While there's other options on the market, such as VMWare and the previously mentioned Bootcamp which ships for free with every Mac, Parallels provides the most complete Windows experience on a Mac, seamlessly integrating the operating system with OS X. When using Parallels, unlike other alternatives, there's a real sense of the two or more operating systems you choose to run feeling integrated, and working together.
Installation is about as easy as it could get. Fire up your Mac, insert the CD and you're away. Parallels has worked hard to ensure the setup process runs as smoothly as possible '” and by our experience, smooth it is. It took just over half an hour to completely install and configure Parallels on our Macbook Pro, and there were no problems whatsoever along the way.
When you first run Parallels on your Mac, you'll get the option to enter what's called 'Coherence mode'. Coherence mode is where the real power of Parallels is demonstrated. The mode allows you to run Windows 7 programs side-by-side with Mac programs, doing so in what appears to be as native a manner as possible. Of course Windows programs are still going to act like Windows programs, but they run as though they've been installed in your Mac operating system as opposed to being in a Windows installation. Brilliant and clever '” not to mention simple and easy enough to understand. Windows 7 support is available, but XP and Vista work just as well.
On that Windows 7 support, while on the whole most features work well, some apparent issues remain such as jumplist support. While it appears to work for a number of Windows 7 apps, others, such as MYOB, refused to work for us at all. The only solution we found was to switch back to fullscreen Windows 7 mode, which can be undertaken easily but is a pain nevertheless.
Gaming on a Mac can be taken to a whole new level thanks to Parallels, boosting the choice of games available for you to play by a vast amount. All of a sudden, every Windows-only game is potentially playable on your Mac, and Parallels doesn't disappoint. With support for 3D graphics, DirectX and surround sound, Parallels is a must if you really want to step up your gaming threshold on a Mac. Of course performance is slightly poorer than if you were running a direct installation of Windows, but in most cases it's barely noticeable and doesn't impact on the experience whatsoever.
Yet perhaps the most helpful addition in the latest edition of Parallels is the new mobile app for the iPhone and iPad. Using the app you can access your Windows 7 installation from remote locations. While it's a little laggy at times depending on your connection speed and what software you're trying to load, it works and could prove handy if you forgot a document or file on your home computer. Having said that, there are a number of limitations: Windows Aero won't work, there's no sound and games or high intensity software such as Photoshop. And remember: username and password details are case sensitive when trying to login.
Parallels isn't limited to running Windows however. You can essentially run any third-party operating system '” including Linux, although there appears to be a number of problems with Ubuntu 10.10 at this stage '” expanding the usefulness of the software.
Parallels is a must for those wishing to expand their Mac experience or who require Windows apps for work or personal choice. It's hassle-free, works well and doesn't seem to have many problems coping with high-intensity applications.