Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac promises better Windows experience

Parallels goes 64-bit; improves 3-D graphics and Windows performance; and offers 80 new features

Parallels has announced yet another new version of its popular desktop virtualization platform for Apple Mac OS X: Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac. It should hit store shelves by Sept. 14.

The new version brings with it an array of improvements and new features. With them, Parallels is calling version 6 the "fastest, smartest, and most powerful" Mac OS X virtualization solution for the Mac yet. Since most new releases don't take a step backward (at least, not on purpose), this is somewhat expected going from one major version to another. The company is also promising that the new version will be faster and more tightly integrated into Mac OS X, with a total of 80 new or improved features on hand. So what's under the hood and being made available?

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Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac will use a 64-bit engine and support 64-bit Windows OSes, which, according to the company, will help it run Windows applications 41 percent faster than the previous version. It will also help Microsoft Windows guest operating systems start nearly twice as fast as they do currently -- although suspending and resuming a virtual machine will usually offer faster response times and may prove a better alternative than using a cold boot.

The company is also focused on improving graphics performance, an area where Parallels already made claims of superiority over the competition. With the latest version, Parallels says that 3-D graphic benchmark testing shows a 40 percent performance increase over the previous version. As a result, consumers can play a wider range of more modern, graphics-intensive, Windows-based games within a virtual machine environment.

Keep in mind, graphic performance increases are not absolute and will vary from one system to the next. Some Mac machines have more advanced graphics cards than others and will, therefore, have different 3-D capabilities. Also, these 3DMark numbers will vary across individual applications; not everything will show a 40 percent improvement. Still, this advancement in 3-D graphics performance is impressive.

In addition to graphic improvements, the latest version supports 5.1-channel surround sound, which can provide rich, immersive audio for games, videos, and music.

Security is another area of focus within this release. The latest version offers consumers data protection with Parallels SmartGuard and SafeMode, plus antivirus protection for both Mac OS X and Windows with complimentary copies of Kaspersky Internet Security 2011, Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Mac, Acronis True Image Home 2010, and Acronis Disk Director 2011 Home. Parental control has been added to provide parents with peace of mind and the knowledge that children and information will be safe while online. The same parental controls set up on your Mac OS X environment can be automatically applied to virtualized Windows applications for added ease-of-use. The new Parallels version also includes built-in virtual machine encryption to help protect data from being stolen and accessed.

Additionally, there are a variety of small enhancements to make working between the virtual machine and the Mac OS X environment more seamless. The first is with Mac shortcuts; you can not only choose to use Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts within Windows applications, but you can also set up Parallels to use Windows shortcuts within Mac OS X applications. This is extremely beneficial for Windows users who are migrating over to a Mac desktop. The new version also has better integration with the OS X Spotlight feature to allow you to find and launch Windows applications using Spotlight while in OS X.

For folks switching from a PC to a Mac, data migration is simplified to help move programs, data, and media from Windows to the appropriate folders on the Mac. Parallels will also automatically help move any Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome settings, as well as bookmarks from a Windows PC to the default browser on the Mac.

Other features include a speed boost for working with files on USB drives, networks, and shared folders; enhanced use of printers connected to the Mac by providing a direct printer port to the virtual machine; adding hot corners to allow for quick switching between windowed or full-screen mode; and a virtual machine assistant that can help users choose how to integrate their VMs into their desktop (run in their own dedicated window or operate Windows applications like a Mac application).

Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac will cost $79.99 for the standard retail version and $39.99 for the student edition. Current Parallels Desktop for Mac owners will be able to upgrade for $49.99, but for those owners who purchased Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac on or after Aug. 15, 2010, Parallels will upgrade you at no additional cost.

Parallels can provide a bridge between Windows and Mac OS X for users trying to switch platforms. Instead of making the transition cold turkey, Parallels also offers its Desktop 6 Switch to Mac edition that can help a user migrate from a Windows PC to a Mac at a cost of $99.99. This special edition comes with several support videos, tutorials, and cables to help ease the transition.

This story, "Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac promises better Windows experience," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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