Parallels Desktop 8 Switch to Mac Edition review: Simplify the move from PC to Mac

With over 30 million Apple laptops sold over the past two years, it isn’t surprising that more and more people want to use them for work. Though most enterprise-level application servers supply PC-only software, the likes of a Mac Citrix client or equivalent can handle this. The problem is for smaller companies where PC software is installed locally and there are either no Mac versions (such as for Microsoft Access) or incompatibility issues that result in a fruitless exercise. 

While there were slow, cumbersome emulators prior to Apple’s Boot Camp, the latter’s beta release with Mac OS X 10.4 in 2006 showed what was possible with an Intel processor. Since then a number of companies have released virtual machine software that, unlike Boot Camp, does not require a Mac to be restarted to run Windows software. Parallels Desktop has pioneered this right from the beginning. 

Installing a guest OS couldn’t be easier

The latest version, Parallels Desktop 8 Switch to Mac Edition, actively supports PC owners who want to move to a Mac. Included in the package is a special USB cable to connect an existing PC to a Mac so that an entire system can be migrated. 

Parallels has a variety of options for creating virtual machines. The main ones are to install Windows from a CD or image file, migrate Windows from a PC or use a Boot Camp partition. A number of non-Windows operating systems are also supported: Chrome, Ubuntu and Android. Finally, Mac OS X Lion can be installed from the recovery partition. 

Use the included USB cable to migrate a PC

Basic installs are very easy. The various default settings will suit the majority of users and installing Windows 7, 8 and XP from disc each took just over half an hour.

Migrating a PC presents few problems. There are three choices: via external storage, over a network or using the USB cable. For any reasonably sized Windows account, forget the first one purely on a time basis. Transfer over a network using a crossover cable will certainly work – and would save the extra cost – but we opted for the USB cable. After installing the Parallels Transporter Agent software on the PC and selecting the relevant disc, everything went smoothly aside from Windows and a couple of apps needing to be reactivated. At this point it is worth taking a snapshot of the virtual machine to be able to roll back to this position if anything untoward occurs.

It always seems odd to see a Microsoft Publisher file open on a Mac!

The guest OS can look like a Mac or a PC. Selecting Mac completely integrates Windows into Mac OS X. Termed Coherence mode, there is a complete absence of the Windows desktop with apps running in their own window on the Mac desktop. Windows apps co-exist in the dock and launchpad and there is full support for cut and paste between the different operating systems.

Being optimised for Windows 8, there are some really nice touches such as a button in Safari to open the current website in Internet Explorer and use of Mountain Lion’s gestures, notifications and dictation tools. 

Choose whether peripheral devices are connected to Parallels or your Mac

OUR VERDICT

While Parallels Desktop 8 is more expensive than Fusion 5, and there are a number of freeware alternatives including VirtualBox, its tight integration with Mac OS X, ease of installation and performance make it a first-rate choice. If you don’t need to migrate a PC, or are happy downloading the Parallels Transporter Agent and using a crossover Ethernet cable, you could save the extra £15 and buy the standard version.

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