Parallels Desktop 10 a big upgrade with new features, speed and battery life

By John Rizzo

Parallels today released Parallels Desktop 10 ($80), a major new version of the virtualization environment for running Windows and other OS's on OS X Macs. The update includes dozens of new features, including support of Yosemite's new features inside Windows and Office, as well as streamlined installation, and tools for developers. Parallels Desktop 10 also boasts performance enhancements and less use of the Mac's battery.

Parallels 10 drops "full support" for Snow Leopard as a guest, so users running Snow Leopard in a virtual machine to retain compatibility with old PowerPC applications won't get many integration features. It also no longer runs on Snow Leopard. Parallels also released Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac Enterprise Edition. Today's release is available as an upgrade for current Parallels Desktop customers. A full version will be available on August 26.

Performance, disk space, and under-the-hood

Parallels Desktop has long been the fastest virtualization software for Mac, and version 10 continues that trend. The new performance improvements are speed optimizations for specific types of operations. Parallels said that Desktop 10 opens Windows documents 48% faster than version 9, and can launch Office 2013 applications up to 50% faster. Creating snapshots (a kind of backup of your entire Windows or other VM state) is now 60% faster than version 9, according to the company.

The new version is less of a drain on your Mac's other resources as well. It uses less battery power: Parallels Desktop 10 will run on battery power 30% longer than Parallels 9. And Virtual machines use up-to 10 percent less Mac memory than before. And there techniques that use less hard drive space. For instance, there's a "free disk space wizard" that gives you a choice of ways to reduce drive space that your virtual machines take up. While version 9 had a Reclaim Disk Space command, Parallels Desktop 10 can do automated disk space compacting in the background.

For users of Mac Pros, Parallels Desktop 10 catches up to VMware Fusion in one respect where it was behind: the number of virtual CPUs one can assign to a virtual machine. Version 10 lets you dedicate up to 16 CPUs to a virtual machine, and up to 64 GB of RAM.

Bringing OS X into Windows

The cool stuff, though is where Parallels Desktop brings the features of Apple's OS X and Yosemite (now available as a public beta) into Windows 8.x and Windows 7, and even into Microsoft Office 2013. It also melds to the two worlds.

A lot of these are little things that will make you forget that you're using Windows applications. For instance, Yosemite lets you initiate iPhone calls from your Mac. Parallels Desktop 10 lets you start an iPhone call from Internet Explorer, by right-clicking a phone number.

Parallels Desktop 10 also makes Yosemite's iMessage/SMS text sharing available to Windows. A Share On item in contextual menus includes OS X Messages.

Parallels Desktop 10 gives Windows access to Internet accounts that you've already set up on your Mac. For instance, the Office 2013 Save On menu automatically includes the cloud storage account set up on your Mac, including iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Your Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, and Flickr accounts will automatically appear in Share commands in Windows. There's no need to set them up in Windows.

Some features add new ways to access applications and files stored in your virtual machine. In Coherence mode (which hides the Windows desktop and shows only Windows applications windows), the Windows 8 start screen appears in the Dock. Click it, and the Windows 8 Start screen appears and acts like OS X's Launch Pad, with the Windows 8 tiles appearing over a blurred OS X desktop (see figure above). Clicking a tile launches the Windows app.

If you want to launch Windows apps from OS X's standard Launch Pad, when you install a new Windows app, Parallels Desktop now automatically adds its icon to Launch Pad.

Installing new virtual machines

Parallels Desktop 10 adds new ways to create a virtual machine. You can now drag and drop a Windows system ISO file onto the Parallels Dock item. This brings up the configuration wizard. Configuring your virtual machine for the best performance is handled in a new screen that asks how you primarily use Windows. You can select Productivity (business software), Games only, Design (CAD), and Software development.

When you're finished, your virtual machines will appear as items in the OS X Dock. The window where you can select to launch your virtual machines, now called the Control Center, has two options for viewing, and has a cleaner look.

Overall, Parallels has delivered what appears to be a substantial upgrade. Aside from the usual performance bumps, this Parallels update has focused on having Mac users spend less time worrying about Windows and making you forget that your Windows applications are actually Windows applications. A pretty good focus,s given how annoying Windows 8 can be.