Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
It's nothing new that Intel-powered Macs have been running Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux for some time using Apple's Boot Camp. Parallels Desktop was already one of the best utilities on the market for switching between operating systems, but in the latest release that's been updated for Mountain Lion and Windows 8, it's even better.
Parallels Desktop allows you to switch between operating systems organically without the need to reboot your Mac. Regardless of which system you're running at the time, when you open a file type that's for another operating system, Parallels automatically recognizes the file type and makes the switch for you. Using what the company calls Coherence Mode, regardless of whether a file was created in Windows or on a Mac, the file will open seamlessly full-screen, giving you the full experience of the operating system it was made in, with all the bells and whistles you would expect. This means you'll be able to run common business-related programs like Quicken, or the latest version of Office for Windows, all while having access to all your Mac files and apps. But with improved support for the Retina Display on new Macs, it means you will also have the ability to play Windows games using the full power of your Mac's video card in higher resolution than you would otherwise.
Parallels Desktop 8 also comes with several tools that take advantage of many of the new features in Mountain Lion. You can use the new Dictation features across both Mountain Lion and Windows; share Bluetooth connections across Windows and Mac devices; receive notifications from both Mac and Windows software in Mountain Lion's notification panel; and use Mountain Lion gestures in Windows 8 apps. Honestly, when you start to see how the program switches between the two so smoothly, it can be a bit overwhelming, but by bringing the features of both operating systems together simultaneously, it works as the best of both worlds.
To further illustrate the integration, Parallels Desktop 8 has several features to make the experience even more seamless. For example, you can drag and drop an image from your Mac desktop into an e-mail client in Windows 8, and it works without a hitch. You can add shortcuts to Windows apps to Launchpad in Mountain Lion so you can start up a Windows native app straight from the Mac interface. You can load a presentation in PowerPoint using the new Presentation Wizard, and your presentation will run full-screen, just like you would want it to in Windows and it will keep notifications and other system tasks from interrupting the show. The software also offers a button to quickly load a page in Windows Internet Explorer, for when the Web site doesn't offer support for Safari. Little feature tweaks and enhancements like these blur the lines between the two operating systems, so people who need to work in both won't find it such a jarring experience.
As always, Parallels Desktop 8 helps keep your virtual environments safe through the use of Snapshots. The feature lets you to take a snapshot of your Windows system (for example) when it's in a healthy state so if you encounter any viruses or spyware while surfing, you can essentially rewind to your previously saved snapshot. This is extremely helpful for testing beta software and makes sure you have an option when dangerous Trojans or spyware infect your virtual system.
Overall, Parallels Desktop continues to offer a seamless experience for switching between virtual OS machines and a number of extras that let you take full advantage of Windows apps you need or are used to working with in your particular work environment. Though there are a lot of virtualization options available, Parallels has a tool set and new usability features that puts it above other offerings.