Parallels Desktop 12 For Mac review: Bringing the Mac and Windows closer than ever

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Runs Windows and Linux VMs on Macs
  • Improved integration between Mac and Windows apps
  • Supports macOS Sierra and Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Cons

  • Business and Pro Editions require annual subscription
  • Virtual machines require lots of memory and storage
  • Poor documentation for first-time users

Parallels Desktop is celebrating its tenth birthday this year, and its regular cycle of annual updates has helped to consolidate its position as the leading virtualization tool for Mac users who need to run Windows apps on their office computers.

Last year's update followed the launch of Windows 10; it was a major upgrade that focused on supporting new Windows technologies, such as the Cortana voice-driven virtual assistant. This year's Parallels Desktop 12 is a more modest update, but it does include a number of useful features that make it a worthwhile upgrade for existing users.

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Windows virtual machines (VMs) running under Parallels Desktop 12 for Mac.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

Desktop options

Like its predecessor, Parallels Desktop 12 provides three options for different types of users. The standard Parallels Desktop 12 is designed for home and education use, and allows you to buy a one-off, single-user licence for £64.99 (inc. VAT, or £54.16 ex. VAT), or a two-user licence for £97.49 (inc. VAT, or £81.25 ex. VAT). Existing owners of the standard edition can upgrade to version 12 for £34.99 (inc.VAT, or £29.16 ex. VAT).

There is also a Pro Edition that includes additional features for developers, and a Business Edition that provides extended technical support, as well as tools for IT managers who need to manage multiple virtual machines within their organisation. The Pro and Business Editions both require an annual subscription of £79.99 (inc. VAT, or £66.66 ex. VAT), which includes automatic upgrades for each new version. However, the core features and improvements in Parallels Desktop 12 are common to all three versions, and even the standard edition will be perfectly adequate for many business users who simply need to run a few Windows apps every now and then.

Parallels performance

Some of the new features in Parallels Desktop 12 are clearly aimed at home users, such as the ability to run the Xbox streaming app for Windows on the Mac. But there are also a number of timesaving improvements that will appeal to business users. Parallels continues to finetune the program's performance, and we found that we were able to suspend or resume a Windows 10 virtual machine on our office iMac in just three seconds -- that's around 50 percent faster than with the previous version.

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Always Ready mode automatically launches a specific VM when you boot the Mac, but leaves it paused in the background.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

There's a new Always Ready mode that automatically launches a specific virtual machine when you boot the Mac, but leaves it paused in the background so that it's instantly available as soon as you need to open a Windows app. Your Windows apps can also be assigned a series of 'behaviors', such as always opening in full-screen mode, or automatically hiding the Windows desktop and other apps.

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Windows apps can be assigned a series of 'behaviors'.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet
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Parallels Desktop 12 allows you to reschedule Windows updates for a time that suits you.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

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The system of automatic updates used by Windows 10 has come in for a lot of criticism, so Parallels Desktop 12 allows you to override these updates, and to reschedule them for a time that suits you. When you're ready to download the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you'll find that Parallels Desktop 12 supports the new Windows Ink feature within the Windows versions of Word, PowerPoint and OneNote. And, as Windows 10 is no longer a free upgrade, Parallels has worked with Microsoft to allow users to purchase and download the Windows 10 ISO file from within the program's setup wizard in order to simplify the creation of virtual machines that run Windows 10.

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You can purchase and download the Windows 10 ISO file from within the program's setup wizard.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

In the Toolbox

Parallels Desktop 12 also continues to improve the integration between Mac and Windows environments. Passwords used in the Internet Explorer and Edge browsers for Windows can be saved within the Mac's keychain for instant retrieval, while your virtual machines will show up within the new storage optimization tool in the forthcoming macOS Sierra. Developers using the Pro Edition can also archive and compress virtual machines that they don't use very often in order to save additional space.

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Your Parallels Desktop 12 VMs will show up in the new storage optimization tool in the forthcoming macOS Sierra.

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet
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Parallels Desktop 12 includes a new set of utilities, called the Toolbox, that focus purely on the Mac side of things.

Image: Apple

Parallels Desktop 12 also takes an unexpected detour, by including a new set of utilities, called the Toolbox, that focus purely on the Mac side of the fence. Some of these are quite useful -- we particularly like the Hide Desktop option, which allows you to hide all those files cluttering up your desktop -- and Parallels has indicated that it will sell the Toolbox as a standalone software suite for around £10. However, the features and utilities included in the Toolbox are mainly designed for use with native Mac apps, so they don't have direct benefits for the performance of your Windows (or Linux) virtual machines.

Conclusions

Parallels Desktop 12 doesn't have the eye-catching features of last year's edition, but its improved performance, and time-saving options such as the Always Ready mode, do help to further streamline the use of Windows apps on the Mac. And with regular updates that support the latest features in both Mac and Windows operating systems, Parallels Desktop looks set to maintain its lead over virtualization rivals such as VMWare Fusion.

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Topics: Virtualization, Apple, Enterprise Software, Reviews, Windows 10

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