Parallels 6: First Look

Not sure who the dude with the attitude is, but he’s got a swell Parallels coffee go cup and I don’t! 🙁

On September 14th, the latest upgrade from Parallels was officially released. As a long-time Parallels reviewer (and user) I had been invited to participate in the beta programme for this new release. I politely declined – not wishing to risk my virtual machines’ integrity. I’ve worked with Parallels beta products in the past and have had mixed experiences… the worst being a complete corruption of my Boot Camp installation of Vista with the Parallels 4 beta. From my perspective, things have gotten progressively better since those buggy days. After a few updates, Parallels 5 reached a level of stability and reliability that I could count on for my day-to-day Windows™ work. But old memories linger, so I shied away from the Parallels 6 beta and chose to wait for the full release. It turns out that my patience was rewarded with a snappy and stable upgrade that appears to be ready for primetime!

As with most new software releases, speed is considered to be a “feature” and is Parallels’ number one marketing point. Parallels 6 is now 64-bit native and the change is noticeable from the first time you boot your virtual machine. Well, not the VERY FIRST time… if you are migrating your Parallels 5 VM, you’ll have to go through the usual upgrade rigmarole and reinstallation of Parallels Tools before you get the speed, but once that’s out of the way P6 seems MUCH faster! In comparison, my Boot Camp partition running Windows 7 seems only slightly faster, and it’s running natively.

The next thing I noticed was the option for downloading Google’s Chrome OS has been added to the FILE menu of Parallels Desktop. This is a very convenient way to get your hands on the latest build and play with what will likely become one of the pre-eminent competitors for Apple’s iOS.

P6 also promises things like enhanced music and video playback as well as gaming support with 5.1 surround sound and faster 3D graphics performance. While this looks good in the press release, in my world most media requirements are handled by the Mac OS… and given the Parallels target demographic I suspect I’m not alone here. Likely these features are aimed at those with large collections of PC Games rather than people wanting to use Windows Media Player to watch latest episode of Glee.

Another cool feature of questionable usefulness is the ability to control your P6 VM from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Simply download the free iOS app, log into your Parallels account and voila, instant remote connect. I tried this out with my old-school iPhone 3GS and while fully-functional and lots of fun, I don’t really see why I would do it, other than for the entertainment value. I suppose it would be a different story on an iPad’s larger screen but for now it seems like a bit of a gimmick to me.

Other new features include the ability to use Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts with your Windows™ apps while in Coherence and Crystal modes as well as improved network and USB speeds.

My VM needs are pretty straightforward. On the Windows™ side of the OS fence, I use MS Office, Outlook, Corel Draw and a few utilities for things like video conversion. As well, I like to use VMs to check browser compatibility for online projects – actively using XP, Windows 7, Chrome and Ubuntu Linux on a daily basis. For my relatively simple needs Parallels 6 is a WIN… so far, but its only been 1 day! However, the speed bump alone is worth the upgrade price as far as I’m concerned – all the other features are icing.

I’ll be writing a full review for an upcoming issue of Print Action magazine, so I’ll keep you posted as I gain new insights. However, if P6 continues to run as fast and as stably as it does out of the starting gate, I’ll probably be getting rid of my Boot Camp partition and use virtual machines exclusively for my Windows™ work in the not-too-distant future!

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