Review: Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac

A new version of Parallels has been released. The new version runs on Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and incorporates typical Lion features, but it’s also faster and more efficient under the hood.

Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac beats Fusion in terms of speed big time. Even on a slow machine (a Mac Mini Late 2009 is slow, believe me) the speed gain is dramatic. Starting and suspending a virtual machine is much faster, and more CPU/GPU intensive tasks run nice and smooth. But if that was all there is to version 7 it wouldn’t be very newsworthy. The truly juicy stuff is in the integration with Lion.

Even Parallels 6 Desktop for Mac was fast and ran fine on Lion with no problems, but I have to admit the seamless experience you’ll get from version 7 makes working with Windows on a Mac much more comfortable. Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac takes advantage of Lion features. As long as Parallels Desktop 7 is running, Windows applications will appear in Lion’s Launchpad. Parallels Desktop 7 also supports the Lion full screen mode.

In Window mode the main Parallels Desktop window has the full-screen control in the title bar, while using Parallels Desktop in Full Screen mode is consistent with the Lion user experience and gestures — even the reverse direction scrolling behaviour some people dislike, is transferred over to Windows applications such as Excel, Word, etc.

I did not test the new Parallels Wizard, which Parallels says unifies the ways to create a new virtual machine, and
allows you to purchase and download Windows 7 from within Parallels Desktop 7 (but only if you live in the USA).

Another feature that I couldn’t try out is the sharing capability of an Apple iSight and FaceTime HD Camera between the Mac OS and Windows. This should remove a previous “seam” which required the user to logically disconnect a webcam from the Mac OS before making it available to Windows. In Parallels Desktop 7, using your webcam in an application like Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Messenger, or Skype now just works without the user having to re-configure either the Mac OS or Windows.

What I could and did test is how Parallels Desktop 7 responds to a Plantronics Savvio DM-100 Lync-capable headset.

Coherence mode now really resembles the Mac more. Windows applications look more like they were made for the Mac, except for the obvious differences in menu layout, etc., but they too support copy & paste, access to files in the user’s Documents folder, network access, and printing.

A feature that I didn’t test yet, is that you can run Lion in a Virtual Machine. This allows for application and web developers to run Lion as a guest OS in a virtual machine, with all the benefits that entails, like snapshots and the ability to really mess up the system badly without endangering the whole production machine.

Finally, Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac’s entire graphical user interface is now 64-bit Cocoa code, supporting Apple’s latest guidelines. This completes the modernization of the Parallels Desktop implementation that began in Parallels Desktop 6 in which the virtualization engine underlying the Parallels Desktop application was converted to 64-bit.

All in all, I think the new version is a valuable upgrade, but I’m not sure if all Parallel 6 users should feel inclined to upgrade. Version 6 may be a bit slower, and lacks the ability to run Lion inside a Virtual Machine, but if you don’t really need a speed boost and this capability, then version 6 does very well. However, even for software reviewers like myself, running Lion inside a completely protected capsule that is a Virtual Machine, is Nirwana.

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