Apple’s use of Intel processors in its Macs allows you to run Windows natively in Boot Camp, but also run virtualization solutions so you can host Windows, various flavors of Unix and Linux, and other Intel-based operating systems within OS X so you can run programs in them side-by-side with your Mac’s programs.
There are several virtualization solutions available for your Mac, including VMWare’s Fusion package, and the free VirtualBox software from Oracle; however, the long-standing leader in performance has been Parallels Desktop, which today is launching version 10 of its virtualization software for OS X.
With this release, Parallels is focusing on three areas: Performance, Ease of getting started, and integration with OS X services, especially those in Apple’s upcoming Yosemite operating system.
With regards to performance, Parallels is claiming faster disk access, with opening documents and Windows programs (especially Office programs) now being up to 48 percent faster, while extending battery life by about 30 percent when using VMs. In addition, VMs should now have a smaller memory footprint.
While these details are to be expected for an update, the real benefit in terms of optimization comes from Parallels dynamically resizing VMs based on the space being used, instead of needing to run disk reclaiming maintenance routines periodically. This feature works by Parallels Desktop monitoring when data gets added or removed from the VM in real-time, and then adjusting its size on your Mac accordingly. As such, you will need to first perform a manual disk-space reclaim routine when you upgrade, after which Parallels will take over and do this automatically.
Even with automatic space reclaiming, Parallels now includes a handy wizard interface for checking on and managing the space used by your VMs.
The next feature in Parallels Desktop is the ease of getting started with new VMs. While Parallels has offered solutions to download and install Windows from its built-in store, Parallels now offers some handy configuration options for new VMs. First, you can now pick from several settings presets that will optimize the VM’s uses for tasks like CAD and Design, Office work, or games, to offer better performance for these routines.
In addition, when installing your VM you now have several convenient options. These include purchasing a fully configured and optimized installation of Windows 8 in the installer, that allows you to quickly get up and running with Windows on your system. You can also take advantage of Microsoft’s 90-day free trial for Windows, instead of needing to purchase a license immediately.
A final addition about installation that some people may find useful is the ability to create a VM simply by dragging and dropping a disk image of the installer onto the Parallels icon in your Dock. This will immediately launch the VM creation interface, and use the installation files to quickly create a new VM.
Lastly, Parallels has worked to better integrate Parallels 10 with OS X services, offering better support for drag-and-drop. You can now drag files to the VM’s icon to open them in their respective applications in the VM (though Parallels continues to support opening Windows programs from the OS X “Open With” contextual menu).
With regard to social media and sharing, the contextual services available for sharing updates on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, and other online services are now passed to your Windows VMs, so files in these can be send to these same services. In addition, you can even send files using AirDrop, an e-mail message in OS X Mail, and Messages.
Beyond services, features like Apple’s launchpad and the Windows start menu are also better integrated, so for example, the full-screen Windows 8 start menu feels very much like the LaunchPad interface in OS X, and will be a more familiar environment for those who use LaunchPad.
These details in Parallels 10 are only the tip of the iceberg, and while they are the features that Parallels is most proud of, we will have to see whether or not the program’s performance and features meet the expectations of those used to prior versions of the software. This being said, Parallels has a long-standing reputation for offering very fast and reliable VM software, and version 10 looks like an upgrade that will be well worth it for those who use virtualization.
For this upgrade, Parallels is offering similar pricing to its last product versions, where the full product is available for $79.99, with educational pricing at $39.99, and upgrades for $49.99. You can find more about Parallels 10 at the Parallels Web site.