Parallels Desktop 7 review

If you need to run Windows and OS X on Apple hardware, Parallels has always been handy. With version 7, it’s almost essential. While Apple does provide users with Boot Camp, to dual boot Windows with OS X, Parallels virtualisation features are that little bit more impressive. Who could help but let out a little gasp as they look at Windows applications running live on OS X’s desktop in Parallel’s Coherence mode? The ability to drag and drop between Mac and Windows applications, running side by side, never gets old.

Enhanced Lion compatibility

This upgrade is a swift response to the release of Lion, that enhances compatibility with the latest version of OS X. It also takes advantage of several of the new operating system’s key features. For example, if we’re talking about OMG moments, you can now run Windows in Lion’s full-screen mode. Flipping between Windows and OS X is as easy as switching desktops; Windows applications appear in Mission Control and Launchpad, just like their OS X siblings. It’s not just the transition between applications that’s seamless. Your applications can also access files stored locally or on a virtual machine.

Parallels 7 makes better use of your hardware too, with 3D video performance that’s 45 per cent better than the previous version. It’s quite something to see processor- and GPU-intensive Windows 3D programs running on a Mac Pro, within OS X. There are improvements to the speed of boot times, resume and stopping times for virtualised Windows too.

Using Lion’s full-screen mode, it’s easier than ever to switch between virtual Windows and your Mac’s default desktop

Multi-core processing seems made for virtualisation and Parallels 7 gives you the ability to configure virtual machines so they run across all available CPU cores, or a sub-set of them.

There’s a compromise to be made for these speed gains. Although the new Parallels runs on versions of OS X from 10.5.2 upwards, support has been dropped for older Intel processors. You’ll need a Core 2 Duo or better to run Parallels 7. If you have a 32-bit Intel Mac you're out of luck. And, it goes without saying, you won’t get those Lion-enhanced features without Lion.

So, what’s the experience of setting up and using Parallels 7 actually like? Remarkably straightforward in the majority of cases. You’ll need a copy of Windows to run virtual Windows, of course. This can be installed from disk or migrated from an existing Boot Camp installation. You can also use a disk image – handy for system administrators or network installation. Finally, if you’re upgrading or crossgrading from earlier versions or other programs, you can install from another virtual machine files, including VirtualBox and VMware machines.

Parallels users in Canada and the US can, for the first time, buy a copy of Windows within the software itself. We like the idea of reducing Windows to an in-app purchase but, alas, the feature’s not available in Europe.

As you install Windows, there are several configuration tweaks available that’ll enable you to use the virtual machine and its data how you want. You can change the storage location of files, for example, so multiple users can access the Windows installation’s data. You can, of course, leave the defaults as they are.

When the installation’s complete you can import data and settings from another PC, using Parallel’s Transporter Agent software. On the right system, with the right software, it’s a hassle-free process to add Windows using Parallels. And it's less expensive than buying a similarly specced PC.

It’s also worth mentioning that Parallels 7 has a companion mobile application, priced at £2.99 (rising to £11.99 after an introductory period). Available on the iOS App Store, it lets you access Windows and Mac applications on your desktop machine, remotely, from your iPhone or iPad.

OUR VERDICT

Parallels pipped VMware to the post to become the first virtualisation tool to take advantage of Lion’s enhanced user interface (though Fusion 4 launched soon after). It’s an inexpensive upgrade with a lot of new features. Tempting for first-time buyers, and for users of other VMs too.

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