Parallels Desktop 6 review
For regular switchers it's a slick way to run Windows on the Mac, with a few distinctive tricks
If you need to run Windows software on a Mac, the simplest option is to dual-boot with Apple's Boot Camp utility. But for everyday use, it's more practical to install an OS X virtualisation host such as Parallels Desktop (or its rival, VMware Fusion) to run multiple operating systems concurrently. Both let you hide the Windows desktop and run Mac and Windows applications side by side.
Parallels Desktop 6 brings a few new features that VMware can't match. The big one is a mobile application for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, allowing you to connect to virtual machines over the internet. We tested it on an iPad, and had no problem accessing our Windows installation through a firewall. Once we got the hang of touch controls the OS was responsive and usable, and you can even remotely power-on virtual machines via the mobile app - so long as the host Mac is turned on, of course. It's just a shame you can't access OS X the same way.
There are a few other additions too, including Spotlight support for Windows files and 5.1 surround sound for anyone watching movies or playing games on a virtual PC (although be warned that there's only support for DirectX 9). OS X parental controls are automatically applied to Windows applications, and keyboard shortcuts can be synchronised between operating systems to reduce confusion as you switch between platforms.
The real selling point for version 6, though, is speed. Performance is always an issue with virtualisation, thanks to the overheads of running two operating systems at once, but Parallels claims to give the smoothest Windows-on-OS X experience available.
To put this to the test, we tried it out using mid-range hardware: a 20in iMac with 2GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo T7300 processor. Running Windows 7 natively in Boot Camp, this hardware achieved an overall score of 0.93 in our benchmarks.
We were pleased to see that Parallels was able to load Windows from our existing Boot Camp partition, although you can also install to a virtual disk file. If you're switching from a PC you can even use the supplied Windows tool to dump the OS and applications to a virtual disk file with a few clicks, and painlessly migrate it into Parallels: we tried a fairly clean Windows 7 installation occupying 30GB on disk, and found it took about an hour.
|Software subcategory||System tools|
|Processor requirement||1.66GHz Intel processor|
Operating system support
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||no|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||no|
|Operating system Linux supported?||no|
|Operating system Mac OS X supported?||yes|
|Other operating system support||none|