Parallels Desktop has always been an important app for Mac users who need to run Windows software on their Mac (and maybe even try out a few games). However, Apple’s decision to abandon Intel processors and move the entire Mac platform to its own Apple Silicon chips over the next few years means that the new Parallels Desktop 16 is being upgraded from “important” to “completely” essential “for many people. .
Macs that still use Intel processors – including the recently released new 2020 27in iMac – will still be able to use Apple’s Boot Camp to ‘dual-boot’ and switch between Windows and macOS. However, the upcoming Apple Silicon processors are based on a technology known as ARM, which is completely different from Intel processors that Apple has used for the past 15 years. This means that Boot Camp will not work on new Macs with ARM processors, so virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop will be the only option to run Windows software on future Macs.
Virtualization software lets you create a virtual machine – or VM – that mimics the hardware of a Windows PC and runs on your Mac just like any other Mac app. You can then install Windows and other Windows software on this virtual machine and run your Windows apps right next to any regular Mac app (even if you need a lot of memory to run macOS and Windows together).
You can see the Windows desktop in its own window floating on the Mac desktop, expand Windows to full screen size so that it completely hides the Mac desktop, or even shrink Windows down to a small preview that sits in a corner of the Mac desktop . so you can keep an eye on the Windows side of things while working in other Mac apps.
Parallels Desktop is not the only virtualization software available for Macs – the main rival, VMWare Fusion, has also been updated – but Parallels’ status as a leader in this field was emphasized when Apple used Parallels Desktop to demonstrate a number of Windows apps and games running on prototype ARM Macs during the latest worldwide developer conference.
Price and options
There are several options for purchasing Parallels Desktop 16, depending on how likely you are to use it. Fortunately, there is a 14-day free trial available at www.parallels.com, so you can try the program for a while and decide which option is best for you.
The standard version of Parallels Desktop 16 is mainly designed for home users, students or individual business users who only need to run a few important Windows apps (or games – and Baldur’s Gate 3, I look at you …). If you’re likely to use Parallels Desktop on a regular basis, you can pay an annual subscription fee of £ 69.99 / $ 79.99, which also includes any future upgrades.
For more casual use, it is also possible to purchase this standard edition for a one-time fee of £ 79.99 / $ 99.99. The fee allows you to use the software for as long as you want – without an annual subscription – but it does not include future upgrades, so you have to pay around £ 39.99 / $ 49.99 when you upgrade.
There are also two other versions – Pro Edition and Business Edition – both of which require an annual subscription of £ 79.99 / $ 99.99 per year. Pro Edition is targeted at software developers and includes features, such as support for Microsoft Visual Studio, to help you test and troubleshoot apps.
Business Edition includes the same features as the Pro Edition, as well as a number of additional management tools for large organizations that need to manage multiple instances of Parallels Desktop in their offices.
All versions of Parallels Desktop 16 also include Parallels Toolbox and Parallels Access. The toolbox is a convenient set of tools that run on both Mac and Windows, while Access is an app for iOS and Android that allows you to remotely control virtual machines on your Mac using mobile devices.
Ready for Big Sur
Upgrades to Parallels Desktop always include new features and performance improvements, but the biggest change in Parallels Desktop 16 is actually a comprehensive rewrite under the hood that will not be immediately obvious to most people.
Virtualization apps like Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion rely on software called kexts – core extensions – that dig deep into macOS to improve performance when running Windows on your virtual machines. However, Apple has decided that keywords from external companies such as Parallels are a security risk, so it has banned keywords from the upcoming Big Sur.
This has forced Parallels to make major changes to Parallels Desktop 16 to ensure that it will still be able to run on Big Sur.
We were happy to see that it went well on the beta version of Big Sur that we had installed on the MacBook – and it even allowed us to create a VM that ran the beta to Big Sur as well, so that we could return the MacBook to more reliable Catalina setup, and just use the World Cup to explore Big Sur. Parallels also told us that they are planning an update with some extra features when the final version of Big Sur launches this fall.
In addition to the big rewrite, Parallels also managed to add a number of other new features: They have fine-tuned Parallels Desktop so that your virtual machines start up and shut down faster than before. Improved support for Mac TouchPads when running Windows apps, including zoom and rotation gestures. And the ‘virtual disks’ used to store all the Windows apps in the virtual machine are now shrinking to take up less space on your Mac when you close the VM. There are also enhanced printing options when working with Windows software, so you can use all the features of your Mac printer, such as duplex printing and multiple paper sizes.
In addition to supporting Apple’s metal graphics software, Parallels Desktop 16 also supports OpenGL 3.2, which makes it possible to run a variety of specialized Windows apps, such as DiaLux for lighting design and Samson for molecular modeling. Parallels also claims that it’s around 20% faster when running apps that use Windows’ own DirectX graphics software.
Boot Camp is not dead yet, so it’s still an option if you do not mind switching back and forth between Windows and macOS. But if you want to run Windows and Mac apps side by side at the same time, a virtualization program like Parallels Desktop is the only real option. And with this latest update – which already has Apple’s implicit approval seal – Parallels Desktop 16 has taken the lead in preparing for the arrival of Big Sur and the next generation of ARM-based Macs.
We have this round of the best options for running a virtual machine on your Mac, and we also have this guide for running Windows on a Mac.
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