has only really skimmed the surface. But if you have Windows software you need to run on your Mac and want to do it as seamlessly as possible then Parallels really is for you.

I’ll try installing some games to see how well it performs – if it performs at all. I used to like playing Auran Trainz, but could not get that to work at all under VirtualBox – I’ll see how I go with Parallels.

Score
  • 9/10
    Design - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Features - 9/10
  • 6/10
    Cost - 6/10
  • 8/10
    Ease Of Use - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Customer Support - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Overall Value - 8/10
8.2/10

Summary

Positives: Great Customer Care, reasonably quick, imports various VM formats
Negatives: Non-free, upgrade treadmill
Trial Available: Yes, limited
Price: $79.99

Website: http://www.parallels.com

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10 thoughts on “Parallels For Mac”

  1. I do not run any anti-virus on my Mac since it doesn’t really need it. If I download Parallels, will I need to install anti-virus?

    1. Hi Juliana,
      If you’re going to run a Windows OS in your Parallels installation and that Windows OS will connect in any way to the Internet, then you should run an Internet Security Solution. I believe Parallels comes with a free Kapersky license, and that would be just fine for your security solution.

      Hope that helps,
      Steve

  2. Hey Steve,

    If the Kapersky license expired after 30 days, can I install other anti-virus program like BitDefender etc. I am using a Mac Book Pro

    Thanks!

    Wang

  3. I vote for virtual box. It runs windows, linux, chrome, android, whatever you want. It works fast, it is stable and best of all it is free. Images can be transferred from mac to windows to linux with no problem. I don’t see any reason to use Parallels, coherent mode is not really something that attracts me. I actually prefer windows to be in it’s own window and not integrated with the mac in any way.

    I think your article is a little misleading because I think most users would not find $79 worth of value in parallels over virtual box. Certainly everyone I’ve put onto VB has found it suits all their needs.

  4. Hi Mike,
    This review was written over 18 months ago and at the time was based on the current condition of VirtualBox and Parallels for their latest version.

    I also pointed out crystal clearly where I felt both products let me down – this included where Parallels let me down or didn’t work quite as I expected. And I was pretty clear that Parallels cost money but VB didn’t for personal use.

    You mention that you don’t like Coherence mode and that’s perfectly fine but it is a big feature of Parallels that VB doesn’t have.

    I therefore thank you for your feedback, but disagree that the article is misleading – it is after all, 18 months old. Perhaps I should do a new review though!

  5. Parallels 6 sucks! The coherence feature (even when not used) is intrusive and slows both the emulator and Mac to a crawl. They have also decided to mix pop-up window spam every time you launch the emulator. Gee, this is something I’d expect from free software not a product that I paid in excess of $100 to use.

  6. Alvin,

    Sofos Antivirus is hands down the best antivirus package for the Mac; and it’s free! Below is an excerpt from my book “The PC Power Pack – Seven free and powerful tools to speed up your Windows and Macintosh computer.”

    “If you prefer not to spend $9.99 then I would recommend Sophos antivirus, which is what I consider the best antivirus software available for the Macintosh. Sophos is a Network security firm in the UK that specializes in enterprise solutions and distributes a free home version of their antivirus software for the Macintosh. The Sophos app combines simplicity with power and true real-time scanning, just like the antivirus software on Windows computers. Because the folks at Sophos specialize in corporate network security it’s also more likely that they will quickly respond to new threats and keep their definitions up do date.”

  7. I run Parallels on my iMac and VMware fusion on my Macbook Pro. Both work really well. I love coherence mode and use it all the time.

    My use of windows on my Mac is solely to Run MetaTrader and some other Trading software. I can have live charts running in windows in the background (full Screen) while I work on the Mac desktop for other business. It all works brilliantly, or did until I updated to Lion, then everything started to have problems. I then updated my Virtual Machines to the latest releases from Parallels and VMware, most the problems then disappeared, but the system memory was all getting used up, The iMac was running very slow, so I upgraded the RAM to 8GB, and now everything is working beautifully again.

    Vmware and Parallels both work very well and worth the investment, In full screen mode everything works just like being on a PC.. or you can use Coherence mode and you can pop up windows applications whenever you want, to work alongside you mac application. It could’t be easier. You just need an intel Mac and I would recommend more than 4GB of RAM, but I stream a lot of live data while I have Windows and Mac applications running.

    Also, I’m running Windows 7 on a Core i5 iMac and XP professional on the first Intel Macbook pro, 2.6GHz.

    I would never go back to a PC, the Mac just does everything so well. Even windows seems to run better than it ever did on a PC.

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