Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac: Faster, Better Windows Experience

| Quick Look Review

Parallels has released Parallels Desktop 9, the latest version of its virtualization software for OS X. Notable are: significant speed improvements, cloud support, an improved experience with Windows 8 and Linux as guest OSes, and support for OS X Mavericks and Windows 8.1.

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Ever since Intel Macs arrived with virtualization hardware support in 2006, Parallels has continued to develop its Desktop series. This app allows the Mac user to not only have multiple guest operating systems running concurrently with OS X, but also provides seriously good integration with Windows. That "Coherence" feature, introduced in 2007, allows the user to run Windows apps on a Mac, share data, and even place Windows apps in the OS X dock, ready to launch.

With Parallels Desktop 9, the theme has been customer "peace of mind knowing that Parallels keeps pace with and supports leading new technologies, such as the upcoming OS X Mavericks, Windows 8.1 and increasingly popular cloud services." Now, the legendary integration with Windows is being extended to Linux.

Windows 7 and Windows 8, each running in OS X in its own window.

For the record, the latest version, Desktop 9, adds these features:

  • Support for cloud services: Sync iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive etc., with your Mac and your Windows virtual machine without unnecessary duplication of files locally.
  • Enhanced Windows 8 and 8.1 support: Parallels Desktop brings back the real Start menu and lets customers use Metro apps in a window instead of full screen.
  • Security Center: Easily access and install complimentary security software subscriptions to keep the Mac and Windows virtual machines safe from viruses and malware, all from one location. (Parallels -> File -> Security Center. These are trial subscriptions.)
  • Enhanced new Virtual Machine Wizard: It is easier than ever to set up a new virtual machine, especially on computers that don’t have DVD drives.
  • Power Nap support: On a Retina MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air, the Power Nap feature now extends to Windows and Windows apps, so virtual machines and all Windows applications are always. up-to-date.
  • Mac gestures inside Windows apps: Parallels Desktop now includes the addition of the Dictionary lookup gesture in Windows applications.
  • Thunderbolt and Firewire storage device support: For convenience of everyday use, customers can connect those devices directly to a Windows virtual machine.
  • PDF printer for Windows: Lets people print from any Windows application to a PDF on the Mac desktop, even if the application doesn’t have that functionality.
  • Sticky multi-monitor setup: When using Windows in Full Screen mode and connecting to an external monitor, Parallels Desktop will remember settings and put the Windows virtual machine back in full screen mode on the remote monitor.
  • Custom keyboard: Editable keyboard shortcuts help customize the Windows experience.
  • Linux guest integration: Parallels Desktop customers who use Linux now have additional and enhanced integration with the Mac OS.

Availability and Upgrade

Starting August 29, an upgrade to Parallels Desktop 9 will be available to current customers for US$49.99 ($39.99 for students.) On September 5, the full version will be available for download to new customers for $79.99.

Previously, Parallels announced Parallels Access, an iPad app that allows users to connect remotely to a Mac or PC and run its apps on the iPad. Customers who upgrade or purchase Parallels Desktop 9 will receive a six months license for Access free of charge.

Speed Improvements

Parallels continues to increase the speed of Desktop. The numbers the company cites are below. (A future article will looks at the Parallels Desktop 9 performance in detail with benchmarks and comparison to PD8.)

  • 40 percent better disk performance.
  • Virtual Machine (VM) shutdown up to 25 percent faster.
  • VM suspend up to 20 percent faster.
  • 3D graphics and web broswing 15 percent faster via DirectX and OpenGL optimizations.

Linux Improvements

For all of the history of Parallels Desktop, the focus has been on Windows integration with OS X. That's, of course, because many Apple customers wanted to enjoy the industrial design of Macs and the security of OS X but also be able to run important Windows application for business.

Along the way, Linux always seemed like a second class citizen. In addition, Fedora and some other distrubutions were posting new versions faster than would be added to the tested and certified list for Desktop. In version 9, Parallels has dramatically improved the Linux support as follows.

  • Shared applications.
  • Shared profile folders.
  • Automatic Parallels Tools update.
  • Added support for popular distributions: Linux Mint and Linux Mageia.
  • Autodetect OS type from Live CD images.
  • Nested virtualization support (Xen, KVM).
  • Symlinks in shared folders.
  • Support for latest Fedora (19).
  • Link to download Ubuntu 13.04 VM from the new VM Installation Wizard.

It's great to see Desktop 9 start to offer the kinds of integration that has always been available with Windows VMs.

In testing, I had some fairly ugly video effects with my "mid 2010" 27-inch iMac and Fedora 19. I guessed this was due to the default VRAM assignment, and sure enough, the default was 32 MB. However, changing the VM's VRAM assignment to 512 MB didn't solve the problem.

External Device Assignment

In PD8, if you plugged a USB device into your Mac, with Desktop and a VM running, a very nice graphic would come up allowing you to select which OS would mount the connect to the device. With version 9, this has been extended to Firewire and Thunderbolt external disks. That is most welcome.

 

Pick the OS to connect the device to graphically.

New Install Wizard

One of the great delights of Desktop has been the install wizard. In this version, things have gotten even better. The wizard is smarter and, using auto search, looks for the available ISOs, flash drives, CD/DVDs across the system to find the available OS installations for you.  Plus there is one-click access to both Ubuntu Linux and Windows 8.1 installs. Finally, the wizard can detect the Linux OS type from the .ISO file, so you don't have to.

Easy install of Ubuntu or Windows 8.1.

Better Windows 8 Experience

Windows 8.x wants to run its apps full screen. That may be fine on a standard PC, especially a PC notebook, but it's not a great solution in a VM environment. And so, Parallels allows you to easily run Windows 8 apps in the VM on your Mac in a dedicated window. The helps especially when one is doing a lot of cut and paste from Windows to OS X apps and vise versa.

Start Menu added to Windows 8.

in addition, a real "Start" menu has been reintroduced, a Microsoft omission that has greatly annoyed many Windows 8 users.

Cloud Support

One of the things you don't want to have to do is keep your cloud files, for example, Dropbox files, in both Windows and OS X. That just chews up storage. Now, optimizations allow you to keep only one copy of your iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive files. I didn't test this feature for this review, but it's definitely one of those things to work with for a future update.

Final Words

Parallels has sold over four million copies of Desktop, and it now claims 90 percent market share. (It's major competitor is VMware's Fusion.) The kind and character of enhancements that Parallels continues to include in each major release of Desktop continue to make for terrific capabilities, better ease of use, better technical concurrency, and, in my opinion, a must-have upgrade.

Addendum

For reference, here is the Parallels Desktop 9 supported guest OS list.

Curious just how well Parallels Desktop 9 performs? Check out TMO's extensive benchmarks.

Product: Desktop 9 (Link available Sep 5)

Company: Parallels

List Price: US$79.99 (Upgrade $49.99)

Pros:

Faster disk, VM and graphics performance, better Windows and Linux integration, cloud support, auto detect OS type in install wizard,  Thunderbolt and Firewire device support, many other convenience features. 

Cons:

None noted.

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4 Comments

Mark Fuller

It’s not a must have upgrade until you tell us about the interaction with mobile devices such as the iPad. Currently, Parallels provides a app that allows me to connect back to my computer/virtual machine without having to pay a subscription. That system works well, but will it work with the new app or does it break under 8 and you now have to pay a hefty fee to get that feature back?

Victor - SecPoint

Hi
Anything about battery test V8 VS V9?

MikBeTK

Not worth $50 for an “upgrade” that provides minimal improvements and should be $20 at most.

Jammer Jamski

$50 to uppgrade a $70 app one incremental version is frankly daylight robbery ...

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