When, Windows switchers as well as Mac users who needed to run the occasional Windows app rejoiced. That’s because the chip switch was soon followed by the release of virtualization software that would let those users run Windows as if it were just another application on their Macs.
While those first virtualization apps didn’t support all of Windows’s features and weren’t terrifically fast, they were miles better than the Windows-emulation programs that had previously been available for the PowerPC chip. Since then, however, virtualization apps for the Mac have matured a lot. Four main options are now available: two commercial virtualization apps ( and ), an open source alternative , and another solution that lets you install Windows apps without installing Windows. Those first two options are the most popular—and, for most users, the most sensible—alternatives. I’ve reviewed many generations of Parallels and Fusion, so I’ve seen them develop. The advances they’ve made have been amazing. The two developers have pushed each other hard, and their products have leapfrogged each other to introduce new features and improve performance, resulting in two excellent alternatives.
Parallels Desktop 14 for Mac. The fastest, easiest, and most powerful application for running Windows® on Mac®—without rebooting. Includes 30+ utilities to.
Running the current generations of these two virtualization programs— ( ) and ( )—on one of today’s ultrafast Macs, only the most hardcore Windows users will feel the need to reboot into Boot Camp to run Windows natively. Another result of this competition is that the two programs have evolved into near twins of each other.
They offer similar features, similar performance, and at times, even look similar. There are a few differences, though, and that’s what I focused on in assessing the latest versions of each. Opening and closing The two virtualization apps do differ in speed—not the speed of the virtual OSes themselves or the apps in them, but the speed with which they open, sleep, resume, and shut down those OSes. In some very simple testing, I found that Parallels is notably faster at each of those tasks, but particularly at suspending and resuming.
If you need to open and close virtual machines all day, these time savings could add up. Both virtualization apps are relatively stable. I didn’t have any outright crashes in either, but I did experience some minor oddities in both. In Fusion, for example, entering and exiting full-screen mode causes more flicker and redraws than it does in Parallels. When using Parallels, however, I had some apps fail in Windows (which didn’t happen in Fusion), and there were times where I simply couldn’t type my password at the Linux login prompt.
Virtualizing Windows While both Fusion and Parallels support literally hundreds of guest operating systems, most users will be employing them to run one or more flavors of Windows. Overall, both do an excellent job. In earlier reviews, I found that both and do well running earlier versions of Windows, so this time I focused on the upcoming Windows 8. For testing purposes, I used the final Windows 8 Developer Preview (which should be identical to the consumer version due out soon).
Both handle it well, for the most part. (Note: What used to be called the Metro interface in Win 8 is now usually just Start or, occasionally, the Windows 8 UI.) For the traditional Windows interface (the Desktop button in Start), both apps run Windows as well as their predecessors.
Office applications run without delay, and I never felt as if anything was lagging in either program. The Windows interface itself was fast and fluid, Web browsing was trouble-free, and the two email apps I tried worked fine. Windows 8, running inside VMware Fusion 5.
Start apps—the shiny new full-screen apps for Windows 8—also ran fine, as long as I was using them while I had Windows running in each virtualization program’s “windowed” mode (meaning that Windows itself, rather than each Windows app individually, got its own OS X window). Trying to use Start apps while in Coherence (Parallels) or Unity (Fusion) modes (which give each Windows app its own OS X window) had its challenges.
It can be done in Fusion, but only if you run one Start application at a time. If you launch another, it replaces the currently running app.
If you've switched from Windows to a Mac, there's a good chance you want to run some of your old Windows apps, but there's no exact match for them in the Apple-centric world. Even if there's an OS X version of your favorite program, it may work differently than it does on Windows—as the OS X versions of Microsoft Word and Excel apps work differently than their Windows counterparts. This is the problem like Parallels Desktop are designed to solve.
Parallels Desktop and are the leading virtualization software for OS X, and both let you run Windows apps on the OS X desktop almost as if they were running on a Windows machine. Parallels offers the deepest integration between Windows apps and OS X systems, and the latest version, Parallels Desktop 12, offers major advances in the depth of its integration with Windows 10. Combined with impressive speed improvements, Parallels remains the top choice for less technical users, though both Parallels and Fusion have their own advantages. Versions and Pricing Parallels Desktop comes in three versions. The Standard edition (tested here) costs $79.99 for a license that lasts forever, but it doesn't include upgrades to any future versions. The Pro edition, which costs $99.99 per year, adds free upgrades to any future new version and a subscription to the Parallels Access remote-desktop service (normally $20 per year). The Pro version also includes high-level features that I didn't test, including the ability to access a guest OS via or from a browser (if the guest OS is set up as a Web server) and integration with Microsoft Visual Studio and virtualization tools like.
