Parallels Desktop 13 for Mac review: Touch Bar control for virtualised Windows apps, and more

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  • Editors' rating
    8.1 Excellent
  • $79.99

Pros

  • Runs Windows and Linux VMs on Macs
  • Provides Touch Bar controls for Windows apps
  • Improved performance for USB/Thunderbolt storage devices

Cons

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

Parallels Desktop isn't the only virtualisation software that allows Mac users to run Windows apps within a virtual machine (VM), but its cycle of regular annual updates has allowed it to take a lead over rival tools, such as VMware's Fusion. The company normally releases updates to coincide with new versions of Apple's OS -- macOS, as it's now styled. However, the forthcoming High Sierra is still very much in its beta phase, so the developer has gone ahead and released Parallels Desktop 13 with a number of features that focus a little more on developments in Mac hardware instead.

Getting in touch

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You can now use the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar to control apps running in Windows virtual machines.

Image: Parallels

The biggest update to the Mac range recently was the introduction of the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro laptops, so Parallels Desktop 13 now allows the Touch Bar to display a number of tools and features from within Windows virtual machines. When launching a Windows VM, the Touch Bar on the MacBook starts by duplicating the Windows Task Bar, and displaying icons for pinned items such as Cortana or the File Explorer.

You can also use the Touch Bar to control Windows apps, just as you can with native Mac apps. Parallels Desktop 13 includes predefined Touch Bar controls for the Windows version of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, and there's a wizard tool built into the program that allows you to customise the Touch Bar to work with your favourite Windows apps.

Parallels Desktop 13 doesn't simply focus on the MacBook Pro, though.

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Parallels Desktop 13's new Picture-in-Picture mode, showing Windows 10, Windows XP, Windows 8 and macOS High Sierra beta.

Image: Parallels

Following the introduction of Thunderbolt 3 on recent Mac models, Parallels Desktop 13 has improved performance when using external drives via both Thunderbolt and USB interfaces.

Any Mac model can now view contact info from the People Bar -- a new Taskbar feature introduced in the latest Windows Insider Preview -- in the Mac's Dock bar, while a new Picture-In-Picture mode allows you to view live previews of multiple VMs running onscreen simultaneously. And, intriguingly, the company tells us that it's exploring the possibility of using external graphics upgrades, such as the Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box, to enhance performance of virtual machines running high-end graphics apps such as the Windows-only Dialux software for lighting design.

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Parallels Desktop 13 introduces a Windows version of Toolbox to complement last year's suite of Mac utilities.

Image: Parallels

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Last year's update to Parallels Desktop introduced a bundled suite of Mac utilities called Parallels Toolbox, and Parallels Desktop 13 now includes a Windows version of Toolbox for your VMs as well.

Price and options

Like previous versions, Parallels Desktop 13 offers three different editions for different types of user. The Business Edition introduces a new 'single application mode', which simply runs one specific Windows application and eliminates much of the complexity of installing and configuring the virtual machine software.

The Pro Edition, aimed at developers, looks forward to the forthcoming iMac Pro, with the ability to configure VMs with up to 32 processor cores and 128GB of memory.

As always, the Business and Pro Editions require an annual subscription of £79.99 (inc. VAT; £66.67 ex. VAT, or $99.99), which includes a free upgrade to Parallels Desktop 13. The Standard Edition, for home and education users, is available as a one-time purchase for £69.99 (inc. VAT; £58.32 ex. VAT, or $79.99).

Conclusions

The list of new features in Parallels Desktop 13 might seem relatively modest, but the program does continue the process of ever-closer integration between the Mac and Windows operating systems that gives it a clear edge over other virtualisation tools for Mac users. The upgrade is included in the subscription price for the Business and Pro Editions, so there's no reason not to upgrade. However, users of the Standard Edition might want to wait for macOS High Sierra to arrive before upgrading.

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