Virtualisation software allows you to switch between operating systems without the hassle of rebooting.
So it saves time and effort to use OS X's Boot Camp, which allows you to boot your Mac computer natively in Windows.
Parallels Desktop 9 (PD9), the latest virtualisation software for Mac, was released last month.
PD9 supports the major upcoming operating systems, such as Windows 8.1 and OS X Mavericks. In fact, you get to download and install the Windows 8.1 Pro Preview. You can also download Google Chrome OS or Ubuntu for free.
Installing Windows 8.1 Pro Preview on my 2012 Intel Core i7 MacBook Air took a fast 15min. During installation, you will be prompted to choose a Windows 7 Start menu or open Windows 8 Metro apps in a window.
Each operating system is stored as a virtual machine taking up to 15GB of hard drive space. Take note of this if you aim to install several such machines.
Parallels claims the PD9 delivers improved performance: 40 per cent in disk performance, 25 per cent faster in start-up and shutdown of virtual machines, and 20 per cent less time to suspend a virtual machine.
Having reviewed its predecessor before, I must say the PD9 does feel much faster.
It takes 15sec to start up Windows 8.1 Pro Preview in PD9 - about 5sec faster than its predecessor. While there used to be lags when you moved your mouse from OS X to the virtual Windows, it is now seamless with almost zero lag. But gaming in PD9 is still not recommended.
More importantly, it is the tight integration between Windows and OS X that makes PD9 shine. For example, you can drag a document from OS X and drop it into Windows without fuss. Or you can copy some text from OS X Safari and paste it on a WordPad document in Windows using Mac's "Command + V", instead of Window's "Control + V".
Gestures are also supported in Windows applications. In Internet Explorer 11, you can pinch and zoom in or out on a page. In all Windows applications, you can do a dictionary search by highlighting the word, then doing a three-finger tap, as in OS X.
If Dropbox or Google Drive is installed on your OS X, it shows up automatically under Parallels Shared Folders in Windows. So you will not need to move files between systems.
You also find that all your OS X printer drivers are automatically installed on the virtual machine and you can see the OS X printers on the Windows printer list. So you can print your documents right away. PD9 adds another neat trick found in OS X. It lets you Print to PDF. In Windows, you need to buy a third-party software to do so.
When I put the Windows virtual machine in full screen mode on the external monitor connected to my MacBook Air, PD9 will remember this. So when I started Windows again, it went right back to full screen on the external monitor.
When you install and activate PD9, it comes with a six-month subscription (US$39.99 or S$50 otherwise) to the Parallels Access iOS app.
This app allows you to remotely access your computer and start applications as if they were made for the iPad. You will need to install the Parallels Access Agent application on your Mac (Windows version still in beta) in order for it to work.
It was nothing less than amazing to start applications such as Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Windows Internet Explorer on my iPad using the Access iOS app. The experience was smooth and lag free when switching between applications.
Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac is an incremental upgrade from the earlier version, but if you run Windows programs in OS X, this is still a great choice with its fast performance and tight integration between Windows and OS X.
System requirements: Apple Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor, 4GB of memory recommended, 15GB of disk space for each virtual machine
Software requirement: Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8 or later
Value for money: 4
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