Images are the author's.
In this second instalment in our three-part review of Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac, we consider the process of getting a virtual machine up and running. You can read an overview of Parallels Desktop in the previous installment.
Parallels Desktop makes setting up a virtual machine (VM) running Windows, Ubuntu Linux, Chrome OS or OS X a straightforward process (it also comes with experimental support for Android but you can't install Google Play, which limits your options where apps are concerned).
Once you select which OS you want in the VM, Parallels Desktop will search for the installation program. This can be on a CD, thumb drive, external hard drive or on the internal HDD.
Versions of Windows up to 8.1 should be installed from a pre-purchased licensed copy of the software. If you want to try the Windows 10 Technical Preview or run Ubuntu, though, Parallels Desktop will download their disk image files for you. For other Linux distros you have to download the .iso file yourself and then point Parallels Desktop to it.
Parallels Desktop’s step-by-step setup wizard takes you through configuring options such as how much disc space and memory your VM should use, whether to isolate the VM from OS X or integrate the two and whether to boot it in Windowed or Coherence mode. If you are unsure, you can go with the defaults because these can be easily accessed and tweaked later.
Once Parallels Desktop has found or downloaded the installation programs for preconfigured operating systems, it automatically runs them for you. After that completes, you’re off and running. For anything else, you should just have to follow the OS’s own on-screen instructions.
Although virtual computers can perform many of the tasks that the equivalent physical machines can do, it's important to realize that you might find some limitations. These can be due to the virtualization software or compatibility issues that the host has with the VM’s OS or peripherals.
When running Windows 8.1 in Parallels Desktop we found that its Xbox Music app didn't recognize the Mac's internet connection. Yet, on Windows 10 that app worked most of the time. Playing Xbox games with a Wireless 360 controller didn't work for us, either, because OS X Yosemite wouldn''t register the USB receiver.
Where Linux is concerned, some distros can't be run in Coherence mode unless desktop effects are disabled. Parallels Desktop provides a link giving advice on how to do this but it isn't especially helpful. Our quick Google search revealed that one way to get Coherence working in Debian variants is by reverting to an old form of the Gnome desktop.
These niggles aren’t likely to be a major issue for most of Parallels Desktop’s target users. We were able to do day-to-day productivity tasks and entertainment activities without a hitch, including running office software and installing packages to make a VM's theme look more like OS X. Habitual TV binge watchers should also note that we were able to watch Netflix on a Mac using Windows 8.1’s Modern app.
Parallels Desktop’s developers claim that Version 10 runs Microsoft Office programs much faster than its predecessor. We can't vouch for the comparison but we had no issues running Office 2013 on a Windows 8.1 VM. We could also get OneDrive for Business desktop syncing on a Mac by proxy through the Windows file system, although inevitably this didn’t resolve that service’s inherent flaws.
Given that Microsoft isn't going to be updating most Office for Mac components until at least next year, the ability to run the latest Windows version of Office could be enough on its own to make Parallels Desktop worth its $79.95 price tag, especially for Office 365 subscribers. Thanks to the degree of integration Parallels Desktop allows with OS X, it could have real productivity benefits for anyone who uses a Mac in an office environment.
In the final instalment of this review, we will look at how well Parallels Desktop runs on the modest specifications of a Mac mini.
One feature of Parallels Desktop 10 that we have not discussed here is the ability to migrate an existing Windows PC over to a vritual machine. The following video from Parallels Desktop's developer tells you more.