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Sometimes the Mac universe just doesn’t have that one application you need to keep track of medical histories, run CAD manufacturing, or otherwise keep up with work. Unfortunately, that leaves some people trapped in a Windows world. But in those cases, Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac pinch-hits quite nicely, letting you run additional operating systems (including Windows 7, Ubuntu Linux, and even Mac OS X Server) without restarting your Mac.
You got Windows 7 in my OS X! See if you can spot all of the different interace touches that help Windows feel like it belongs on your Mac.
Depending on your demands and Mac hardware, the process works fluidly enough to make foreign applications feel like they’re native to OS X. Slick interface touches even let PC software run in individual windows, appear in the Dock, and otherwise seem like Mac-native tools. Of course all that cross-platform goodness doesn’t come cheap. To really take advantage of Parallels, you’ll need a high-performing Mac. Imagine cleaving off 768MB RAM and a 2GHz processor core from your Mac’s specs…so yeah, you’ll want ample RAM and a fast, multi-core processor, for starters. Each OS and application needs enough of this hardware to run smoothly, and while Parallels 6 admirably manages these resources, your OS X software can run more slowly. And realistically, many Windows applications want more than those basic specs. Parallels 6 automatically allocates some of your real Mac hardware resources to the virtual machine you’ll set up, shifting over processor cycles, RAM, and hard disk space when you’re running foreign applications. You can manually configure these allocations, although the defaults usually worked well.
In testing, a 2GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook with 2GB RAM was sufficient, but it takes more muscle to seamlessly transition across OS X and virtual-machine applications. This aging laptop took about 20 seconds to swap between taxing OS X software--such as Word 2008 with many open windows—and Windows 7 software. But after chugging in either direction, the Mac sped back up, instantly responding to commands. A faster MacBook Pro with a 2.16GHz Core Duo toggled between Windows and OS X apps more quickly, and a beefy desktop 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon Mac Pro with 6GB RAM shuffled moderately demanding software almost instantaneously.
Parallels can handle heavy data crunchers, too--think 3D design software and games--if your hardware can keep up. It supports Windows DirectX 9 and can leverage your Mac’s video acceleration to boost performance. However, we ran into bugs trying to get Mirror’s Edge, Grid, and other games running on the Mac Pro. While the less-demanding Geometry Wars worked fine, hardcore gamers shouldn’t count on Parallels to work flawlessly.
Impressively, the Parallels 6 interface integrates Windows applications with OS X. You can run a PC-only application, such as Microsoft Visio, inside an OS X window. Windows applications appear in the Dock; you can access the Start Menu and Windows taskbar icons from the OS X menu bar or launch Windows software from a special Dock folder. Windows software can access your Mac files, printing automatically gets routed to OS X, and the experience just works well.
It’s too bad you can’t also view this great, combined-OS perspective with an Ubuntu virtual machine. In that case, the alternate-OS desktop and its software all appear within a single window, or you can switch to a full-screen perspective. Still, with all of Parallels’ features, including remote access to control virtual machines from an iPad or iPhone, it’s hard to knock it too hard for lagging with its Ubuntu integration.
Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac doesn’t just run Windows on a Mac, it presents Windows applications within OS X. That twist can fundamentally change the way you work and play.
Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5.8 or later; 1.66GHz Intel processor or faster; 1GB RAM; 15GB or more for each virtual machine.
Integrated view presents Windows applications without the Windows desktop. Effectively manages system resources, letting you run a Windows virtual machine on even a dated MacBook. Windows virtual machines can access Mac documents. Automatically configures networking, sends Windows print commands to OS X, and otherwise sets low-level basics.
No Windows DirectX 10 or 11 support. Doesn’t play Blu-ray movies. OS X virtual machines require OS X Server, not standard installations. Can’t view applications as individual windows with Ubuntu. Can perform slowly in some situations, including games.