Ten years ago, Apple began putting Intel processors in Macs, making it possible to run Windows on a Mac using either Boot Camp (which requires rebooting to switch operating systems) or a virtualization app (which lets Windows run side by side with OS X). Although earlier (and much slower) emulation apps existed, including Virtual PC, Parallels Desktop was the first true virtualization app for OS X, and it’s still going strong. Version 12 has just been released, with improved performance and unique new features. The new version has something else going for it, too: my new book, “Take Control of Parallels Desktop 12.”
Parallels Desktop 12 improves performance in several specific areas, including access to shared folders, suspending virtual machines, and taking snapshots, all while extending battery life on notebook Macs. The new version has been optimized for macOS 10.12 Sierra as both host and guest (with full, official support planned for an update soon after Sierra ships). Although Parallels Desktop can run versions of OS X as old as 10.5 Leopard Server in a virtual machine, the Mac you use to run Parallels Desktop itself must now have 10.10 Yosemite or later installed; version 12 drops support for 10.9 Mavericks as a host operating system.
A number of the changes in the new version involve display support. For example, virtual machines can now use Split View in 10.11 El Capitan and later, Parallels added a gaming-specific full-screen option, and virtual machines running OS X as a guest operating system now support Retina resolutions. If you have multiple displays, Parallels Desktop 12 can now use a different resolution for each one. In addition, for Macs with Retina displays, a new Native (or “Best for External Displays”) mode lets Windows manage each display’s pixel density.
Parallels Desktop 12 includes a set of utilities called Parallels Toolbox — a bunch of handy, single-purpose Mac utilities, most of which can be used either in your virtual machine or in OS X (even if Parallels Desktop itself is not running). You can access these tools either in a system-wide menu or in the
/Applications/Parallels Toolbox Tools folder. Among the 20 tools offered initially are apps for screenshots and screen recording (in both cases, by area, window, or full screen), archiving and unarchiving, a timer and stopwatch, video conversion for iOS devices, a video downloader (for YouTube and the like), and an audio recorder. Parallels plans to add more tools to the collection
In case you don’t already have a backup app you’re happy with (and that can handle gigantic virtual machine files gracefully), you can install Acronis True Image from within Parallels Desktop 12 and take advantage of a free, one-year subscription, which includes 500 GB of online storage. (The offer takes effect on 23 August 2016.)
Among many other smaller changes, Parallels Desktop 12 also does the following:
Supports Optimized Storage in Sierra
Uses the OS X Keychain for storing passwords from Windows, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge
Lets you schedule daily maintenance tasks (such as running Windows Update) at convenient times
Automatically pauses Windows virtual machines when they’re in the background and idle
Lets you vary resource usage settings (including CPU and disk I/O) and enable or disable Real Time Virtual Disk Optimization individually for each virtual machine
Enables you to save your virtual machine’s state when restoring a snapshot
Pricing and Availability -- Anyone with Parallels Desktop 10 or 11 can upgrade to version 12 now. Those who already have an active subscription to Parallels Desktop (or who purchased Parallels Desktop after 1 August 2016) get the new version for free. For those who bought non-subscription licenses, upgrades to Parallels Desktop 12 Standard Edition are $49.99, while upgrades to the Pro Edition, which normally costs $99.99 per year, are being offered at $49.99 per year for a limited time (with a guarantee that the renewal price will remain $49.99 in future years). The Pro edition adds a number of features useful to developers, plus the option to assign up to 64 GB of virtual RAM and 16 virtual CPUs to each virtual machine (Standard Edition limits you to 8 GB of virtual RAM and 4 virtual CPUs).
The full (non-upgrade) release of Parallels Desktop 12 will become available to the general public on 23 August 2016. The Standard Edition costs $79.99 as a one-time purchase or $79.99 per year as a subscription. Parallels Desktop Pro costs $99.99 per year. One-time purchases of the Standard Edition include three months of the remote control app Parallels Access, while Pro Edition subscriptions include a full year of Parallels Access (which costs $19.99 on its own) plus free upgrades to new versions of Parallels Desktop during that year.
Parallels Toolbox, which comes with the Standard and Pro editions of Parallels Desktop, is also available as a stand-alone product for $9.99 per year starting on 23 August 2016. A 14-day free trial will also be available.
Take Control of Parallels Desktop 12 -- I wrote a bit about Parallels Desktop in the very first edition of “Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac,” way back in 2006. (I later wrote a separate Take Control book about VMware Fusion; both titles are now far out of date.) For years I had wanted to write a standalone book about Parallels too, but the planets didn’t align until now. For the past few months I’ve been running beta versions of Parallels Desktop 12 while working on the book, and the 170-page “Take Control of Parallels Desktop 12 is now available for $15.
Running one operating system inside another is an inherently complex undertaking. Even though Parallels Desktop does a remarkable job at simplifying the process, there are many potential sources of confusion. In particular, one strength of Parallels Desktop is its wealth of preferences and options, but understanding the practical implications of all those settings — and determining just which combination of them will give you the results you want — can be daunting. So my book helps make sense of it all. It guides you around potential pitfalls, helps you solve problems, and exposes some helpful tricks that you may not have discovered on your own.
Although the main focus of the book is on running Windows on your Mac, I also cover running one version of the Mac operating system inside another (for example, running beta versions of Sierra on a Mac that has El Capitan installed), and even tell you how to install Linux, Android, Chromium OS, and other operating systems if that’s your thing. And I provide instructions for using all 20 of the tools in Parallels Toolbox.
We’ve come a long way since I was first working with Parallels Desktop back in 2006. Back then, the mere fact that a Mac could virtualize Windows was technically impressive. Today, virtualization software like Parallels Desktop 12 is a boon for anyone who wants to play Windows-only games, and almost a necessity for those who rely on Windows productivity software or who develop or test Web sites and cross-platform apps.