The ability to run Windows on an Apple Macintosh instantly turns it into something infinitely more useful, particularly if it’s possible to run it alongside OSX and swap information easily back and forth.
Thus, Parallels makes the Macintosh more of a contender in the corporate world and offers opportunities for those tempted by the Mac’s good looks and smooth workings to jump in without completely burning their bridges (oh, and it’s not just Windows: Parallels actually runs “over 60 other operating systems including IBM’s OS/2 and various exotic flavours of Unix”). Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac is the latest incarnation and features 70-odd enhancements over the previous version.
You’ll need an Intel Mac (1.66GHz or faster) with 2GB of memory running Tiger 10.4.11 or later; on top of that allow a good chunk of RAM for each virtual machine. On a system that meets or exceeds those specifications you can run any number of virtual machines, switching between them without re-booting and setting them up in such a way as to share files and folders seamlessly.
Parallels can be run in various modes: Full Screen, where Windows occupies the entire screen as if it were the only OS on the machine; Window, where it appears as a self-contained window on the Mac desktop but you can drag and drop files between the two; Coherence, where Mac and Windows programs run side by side whether you’re working in OSX or Windows; Crystal Mode where Parallels’ menus and controls are all-but hidden apart from your Windows folder icon which sits in the dock and a tiny Parallels icon in the Mac’s menu bar; and finally there’s a Modality view which displays your Windows desktop in a tiny window so you can keep an eye on it while working in Mac OSX.
Parallels 5 supports the Aero interface used by both Vista and Windows 7 (as well as anything that uses OpenGL and Shader Model 3 for DirectX) and if you’ve got them, can utilise up to eight CPU cores. Less esoterically, you can switch off Windows 7′s animated startup logo to make it load faster and disable Office’s love-it-or-hate-it SuperFetch feature which will also inject some added zip.
For PC-phobics there’s a MacLook feature which gives Windows apps a Mac-makeover and, more usefully, a bunch of utilities that mimic some of the Mac’s most loved navigational features like swipe, rotate and pinch. The Parallels people have also produced stats that show the new version is three times faster, though since different versions of Windows perform differently on different hardware configurations this is hard to confirm; certainly, Parallels 5 feels fast and solid in every mode, sailing through office-style tasks and browsing the Internet.
Some performance advice? Don’t skimp on the hardware (Parallels will run on a 1GB machine, but you may not enjoy the results) and act on any recommendations to increase systems resources for your virtual machines; this is especially important for video memory if you want those fancy graphics effects.
There are other ways to run a guest operating system on a Mac, but Parallels is well established and this version offers some substantial new features and is good value for ugraders or new purchasers alike (though don’t forget to add the cost of a retail copy of Windows for every virtual machine you set up). There’s no need to re-boot when you want to run Windows, and peripherals like USB disks, cameras, printers and wireless devices behave exactly as expected.
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