The latest version of Parallels Desktop doesn't sport a long list of headline-grabbing features, but Parallels continues to refine the program so that you can run Windows applications alongside your Mac application more efficiently than ever.
The process of installing and configuring your virtual machine has been streamlined (apart from the annoying online activation routine). The installer now gives you two simple options to choose from. Your virtual machine can either run like a PC, in which it runs in its own separate window on the Mac desktop, or like a Mac, which hides the Windows desktop and runs Windows programs directly on the Mac desktop.
Integration between the Mac and PC environments has also improved. You can now use Mac keyboard shortcuts to control Windows programs, and use the Mac's parental controls to limit access to Windows programs, such as games you consider unsuitable for young children.
Parallels says that version 6 runs Windows programs 40 per cent faster than the previous version, while 3D graphics for Windows games are up to 80 per cent faster. It's difficult to accurately verify those figures – especially with games, as performance can vary a lot from one game to another – but Parallels Desktop 6 did feel noticeably smoother and more responsive on our fairly modest 2.4GHz iMac. The program can also take advantage of the multi-core, 64bit processors in newer Mac models.
There is one interesting new feature that's worth highlighting. There's now a Parallels app that enables you to run your Windows virtual machines on an Apple iPad or iPhone. You'll need a reasonably fast internet connection to do this – preferably WiFi – but it's remarkable to see Windows running on the screen of an iPad (though we're not sure how useful this might be).
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This isn’t a huge upgrade, but improved performance is always welcome. We’d still recommend using BootCamp for playing Windows games, but Parallels is an elegant and efficient solution for most types of Windows software, and a useful alternative to Boot Camp. Bear in mind, however, that it needs a fast Mac and plenty of RAM for best results.