There's also a Business edition, which is subscription-based and adds centralized management features, built-in access to cloud services like Dropbox or Box, and 24/7 support—you have to contact the company for pricing quote, however. Use Cases Users typically run Parallels (or competitor Fusion) in one of two modes. Either you use the virtualization app to open a complete Windows desktop on your Mac, or you use it to open a single Windows app in an OS X window, as if the Windows app were actually an OS X app. If you sometimes need to work as if you were using a real Windows system, you use the Windows Desktop mode—and you can drag files between the OS X desktop and the Windows desktop. If you only want to use, say, the Windows version of Excel on your Mac, then you use the Single App mode, which Parallels calls Coherence Mode. In either mode, you can set up a sharing option that lets your Windows apps save and open files directly to and from any folder on your OS X disk. If you use the Windows Desktop mode, Parallels gives you tight integration between the host OS X system and the guest Windows system.
For example, you can select a file on the Windows desktop, or in a Windows Explorer window, then pop up the file's right-click context menu and find an option to Open in Mac. This causes the file to open in the default OS X application for that file type. Or you can do the reverse and add a Windows app to the Open With menu in OS X.
This latter operation may require you to follow some manual steps in Parallels, however. Also—and this needs no special setup—you get OS X's QuickLook feature in Windows.
This means that you select a file in a Windows folder, then press the spacebar, and the OS X QuickLook window pops up a preview of the file. You can also use the Single App Coherence mode, which opens a Windows app in an OS X window without showing the underlying Windows desktop. For me, and I think for most users, this is less distracting and more useful than the full Windows Desktop mode. An additional button in Parallels' OS X title bar switches from Windows Desktop mode to Coherence mode—the switch takes a few seconds, but not enough to be annoying—and you can set the Windows app always to open in Coherence mode, even from a Dock icon. The latest version of Parallels takes Windows integration to a new level.
You can now schedule updates to take place at night or on weekends, to avoid slowing down your system when you need to get work done. Another small but welcome change: You can tell Parallels to start up a virtual machine when you start up your Mac. You can also leave the Windows machine paused in the background so you can start up a Windows app in far less time than with previous versions.
Getting Started To use Parallels, you'll need a copy of Windows on your Mac, and Parallels gives you multiple ways of getting one. A button on the New Virtual Machine wizard lets you download Windows 10 directly from Microsoft, either buying a new copy or using a license key that you already own.
Parallels then automatically installs Windows 10. If you want to migrate an existing Windows system, an option in the wizard lets you download and install the Parallels Transporter utility to transfer your existing Windows system—including applications and files—either across a network or via a portable disk, You can also install any other Windows or Linux version from an ISO file or DVD. You also have the option of importing a Windows system you've installed on your Mac via Apple's Boot Camp feature. Or you can use the Parallels wizard to download prebuilt versions of Ubuntu, Android, Chrome, or other environments. Finally, you can also install a virtual copy of your current version of OS X from your Mac's recovery partition. That's a rich assortment of choices, and Parallels' wizards make all these operations almost effortless. Parallels beat Fusion in my tests at starting a virtual machine and waking a sleeping one.
How Does Parallels For Mac Work
I set up Windows 10 in both apps so that Windows automatically booted directly to the desktop, without waiting at the log-in screen. Parallels 12 was almost three times as fast as Fusion at starting Windows (13 seconds for Parallels versus 35 for Fusion) and four times as fast when shutting down Windows (6 seconds versus 25). Note, however, that once each system got started, both ran real-world applications like Word and Excel at just about the same speed—slightly more sluggishly than the native OS X versions of those apps, but certainly fast enough for most purposes. Excellent Performance What makes VMware Fusion worth considering for many users is that it lets you use the same virtual machines that you may have created for VMware Workstation for Windows or Linux.
All you need to do is copy the existing virtual machine from your Windows or Linux computer to your Mac—or vice versa—and you get the same virtual machine on both. Parallels sells Parallels Desktop only for the Mac.
Also, VMware Fusion supports a wider range of guest operating systems; I've even got Steve Jobs' ancient NextStep and OpenStep systems running under VMware, though I admit that I only did it in order to see whether it was possible. I'm not a big fan of apps that ship together with other, irrelevant apps, but Parallels 12 gives you an option to install a tag-along app that many users will be glad to have. The Parallels Toolbox is an all-purpose utility that sits in the system tray and lets you compress files, take screen shots, record audio and video, and hide or unhide desktop icons.
All these features are easily available directly from OS X or from free third-party apps, but the Toolbox brings them together in one place. Unfortunately, you can't hide the tools you'll never want to use. The Virtual Choice for Macs Your two top choices for virtualization the Mac are Parallels and VMware, but there are a few other choices.
You can use the free app to run Windows or Linux on your OS X desktop, but you won't get anything like the integration and sharing features that Parallels and VMware offer. A newly available alternative is, free for a basic version, $39.95 for a premium version that can import VMware or Parallels virtual machines. Veertu is almost as quick as Parallels, but it offers the least possible integration with OS X and none of Parallels' convenience features.
What Is Parallels 13 For Mac
If you're just looking to run some simple Windows apps or games, you might also consider This app is free, but it can be tricky to set up, and it didn't work well with complex apps in my testing. If you need to use a Windows app for any serious work on a Mac, your only choices are Parallels and VMware. Both earn an Editor's Choice award, but Parallels remains the easiest and friendliest choice for most users.