When Parallels first put its virtualization software on the first Macs with Intel processors back in 2006, the very fact that you could run Windows apps within OS X—seamlessly and without a serious performance hit—was dazzling. But it worked so well that it quickly stopped feeling like a big deal. People who wanted to do something like running the Windows version of Microsoft Office on a Mac just took it for granted that they could.
Most of the upgrades to Parallels Desktop for Mac which have followed have concentrated on making the integration of Windows into OS X even more seamless, and accommodating new versions of the two operating systems as they came along. That's true of Parallels Desktop 10, which the company is announcing today. It's a $50 upgrade for current users, who can download it immediately; new users will be able to get it for $80—operating system sold separately—starting on August 26.
There's quite a bit that's new, but the single thing which intrigues me most is a claim that Parallels is making about battery life. It says that the new version can run up to 30% longer on a charge. That could be a killer feature for serious Parallels users: One of the few noticeable downsides I've noticed with previous versions is that they run down my MacBook Air's battery more quickly than if I wasn't running one operating system inside another.
Parallels also says that the new version is faster in various ways: 48% quicker when opening documents in Windows, for instance, and 50% quicker when running Microsoft Office.
During installation of a new virtualized operating system, Parallels Desktop 10 will ask you what your primary usage involves—such as productivity, gaming, or software development—and choose settings optimized for that task. And it will do more to help space-hungry OSes use as little storage space as possible, including automatically compacting your data.
Beyond that, many of the improvements involve whittling down the obvious differences that remain between OS X and Windows. Office is normally hardwired to save files directly to Microsoft's OneDrive service; in Parallels, it will also be able to access iCloud Drive, the new cloud storage service which Apple is rolling out this fall as part of its iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite updates. Parallels will add a sharing feature to Internet Explorer which is similar to the one in Yosemite, and will automatically add new Windows apps you install to OS X's Launchpad screen.
Lastly, the new version makes it easy to install trial editions of virtualized versions of Windows 8.1 and previous versions; combined with Parallels' own trial period, that lets you try the whole idea out without investing any money.
I'm not an everyday user of Parallels Desktop, but when I need it—especially for apps whose Windows versions remain definitive, such as Office and QuickBooks—it's indispensable. And the new version looks like it'll make it even easier to forget that running Windows programs inside Apple's operating system is a pretty remarkable feat.
[Images courtesy of Parallels]