Review: Parallels Desktop 8
Microsoft has just released Windows 8, and while the user interface is a dramatic departure from what people have been used to, one cannot help drooling at the new Modern UI. Heck, as a Mac user even I have wanted to taste the forbidden fruit. Boot camp is always a good option, but as it is created inside Apple’s walled garden, even a rocket of MacBook Pro Retina Display is not able to perform at full throttle. What’s the solution? Virtualization always works on the Mac and frankly there are only two realistic options in this space – Parallels and VMware Fusion. Parallels is considered to be the superior option and the latest version of the Parallels 8 also happens to be completely Windows 8 and MacBook Pro Retina Display compliant. Can there be a better test bed for Parallels Desktop 8? I think not. Read on to find out more.
Running Windows 8 on a MacBook Pro can sound like a daunting task, but in my experience it is actually simpler on some level than installing a fresh copy of Windows 8 from scratch on a PC. One just has to install the copy of Parallels 8 and then the app will automatically ask the use whether to install from an ISO, or to download the release preview of Windows 8 from the Internet. If you are a geek like me you can even have Linux Ubuntu, Chrome OS and even Android running in virtual environments.
When I originally started using Parallels Desktop 8, I had downloaded the Release Preview of Windows 8. Now that Windows 8 is out, one can just download the ISO file from Microsoft and install the full version as there is no way to upgrade the release preview of Windows 8 to the final build. On the whole the entire process is quite quick and I was able to get running with Windows 8 under 30 minutes, which is slightly slower than the time it would take to install Windows 8 on a standard PC with comparable specs.
Using Parallels 8 generally was very silky smooth experience. Perhaps my biggest quibble with Parallels 7 was the lack of MacBook Pro Retina support. Parallels 8 solves this problem, but I did notice a discernible drop in performance. That was obvious considering the previous version was not handling the massive 2880×1800 ‘Retina’ resolution of the laptop. It was actually driving a more standard 1440×900 pixel resolution. For most people this performance blip will not be an issue, and when one combines the fact that it will only be noticeable on the new MacBook Pro with retina display, chances are very very few people will even get to experience the gulf in performance. Additionally, apps like Office 2013 are now usable on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Previously on Parallels 7, text typed using Word would look awfully pixilated, now that’s not an issue.
As a general purpose Windows user one will not face any problems. That said, Windows 8 does run in to weird rendering and scaling issues at times, but Parallels has already warned users that upgrading to Windows 8 is not entirely a good idea till it completes its testing.
As far as the feature set goes, Parallels 8 offers a very robust set of features that compares favorably with VMware Fusion. It has a feature called ‘Coherence Mode’ that basically integrates the Windows system inside the OS X UI. So Windows apps will be docked in the dock carousel and one can even have these apps on the LaunchPad. I personally did not use this feature a lot because my main intention was to experience the Windows 8 UI. People who just want access to Windows applications that are not available on OS X will definitely use this feature and it works well, as one does not need to jump between two radically different user-interface paradigms.
Part of the charm behind Parallels 8 is its brilliant integration of the features offered by Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion. For instance, using Parallels 8 I was able to have all my notifications in one simple area – the OS X Notification Center. I was also able to drag and drop files between the two platforms. A good example of this was importing files to a Windows version of Adobe Lightroom. So if I had a few images opened in the ‘Finder’ I could just select them and drag them to Windows and import those files to Adobe Lightroom. Parallels will even automatically detect system defaults for applications. So I could have different applications on both the operating systems handling different file types and it will not matter as Parallels will automatically detect which app to open the file with irrespective of the operating system.
It even plays nice with USB devices. Time and again I need to transfer data between my Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Mac. Instead of using the painful Android file transfer app, I was able to avoid the file transfer app and I directly loaded my content using mass storage that works only with Windows.
As my primary testbed for Parallels 8 was the release preview of Windows 8, I was not able to properly test gesture support for the OS. That said, all the OS X gestures were working, but I do wonder if one will be able to use Windows 8 gestures on a Mac with the trackpad via Parallels. This feature is important especially in the case of Windows 8, which begs to be touched and the traditional mouse experience is not exactly ideal especially with the absence of the ‘Start Menu’.
Gaming is a big problem on the Mac as most developers either don’t make PC equivalents of their games or release the games a long time after its PC/Console release. As one can run Windows because of Parallels that also gets sorted. Performance of games is slightly lower in a virtual environment, but on the MacBook Pro with Retina display and its Kelper GPU, the difference is not massive.
Long story short, if you are a Mac user and you need to use Windows applications for your work, then Parallels 8 is a must-have tool. At Rs 3,999 it’s not very expensive considering it allows users to run Windows, Chrome OS, Linux and Android in virtual environments. Plus with the launch of Windows 8, it further refines the synergy users can gain on a Mac with OS X Mountain Lion. Its MacBook Pro Retina compliance is another advantage as it allows users to Windows apps without any pixilation and major performance dips.