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Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac Review: Run Windows on Mac

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Mac users can run Windows 7, Windows 8 or other operating systems on Mac OS X without sacrificing speed or performance on most Macs. The latest version of Parallels  Desktop 8 for Mac brings useful new features for Mountain Lion users.

Parallels Desktop 8 makes running a virtual version of Windows operating systems more convenient than using the built-in Boot Camp tool thanks to multiple modes that include running a Windows app inside a window on OS X, almost like a Mac App.

Pros

  • Runs other operating systems on a Mac
  • Apps run smoothly and fast
  • New support for Mountain Lion
  • Easy virtual machine setup
  • Download a number of free operating systems
  • Easily open websites from Safari in IE
  • Mobile app lets users log into virtual desktops and host OS
Cons

  • Slows down low powered systems or older Macs
  • Requires user to buy a copy of Windows to run Windows apps if user doesn’t want Windows 8

parallels coherence

Easy Setup of Parallels Desktop 8

setting up a new virtual machine

Options for setting up a new virtual machine in Parallels Desktop 8

Parallels Desktop 8 makes setting up Windows or other operating systems easy. The setup screen even offers links that let the user download free operating systems like the preview version of the new Microsoft Windows 8 that ships in October 2012. Other options include:

  • Install an OS from a DVD or image file
  • Migrate from a Windows PC over a network
  • Download Windows 8 preview
  • Download Chrome OS
  • Download Ubuntu
  • Download Android OS
  • Install OS X from the recovery partition
  • Add an existing machine – created before

I installed Windows 7, downloaded and installed Windows 8 and Ubuntu. I also opened an existing virtual machine which I created in the older version of Parallels Desktop. All worked without any issues.

parallels running windows 7

Parallels Desktop 8 running Windows 7

Before installing the new operating system, be sure to go into the Virtual Machine menu and choose Configure …. Adjust the hard drive size and memory of the virtual machine to the maximum that keeps the Mac side of the computer working fluidly. For my MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM, that’s 4GB of RAM in the virtual machine. I use the default for the hard drive space and it works well.

parallels coherance full

Running in full screen mode

Running Parallels Desktop 8 in Three Modes

parallels coherence

Coherence Mode puts a Windows Start Menu button on the Mac Men Bar

Parallels runs in three modes:

  • Coherence Mode – runs each Windows app in a single Window as if they’re Mac apps and only works with Windows
  • Window Mode – runs the operating system in a single window and works best for those who stay in the OS for long periods of time before switching back to Mac
  • Modality Mode – runs in scalable windows allowing the user to monitor whats going on in a window while working in the Mac environment

I prefer to use Coherence Mode since I’m usually only running one or maybe two Windows apps at a time. For the rare time when I want to use Windows, I switch to Window Mode and run it full-screen on Mountain Lion. I seldom use Modality Mode.

The three modes work well and give users some options how they want apps to behave. For Windows people getting used to a Mac, running the Window Mode full screen lets them go home to what they’re used to for a while. For Mac lovers who need to use a Windows app, Coherence Mode gives them the option while hiding the Windows OS.

parallels shared menu

The Parallels shared menu offers the Windows Start menu with Mac Apps listed while in Window mode

What’s New in Parallels Desktop 8?

Macs come with the ability to boot into Windows using Boot Camp, but it requires the user to restart each time they want to enter Windows. Parallels Desktop 8 makes switching to a full-screen version of Windows so much quicker and easier thanks to compatibility with Mountain Lion’s new full screen option. Hit the Full Screen Mode button in the toolbar and it makes it look like I booted right into Windows on my Mac. With the advent of Launchpad, now thanks to Parallels Desktop 8, I can click on Windows app icons in Launchpad and run them from the new iOS style launcher in OS X Lion and higher. The Parallels update also supports the following:

  • Mountain Lion gestures
  • MacBook Pro with Retina
  • Notification area support for Windows notifications
  • Open in IE

    open in IE

    Use the Open in IE button in Safari

The last item on the above list helps when users find websites that don’t work in any browser other than Internet Explorer. I experienced this a few days ago with a site I had to use for work, but it didn’t work in Chrome, Safari or Firefox. I fired up Parallels and hit the Open in IE button on my Safari toolbar.

We don’t have space to cover all the new features. Check them out and see if anything makes upgrading compelling enough for your needs.

MacLook

I really like MacLook, a way of skinning the Windows installation to give it a Mac look and feel. Notice the icons on the Windows Taskbar.

MacLook

MacLook skins Windows to look like a Mac

Now here’s the traditional looking Windows Taskbar.

traditional windows taskbar

The traditional Windows Taskbar

Install this feature using the Parallels View menu choosing MacLook. It downloads the files and installs them. Switching takes a about minute the first time and then only a about 30 seconds thereafter.

3D Graphics and 7.1 Surround Sound

The new version of Parallels will make graphically intense games and programs look better. It supports DirectX 9 games and virtual machine with up to 1GB of video memory. Games run more smoothly. Heavy gamers can use a Mac but get access to some of the Windows games that don’t run on Mac yet.

The program also supports 7.1 Surround Sound, making multimedia apps and movies sound better.

Parallels Mobile App

parallels mobile app

Parallels Mobile App running Windows 8 through Parallels Desktop 8

A really slick Parallels Mobile app lets users log into their virtual operating systems and the host operating system with this new version. The app works well and is fast. I can use any of my installations of Windows, a virtual copy of OS X, or Ubuntu. Any OS that runs in Parallels Desktop will work in the iPad App. The app is $5 in the iTunes app store, and runs on the iPhone and iPad.

Recommendation

For those of us who rely on a few Windows apps or who need to test out other operating systems without taking over our computer systems, Parallels in general will give us the best option. It’s more convenient to use than Mac’s Boot Camp feature since I don’t need to reboot the system to enter Windows.

For users of earlier versions of Parallels, go get this update. It is only costs $50 and is well worth it. The full version costs about $80. With a trial version available, there’s no reason not to give Parallels Desktop 8 a test.

windows 8 on parallels

Windows 8 running in Parallels Desktop 8

Parallels isn’t perfect. It requires ownership of a version of Windows. That’s why trying the program out now makes so much sense. Microsoft lets users download the preview version of Windows 8 free until it ships in late October. If a user doesn’t own a version of Windows 7 or earlier, they will need to buy one adding to the cost of using Parallels.

Also, Parallels does clog a system’s resources, especially for those who own a lower powered Mac, like a Mac Mini without any frills or an older system. Finally, on a Mac without a Retina display, Windows doesn’t look as good as it does on a PC. Text seems a little less crisp.

I love Parallels because I use two Windows programs that I really need for my day job. One offers a Mac version but it’s so bad I prefer the more mature Windows version and with Parallels I can use it without switching computers or restarting.

Kevin loves notebooks, tablets, gadgets and photography. He grew up with computers starting out on a Vic 20 and Commodore 64. The first computer he owned himself was an 8086 Compaq Deskpro. His foray into tablet computing began when he bought a Samsung Q1 Ultra. The smartphone market opened up for him with his Palm Treo 600.

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