Parallels today announced the release of the next major version of its "Parallels Desktop" virtualization software for Mac OS X. Parallels Desktop 6 will be available September 14, and the company is touting it as the "fastest, smartest, and most powerful" version yet of the No. 1 virtual-machine solution for the Mac.
It sounds pretty enticing, so let's see what the new version of the program has.
In Parallels Desktop 6, the company has focused on improving the virtual machine performance, and, according to the company, its 3D graphics performance is nearly 40 percent better when tested with 3DMark 2006 Professional and Windows boot times are about 41 percent faster.
Even though boot times are faster with the new version, I have found that keeping virtual machines saved in suspended mode is the fastest way to turn them on and off. The more beneficial improvement will be the increase in graphical performance, which should translate into a smoother feel for Windows Vista and 7 since they use graphically accelerated interface elements.
While Parallels is advertising a 40 percent increase in graphical performance, keep in mind that the performance may vary depending on the system being used. Some Mac systems have advanced graphics cards, and others have limited 3D capabilities, so they may show minimal boosts in performance. Also, Parallels bases the performance number on a benchmarking suite (3DMark), so individual application performance will vary.
Beyond the performance optimizations to the code, Parallels has included some enhancements such as full 5.1 surround sound support allowing for immersive audio in games, movies, and music; a full 64-bit engine; and VM encryption to enhance data security. Parallels also includes Kaspersky security and antivirus software to help protect Windows virtual machines.
As with any full upgrade there are is a variety of useful small enhancements to make working between the virtual machine and Mac OS X more seamless. The first is that you can choose to not only use OS X keyboard shortcuts with Windows applications, but you can also set up Parallels to use Windows shortcuts with OS X applications. If you are a Windows switcher who is used to pressing Control-C for copying, you can use that shortcut on your Mac. In addition, the new version has better integration with the OS X Spotlight feature, so you can find and launch Windows applications using Spotlight in OS X.
Parallels has also enhanced the use of printers connected to the Mac by providing a direct printer port to the virtual machine that allows the virtual machine to use the Mac's printer without the need to set up one in Parallels. This is very similar to the way printers are managed in Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client, for those who use that program.
Another key enhancement is the implementation of hot corners when either in windowed or in full screen modes, which allow for quick switching between these modes, among other functions. According to Parallels, it has tested using these hot corners along with the OS X hot corner features and has implemented them in a way so they do not conflict with each other.
Lastly, Parallels has enhanced the integration of maintenance and backup features in Desktop 6 by using virtual machine snapshot states in ways that allow Time Machine to back them up without having to back up the full virtual machine each time Time Machine runs.
Parallels Desktop 6 will cost $79.99 for the standard retail version, and $39.99 for the student version. Current Parallels Desktop 5 owners will be able to upgrade for $49.99 (promotional pricing will be available for prior versions of Parallels Desktop); however, if you have purchased Parallels Desktop 5 on or after August 15, Parallels will give you the upgrade for free. The "Switch to Mac" edition that helps you migrate your PC to a virtual machine via USB or network connections, and then to the Mac, will cost $99.99. This edition will come with several support videos and tutorials to make the transition easier for people.
The system requirements for Parallels Desktop have not changed much, and all Intel hardware is supported for running virtual machines. However, because of the change to full 64-bit code in the program's engine, version 6 will not run on OS X 10.4.11 and earlier, and you will have to have either Leopard or Snow Leopard to run the program.
All versions of the software will be available as downloadable purchases through the Parallels Web site, though there will also be a trial available.
We will see how well this version stacks up against other virtualization solutions, including VMware Fusion and the free VirtualBox options. If you are just interested in getting some Windows programs running and do not care about performance then VirtualBox may suffice; however, for optimal performance in a virtual machine you will need to look at a commercial package like VMware and Parallels Desktop.
Then again, for best performance running Windows or other operating systems on your Mac, you will need to use Boot Camp or otherwise set up a dual-boot environment so all hardware resources are dedicated to one operating system at a time.