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Run Windows on Your Mac With Parallels Desktop 15

Compared to the dark old days, we’re rich with options when it comes to running Windows programs on macOS. There was a time when even Mac diehards might have had to keep a Windows PC around in order to use a key piece of software. Now we have Boot Camp, but that might be overkill if you only need to run a few applications.

Parallels Desktop not only lets you run Windows programs in an environment they recognize, but blend them in with your Mac like they’ve been there all along.

Who Is Parallels 15 For?

Parallels can download Windows 10 for you

Parallels is for anyone who needs to run Windows apps on a Mac, from beginners to power users. For beginners, the software walks you all the way through installing Windows on your Mac. Parallels even automatically downloads Windows for you, so you don’t need to go through the trouble of downloading it yourself.

Power users will appreciate how much you can tweak the software. You can customize exactly how much of your system resources are available to Windows on your Mac. This can help you keep battery use in check, or conversely offer up as much power to hardware-intensive applications.

Parallels Desktop’s main competition comes in the form of VMWare Fusion. We’ve looked at VMWare Fusion before, and while it offers powerful functionality, Parallels is more flexible in some ways. We’ll get to exactly how in the next section.

Parallels Desktop Features

Parallels for Mac focuses heavily on making Windows apps blend in seamlessly with the underlying macOS system. This means you get copy and paste between macOS and Windows, as well as support for drag and drop. If you use an app like 1Password on your Mac and need to paste a password in Windows, for example, this is quite handy.

Coherence Mode

Coherence mode in Parallels 15

Parallels Desktop can take this even further with its Coherence mode. In this mode, you don’t get the standard full virtualized desktop. Instead, Windows runs in the background, while only the applications you run via Parallels are displayed. This is handy if you just need to run one key app that only works on Windows.

You can take this even further. If you need to open an app all the time, you can keep it in your Dock as you would with any macOS app. When you go to launch the Windows app, Parallels quietly runs the virtual machine in the background.

Full Screen Mode

On the other hand, if you need the full Windows desktop experience, Parallels for Mac can handle that as well. The software offers a full screen mode, which essentially lets you run Wondows on Mac just as you would if you had installed Windows via Boot Camp.

As we’ve looked at before, there are plenty of advantages to virtual machines instead of dual booting.

External Drive Support

Parallels supports mounting external hard drives. This is handy since macOS doesn’t support writing to NTFS drives by default, and even the existing options can be risky. Running a full-fledged instance of Windows 10 lets you access the files on these drives without worry.

Right after the first launch of Windows 10 in Parallels

All you need to do in order to access these drives is boot Windows 10 via Parallels, then open up File Explorer. From here you’ll be able to work with the files as normal. You can also move macOS files to and from the drive, using Parallels as a middleman of sorts.

What’s New in Parallels 15?

Parallels Desktop launching

As the version number hints at, Parallels 15 is optimized for macOS 10.15 Catalina. That said, you don’t need to have Catalina installed in order to run Parallels 15. This is great if you need to run an older version of macOS for compatibility purposes. You can run Parallels Desktop on macOS versions as old as 10.12 Sierra.

Parallels Desktop 15 adds support for DirectX 11, as well as DirectX 9 and 10, via Apple Metal. This means you can run software like Autodesk 3ds Max 2020 or games like Fallout 4, all while taking advantage of your Mac’s hardware. For this to work, you’ll need to be running macOS 10.14 Mojave or later.

It isn’t all about macOS-exclusive features, either. Parallels Desktop 15 allows you to use your iPad as well. The software can make full use of Sidecar (a feature that arrived in Catalina), which hooks up your iPad as a second monitor. It even supports using the Apple Pencil on your iPad in order to use Windows touchscreen and pen functionality.

Finally, Parallels Desktop 15 has improved performance in various areas. The Parallels website claims that Microsoft Office applications launch up to 80 percent faster. That’s not all: 3D graphics have also received improvements and can run up to 15 percent faster than previous versions of the Parallels Desktop software.

