By Monte FergusonMacs in the enterprise world today are a very small percentage of the
computers used in business. A growing, but a minor player in the
enterprise world to be sure. That means, at some point, a business Mac
user will have to deal with a Microsoft dominated infrastructure. Most
of the Microsoft/Windows enterprise tools, such as print servers, file
servers or network authentication servers , do not support Mac clients.
To get along, you have to play along. For many that means having to run
Apple has a solution, called Boot Camp, but it requires you shut down
MacOS X and then boot directly into Windows. Not an elegant solution.
Parallels takes a different approach. It, Parallels, acts as a middle
layer. It presents itself as a standard PC to Windows. It also routes
the Windows OS commands to the appropriate hardware on the Mac.
Parallels allows you to run the MacOS and Windows at the same time. You
can even copy/paste, as well as drag and drop between both operating
systems transparently. More importantly, to many Mac users, it allows
you to use as much or as little of Windows as you need.
Parallels 5 Desktop marks a major update to the virtualization program.
These changes can be summed up as Faster, Smarter, and More Powerful
Under the hood improvement to the virtualization engine have resulted in
a notable increase in performance, up to three times faster (according to
testing from research company Crimson Consulting Group). This means that
Windows runs faster, and therefore leaves more processor time for the
MacOS to use. The upshot being that not only does Windows run faster it
also runs more efficiently. On the MacOS X side of things that means you
encounter few, if any, slow downs as you use Windows under Parallels.
Parallels has also found some interesting ways to enhance performance,
such as disabling non essential Windows features. A new video driver
means that those who need to use Windows Vista or Windows 7 will have
full support for the new graphics engine which will make those OS's run
faster. Parallels has also added a new enhanced Compressor that allows
you to fine tune the performance of your virtual machine. And for those
who happen to have a MacPro they can assign up to 8 CPU's to Parallels.
Calling Parallels Desktop 5 smarter may be a bit of a misnomer. Most of
what the company touts as "smarter" has more to do with options relating
to working with Windows. I prefer to think of it as letting you
determine how much, or how little, of Windows you really need to see or
deal with. But there are some definitely useful additions which allows
you to use Windows, via Parallels 5, more efficiently and more
Parallels has added yet another way of running apps without seeing
Windows, called Crystal Mode. Crystal Mode moves the Windows Start Menu
to the Apple tool bar and adds a Windows Apps folder to the Dock. Very
handy if you just need to run an app but do not need to see the OS at
all. Another new feature is a MacLook Theme. It makes Windows programs
look like native Mac applications.(As well as changing icons on the
Windows desktop to Mac equivalents.) MacLook is nice but there are other
ways of skinning Windows. I also noticed it tended to slow down my
Of course you still have the option to use other modes such as:
Coherence (Windows and Mac applications side-by-side); Window (run your
Virtual Machine as a separate window alongside your Mac applications);
Full Screen (Replace your Mac desktop with Windows 7, Vista, or XP); and
Modality (View all your Virtual Machines and programs running in
transparent windows working in Mac OS X.)
What stood out to me as truly "smart" features were things which are
present on the Mac, yet lacking on Windows, that Parallels enables. One
of those features is multi-touch gestures. Microsoft has not implemented
this in Windows itself. Yet Parallels Desktop 5 enables it as an option.
Another welcome feature is multi-monitor support. Just plug in a second
monitor and Parallels automatically detects it. Even better you can
choose to put Windows on the second screen and MacOS X on the main
screen. No need to fiddle with monitor settings in Windows. Just manage
monitors as usual via the MacOS.
Their most touted, and most visible improvement, related to raw
performance is in the area of 3D graphics and gaming. Parallels 5 has a
new graphics driver that allows enables all of the visual effects, the
so called Aero theme, in Windows Vista and Windows 7 virtual machines.
Parallels also offers support for OpenGL 2.1, and Shader Model 3 for
DirectX 9c/9Ex for Windows Vista/7. What that means is you can play
modern PC games and they play much faster. Professional users can also
run demanding 3d programs like AutoCad.
Parallels also supports powerful new tools for IT folks who need to
manage virtual machines. Parallels 5 supports; Smart Card readers,
virtual Local Area Networks, and virtual machine lockdown. (Locking down
a virtual machine ensures extra protection. An administrator could
choose to require an administrator password to change a virtual machine
or set it so that average users can not add or remove programs.
Administrators could even turn off all MacOS integration features
thereby isolating the virtual environment.)
Other handy features include; The ability to compress change the size of
the virtual hard disk on the fly from the interface itself, and an
enhanced Parallels Transporter makes converting other virtual machines,
as well as virtualizing a PC, a relatively painless process.
The things I noticed most about Parallels 5 was how it made the whole
Windows management much easier than on a native PC. You'll notice it
right away. Installing Windows is a task that usually requires several
dialog boxes and a good chunk of time. Parallels presents one dialog box
and fills in the rest for you. Even the installation itself was faster
than on a native PC in my tests. I had a working system in under 40 min
total, including installation of Parallels itself.
After the install there are lots of thoughtful Mac touches that makes
your life easier when using Windows. Things that we take for granted,
such as drag and drop files (between operating systems and within
Windows), copy and paste (between operating systems), and true plug and
play. (Plug in a device and Parallels asks you if you want to use it in
the virtual machine or MacOS X.) If you want to avoid Windows altogether
Parallels sets up a Windows Applications folder in your Dock. Just click
on the Folder and it lists all of the apps in the Windows Start menu. It
also creates a virtual hard disk that you can navigate via the Finder.
You don't have to learn Windows keyboard shortcuts. Parallels converts
Mac keyboard shortcuts into their Windows equivalents transparently. You
just use the familiar Mac keyboard commands and Parallels will tell
Windows to use the equivalent key commands. You can set a file to open
with a Windows app or a Mac app. There are more helpful features but the
end result is you get to work faster and do not have to remember two
ways of doing things.
To my mind it also lets you choose to use the tools that are best for
the job at hand. You can choose to use a Mac or a PC app.
I ran into a problem when I initially setup Parallels at my workplace,
on a LAN using DHCP. I could connect to the internet but not to our
internal Windows Domain, basically locking me out of the internal
network. We, myself an IT tech, eventually tracked down the problem. We
had to manually enable the WINS Server settings. For some reason it did not
automatically detect the WINS Server. Thankfully that was the only issue
I have had with the program.
I have run into a minor irritation and it revolves around the use of snap
shots. Using snap shots, basically restoration points, for the virtual
machine is not compatible with Parallels' hard disk management features.
Specifically you can't optimize or compress the virtual machine’s hard
drive. A definite disappointment.
Parallels goes beyond the utilitarian task of running Windows. It works
hard to integrate the two operating systems closer together. The result
being that Windows actually works better, at least from a Mac users
perspective.You spend less time managing Windows and more time getting
things done. Most of the time the program is just running in the
background. You tend to forget about it. For existing owners of previous
versions the speed improvements alone justify the cost of the upgrade.
If you need to run Windows, especially if you need to run Windows as
well as MacOS X, check out Parallels Desktop. The program is straight
forward to use. It is flexible enough to let you work the way YOU want
to work. Best of all it eases the process of running and using Windows
and Windows apps. That is no small feat.
Posted: Sunday, June 20th, 2010