Parallels Desktop 16 can turn your Mac into a Windows 10 beast
Way back in 2006, Apple introduced the Boot Camp feature in beta that let anyone with an Intel-based Mac computer run Windows XP programs on that machine. It’s easy to forget now what a seismic deal this was—Mac and Windows PC software running on the same consumer machine? Practically unheard of.
There was one pretty major issue, however: When you powered up your Mac to use Boot Camp, you had to choose to work in either Windows or Mac OS X Tiger, since the two operating systems couldn’t run simultaneously. You were forced instead to reboot the Mac whenever you wanted to run the other operating system, not exactly a mark of productivity.
That’s why I was jazzed soon after by the arrival of Parallels Desktop “virtualization” software, which indeed let you run a virtual Windows machine on a Mac with OS X (and eventually macOS), without requiring a reboot.
It was not an exaggeration to suggest that with a major assist from Parallels many people’s best Windows computer was a Mac. Moreover, a feature that came later called Coherence enabled you to run Windows apps and functions on your Apple computer as if they were part of the native Mac interface. That was pretty cool.
Support for Big Sur: Parallels has come a long way since. And just this week Parallels the namesake company started selling Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac, featuring full support for Apple's upcoming macOS Big Sur operating system.
Nowadays, Parallels is subscription-based, with a $79.99 yearly fee for a home/student edition, or $20 more annually for either a business grade version or an edition tuned for developers and power users. (You pay $49.99 if you upgrade from a prior version to a perpetual license.)
The truth is I don’t know how many average users who own Macs need to run Windows software on the Apple platform or vice versa, especially since so much of our computing activity either takes us to the cloud or has us reaching into our pockets for our smartphones.
But either for your job or because you prefer or rely on a Windows program for which there is no satisfying Mac equivalent, occasions do arise where you want to work across the computing aisle.
Many Parallels users, for example, read their email with a Windows application. In all, Parallels says that more than 200,000 Windows apps are compatible with its desktop software, with enhanced graphics support in version 16 opening up an avenue for more games.
There are limitations to keep in mind. Mac hardware lacks the touch screens found on many Windows 10 PCs (or for that matter Chromebooks), so Parallels isn't going to miraculously add such a capability to your computer. But if you have a MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar feature, you can use it on Windows apps through Parallels.
Beyond Big Sur support, Parallels Desktop 16 promises faster performance and longer battery life in certain modes. It also sports new zoom and other multi-touch trackpad gestures when you’re running Windows on a Mac, more printing options (two-sided printing, more paper sizes), and the ability for a virtual machine to reclaim unused space when you are shutting it down.
Useful utilities: Parallels Desktop subscriptions also come with Parallels Toolbox, a handy suite of more than 30 utilities, including tools to resize photos, free up memory, make GIFs, convert videos, save energy, find duplicates and more. The recently introduced freshest version, Parallels Toolbox 4, added, among other tools, a unit converter, a tool to nudge you into a taking a break, and a utility to shutter running apps with a single click. If you don’t need to run Windows on a Mac you can still purchase Parallels Toolbox standalone for $19.99 a year.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Parallels for people who have more than the odd need to spend time in both computing camps. Keep in mind though that many of the newest features having to do with kernels, extensions and the like, speak more to geeks than consumers.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow @edbaig on Twitter