Images are the author's.
Even devoted Mac users sometimes find they need to use a software program that only runs on Microsoft Windows. Having a second computer with Windows installed is one option to get around this. Another is to use a virtualization program such as Parallels Desktop for Mac.
Version 10 of this long-standing favorite among Mac users was recently released and TMR got a copy to try out with OS X Yosemite, the latest iteration of Apple's Mac operating system (OS). In the first instalment of this three-part review, we look at Parallels Desktop's main features.Overview
One of the coolest features of virtualization is that it allows you to use an OS on a virtual machine (VM) that is different from that on the host. Parallels Desktop is marketed primarily as a virtualization option for hosting Windows systems inside OS X. As with other virtualization programs such as VirtualBox, though, it can also be used to run VMs based on other operating systems, including Linux and Android.
One thing that separates Parallels Desktop from other similar software is the level of integration it offers between OS X and the VMs that it manages. In Parallels Desktop, VMs can be set up to run isolated from the host or to share its file system.
If you choose the latter, you can access OS X’s files, directories, external drives and programs from ‘inside’ the virtual machine using the latter's native file manager software. This includes any directories you have set up so cloud services such as Dropbox and OneDrive can sync files between online storage and the host's hard drive. Conversely, you can get to the VM’s file system using Finder or a third-party equivalent.
Parallels also lets you further integrate a VM by allowing you to run programs installed on it in what's called 'Coherence' mode. Coherence lets you run those programs seamlessly either maximized or in a window as if they were installed on OS X. For example, this article is being drafted in Linux Mint MATE Edition's Pluma text editor running in Coherence mode on Yosemite's desktop. Aside from the distinctive aesthetic features of Linux, there is nothing to suggest it isn’t a native Mac application.
Alternatively, you can run VMs in ’Window’ or 'Full Screen' mode. These constrain programs running on the virtual computer’s OS to that system’s desktop. In effect, it's like they are being displayed on a monitor within a monitor.
Regardless of the viewing mode that you run a VM in, however, software programs installed on it can be launched directly from the OS X dock by adding icons in the usual way. Parallels Desktop can also add a folder to the dock that can serve as a Start or Applications menu. When running Windows 8.1 in Coherence mode with the right Personalization settings, you can even overlay its Start Screen on the Mac desktop and access folders and programs from there.
To an extent you can do all of these things with VirtualBox or other virtualization programs. Yet, none offers Parallels Desktop's deep level of integration or the practical and aesthetic benefits this brings The ability to merge multiple systems comes at a price, however: whereas VirtualBox is free, Parallels Desktop 10 retails at $79.95. It’s not the cheapest virtualization option, then, but it’s less than the cost of a second computer and more convenient than drive swapping and setting up network drives.
In the upcoming second instalment in our three-part review we consider how easy it is to get a VM up and running and how well software installed on it runs under Parallels Desktop 10.
Below is a video overview of Parallels Desktop 10's capabilities courtesy of the developer.