Parallels Desktop vs. Parallels Desktop Pro

WIndows Paint 3D running on a Mac

When you’re ready to buy, Parallels Desktop comes in two different varieties. First is the standard Parallels Desktop, which costs $79.99. Your other option is Parallels Desktop Pro Edition, which sells for $20 more at $99.99. It’s not much more, but do you need the Pro Edition?

The answer is probably no, unless you’re a developer. The vast majority of the extra features in the Pro Edition are aimed at developers creating Windows apps on Mac computers. These include a Visual Studio plugin, as well as an easy install of a Windows 10 development environment.

Other features include a Parallels Vagrant plugin and the ability to natively manage Docker virtual machines, and that’s just the beginning. If you’re just a regular Mac user or even a power user, chances are good that you’ll get along just fine with the standard Parallels Desktop license.

That said, not all of the features in the Pro Edition are aimed solely at developers. The Pro Edition adds Force Touch trackpad support to the virtual Windows environment, which can be handy. It also enables Cortana support. These aren’t features everyone will need, but they’re also not developer-only features.

Not Sure? Try Parallels for Free

Different people have various needs when it comes to virtual machines. Parallels Desktop can take some getting used to, especially if you’re coming from a similar service. The good news is that there’s a 14-day free trial that lets you try the app before you buy it. That should be plenty of time to know whether the app is right for you.

If you need another solution, take a look at the other ways to run Windows programs on Mac

The Easiest Way to Run Windows Programs on Mac

The Easiest Way to Run Windows Programs on Mac

Running Windows software on your Mac isn’t as tough as you’d think. Here are the most popular ways to run Windows programs on macOS, including the best method for most people.
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Parallels Desktop (for Mac) Review & Rating

If you’ve switched from Windows to a Mac, there’s a good chance you want to run some of your old Windows apps, but there’s no exact match for them in the Apple-centric world. Even if there’s an OS X version of your favorite program, it may work differently than it does on Windows—as the OS X versions of Microsoft Word and Excel apps work differently than their Windows counterparts. This is the problem virtualization utilities like Parallels Desktop are designed to solve. Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion 8

comes in three versions. The Standard edition (tested here) costs $79.99 for a license that lasts forever, but it doesn’t include upgrades to any future versions. The Pro edition, which costs $99.99 per year, adds free upgrades to any future new version and a subscription to the Parallels Access remote-desktop service (normally $20 per year). The Pro version also includes high-level features that I didn’t test, including the ability to access a guest OS via SSH or from a browser (if the guest OS is set up as a Web server) and integration with Microsoft Visual Studio and virtualization tools like Docker. There’s also a Business edition, which is subscription-based and adds centralized management features, built-in access to cloud services like Dropbox or Box, and 24/7 support—you have to contact the company for pricing quote, however.

Use Cases
Users typically run Parallels (or competitor Fusion) in one of two modes. Either you use the virtualization app to open a complete Windows desktop on your Mac, or you use it to open a single Windows app in an OS X window, as if the Windows app were actually an OS X app. If you sometimes need to work as if you were using a real Windows system, you use the Windows Desktop mode—and you can drag files between the OS X desktop and the Windows desktop. If you only want to use, say, the Windows version of Excel on your Mac, then you use the Single App mode, which Parallels calls Coherence Mode. In either mode, you can set up a sharing option that lets your Windows apps save and open files directly to and from any folder on your OS X disk.

If you use the Windows Desktop mode, Parallels gives you tight integration between the host OS X system and the guest Windows system. For example, you can select a file on the Windows desktop, or in a Windows Explorer window, then pop up the file’s right-click context menu and find an option to Open in Mac. This causes the file to open in the default OS X application for that file type. Or you can do the reverse and add a Windows app to the Open With menu in OS X. This latter operation may require you to follow some manual steps in Parallels, however. Also—and this needs no special setup—you get OS X’s QuickLook feature in Windows. This means that you select a file in a Windows folder, then press the spacebar, and the OS X QuickLook window pops up a preview of the file.

You can also use the Single App Coherence mode, which opens a Windows app in an OS X window without showing the underlying Windows desktop. For me, and I think for most users, this is less distracting and more useful than the full Windows Desktop mode. An additional button in Parallels’ OS X title bar switches from Windows Desktop mode to Coherence mode—the switch takes a few seconds, but not enough to be annoying—and you can set the Windows app always to open in Coherence mode, even from a Dock icon.

Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac

The latest version of Parallels takes Windows integration to a new level. You can now schedule Windows 10 updates to take place at night or on weekends, to avoid slowing down your system when you need to get work done. Another small but welcome change: You can tell Parallels to start up a virtual machine when you start up your Mac. You can also leave the Windows machine paused in the background so you can start up a Windows app in far less time than with previous versions.

Getting Started
To use Parallels, you’ll need a copy of Windows on your Mac, and Parallels gives you multiple ways of getting one. A button on the New Virtual Machine wizard lets you download Windows 10 directly from Microsoft, either buying a new copy or using a license key that you already own. Parallels then automatically installs Windows 10.

If you want to migrate an existing Windows system, an option in the wizard lets you download and install the Parallels Transporter utility to transfer your existing Windows system—including applications and files—either across a network or via a portable disk, You can also install any other Windows or Linux version from an ISO file or DVD. You also have the option of importing a Windows system you’ve installed on your Mac via Apple’s Boot Camp feature. Or you can use the Parallels wizard to download prebuilt versions of Ubuntu, Android, Chrome, or other environments. Finally, you can also install a virtual copy of your current version of OS X from your Mac’s recovery partition. That’s a rich assortment of choices, and Parallels’ wizards make all these operations almost effortless.

Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac

A virtualized system like Windows under Parallels will always be slower than a system running directly on the hardware—like Windows under Boot Camp. But Parallels has done an impressive job of making Windows respond snappily on modern hardware like the 2015 MacBook Air that I used for testing. Compared to VMware Fusion, Parallels seems slightly but noticeably faster running Windows, but the difference isn’t decisive.

Parallels beat Fusion in my tests at starting a virtual machine and waking a sleeping one. I set up Windows 10 in both apps so that Windows automatically booted directly to the desktop, without waiting at the log-in screen. Parallels 12 was almost three times as fast as Fusion at starting Windows (13 seconds for Parallels versus 35 for Fusion) and four times as fast when shutting down Windows (6 seconds versus 25). Note, however, that once each system got started, both ran real-world applications like Word and Excel at just about the same speed—slightly more sluggishly than the native OS X versions of those apps, but certainly fast enough for most purposes.

Excellent Performance
What makes VMware Fusion worth considering for many users is that it lets you use the same virtual machines that you may have created for VMware Workstation for Windows or Linux. All you need to do is copy the existing virtual machine from your Windows or Linux computer to your Mac—or vice versa—and you get the same virtual machine on both. Parallels sells Parallels Desktop only for the Mac. Also, VMware Fusion supports a wider range of guest operating systems; I’ve even got Steve Jobs’ ancient NextStep and OpenStep systems running under VMware, though I admit that I only did it in order to see whether it was possible.

I’m not a big fan of apps that ship together with other, irrelevant apps, but Parallels 12 gives you an option to install a tag-along app that many users will be glad to have. The Parallels Toolbox is an all-purpose utility that sits in the system tray and lets you compress files, take screen shots, record audio and video, and hide or unhide desktop icons. All these features are easily available directly from OS X or from free third-party apps, but the Toolbox brings them together in one place. Unfortunately, you can’t hide the tools you’ll never want to use.

The Virtual Choice for Macs
Your two top choices for virtualization the Mac are Parallels and VMware, but there are a few other choices. You can use the free Oracle VM VirtualBox app to run Windows or Linux on your OS X desktop, but you won’t get anything like the integration and sharing features that Parallels and VMware offer. A newly available alternative is Veertu, free for a basic version, $39.95 for a premium version that can import VMware or Parallels virtual machines. Veertu is almost as quick as Parallels, but it offers the least possible integration with OS X and none of Parallels’ convenience features. If you’re just looking to run some simple Windows apps or games, you might also consider Urge Software’s Wineskin Winery. This app is free, but it can be tricky to set up, and it didn’t work well with complex apps in my testing.

If you need to use a Windows app for any serious work on a Mac, your only choices are Parallels and VMware. Both earn an Editor’s Choice award, but Parallels remains the easiest and friendliest choice for most users.

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