Well, my good friends over at Parallels hooked me up with a free copy of Parallels Desktop 4 for my MacBook. But before we get started here, you should know that Microsoft, VMware and just about anyone else with virtualization software will hook me up too. So my comments here are unbiased as always. I only tell you exactly what I think.
Anyway, did I mention that Parallels 4 is a fantastic product for running virtual machines within your Mac environment? No? Well, let me go on record as saying that I think Parallels 4 kicks ass. Yeah, I said it. Now let’s move along shall we?
So, is Parallels Desktop going to change the world? Let’s see…
Before we go along, let me explain that Parallels is most often used to allow people to run Windows on their Mac. This means that you don’t need a PC if you are simply trying to run one or two programs. You can get Parallels and install Windows on your Mac, and you’re done.
But Windows is not your only option! You can also use Parallels Desktop to install Linux or just about any other 32 or 64bit operating system.
Now let me tell you some of the coolest stuff that Parallels will let you do that you couldn’t do before (I don’t think…):
- You can cut and paste, or even drag and drop files between your Mac operating system and any Windows application running in Parallels! Heck, for that matter, you can share your hard drive and documents between both operating systems. It’s almost like they were all just running one operating system! Now, for those of you who haven’t tried this before let me just tell you that this is the equivalent of dragging and dropping files from one physical machine to another. Except that it works in Parallels!
- After you install Parallels, you can actually choose which application, in which operating system, you want to be the default handler for certain tasks. So, for example, you could set it so that Outlook in Windows is your default mail, but Safari in Mac is your default browser. That way you can use the best OS and application for every task.
- You can now connect an external drive to your Mac and have it simultaneously recognized in Windows and OSX! It used to be that you’d have to choose one OS or the other when you plugged in a device, and you’d have to unplug it and replug it to use it in the other OS. This is a huge time saver.
- Parallels 4 offers much better optimization for virtual machine usage of physical resources. For example, you can now allow your virtual machines (like Windows) to use multiple processor cores and up to 8GB of RAM (like for Vista the memory hog!). It also supports native virtualization hardware from Intel which allows the system to run more efficiently and faster.
- It makes dramatic improvements for video performance for apps like AutoCAD, flight simulators or games. I don’t play games, but I do use AutoCAD sometimes. In addition to 3D support you can also assign 256MB of memory to be used for Windows video only. That should really speed things up.
- A new feature called SmartGuard allows you to take automatic snapshots of your virtual machines so that you can always revert back to a previous version if you mess something up. This is especially useful for people like me who are always experimenting and prone to screwing something up. If you break it, you just revert back to your last known good snapshot. Snap-shotting is a basic feature of all virtualization platforms, but the fact that Parallels has automated it is fantastic.
You know what? I could keep going about all the new stuff that Parallels 4 has in it, but heck you can go read their web site for that. The real question is, did I notice the improvements between version 3 and 4?
First of all, to say that it’s faster is an understatement. I noticed an improvement on Windows boot up time on the second and subsequent launches, and I noticed that even though I messed with the settings and gave Mac OSX priority over Windows, Windows was still more responsive! Must be the new built in virtualization hardware support.
I also noticed the support for external drives being available in both my host and guest operating systems simultaneously. I used to hate having to shut down Parallels to share a USB drive between the two OSs.
Finally, I have to say that I think the user interface has been dramatically improved. The new version is beautiful. Frankly, if you are running a Mac, you should own a copy of Parallels. There is just way too much quality Windows software out there to limit yourself to only Mac versions.