Conventional wisdom says Macs and PCs are incompatible.
This, as anyone who’s been in a multi-device environment knows, is nonsense. Apple computers have been playing nice with Windows for some time. Most of the popular creative and productivity app suites (like Office and Photoshop) have versions for both operating systems, and Macs (thanks to their Intel-chip guts) have supported Boot Camp for well over a decade, meaning they can actually boot into Windows if you want them to.
Boot Camp is a crude solution, though. It essentially gives your Mac the equivalent of multiple personality disorder — Windows and macOS will both run, but not simultaneously, so you need to reboot every time you switch over. You might be able to visit your Windows apps every now and then, but they’re still stranded.
Enter Parallels. For a monthly fee, Parallels allows subscribers to run both macOS and Windows at the same time, allowing seamless switching between the two — and even supports drag-and-drop between some apps in the two environments. You can even configure Parallels in such a way that Windows all but disappears, so you don’t have to deal with the Taskbar and Segoe fonts all over the place, but can still switch instantly to Windows apps via your Mac’s Dock.
Parallels 15, launching this month, brings a bevy of new features as well as support for macOS Catalina, which Apple announced back at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The new stuff ticks some boxes for professional and business customers (swapping the graphics engine from OpenGL to Apple Metal, and support for DirectX 11) as well as features power users will love, like support for Keychain, the system Apple uses to make password entry seamless.
In a demo at the Reviews.com offices, I got to check out some features of Parallels 15, and by far the thing I was impressed the most by was support for a new macOS feature called Sidecar. In case you missed it, Apple announced Sidecar for the iPad Pro back in June: Coming in iOS 13 in the fall, Sidecar allows the iPad to act as a secondary monitor for your Mac. It’s a really cool trick, and it even lets you take advantage of the touchscreen on the iPad for Mac apps.
Now imagine the same trick, but with Windows apps. Yeah, it’s a bit silly to marvel at using touch with Windows, something that’s been built into the OS since 2012, but from a worlds-colliding perspective, seeing the Apple Pencil work with Microsoft Paint, complete with pressure sensitivity, is nothing short of remarkable. This was a great thing for Parallels to include for its power users.
Like many software companies, Parallels adopted a subscription model a few years ago. The privilege of toggling from macOS to Windows on the fly will cost you $79.99 a year. If you have an old version of Parallels, though, you can pay just $49.99 to upgrade to the current version and get grandfathered in at a $49.99 annual rate. The Pro version is a $99.99 subscription, which grants access to the Parallels Remote Application Server, a service that works similar to Citrix — where you run Windows on a virtual machine in the cloud.
Remember, though: The Parallels subscription doesn’t include the Windows license you’ll need, a one-time cost that starts at $139 for Windows 10 Home. Add it all up, and it’s a decent amount of cash to run a two-pronged OS, so it’s probably only worth it for Mac users who need certain apps exclusively on Windows.
And those apps could be games. While hardcore PC gamers are probably right to be skeptical of playing a Windows game on a machine that wasn’t designed for it, there are signs of hope: I got a chance to play “The Turing Test,” a first person “shooter” game, via Parallels and there was no relevant lag as far as I could tell. Your mileage might vary depending on the game and your Mac hardware, but if it’s a choice between a not-perfect experience or no experience at all, Parallels will get you on the PC gaming train.
Parallels also has something for those who may not be as interested in running Windows but are power Mac users: Toolbox — a set of features that reduce common actions to a single click. Say you need to resize a batch of images all at once and don’t want to go through the trouble of opening Lightroom: just drag the batch to the Resize Images icon in the Toolbox (which lives in the Mac’s menu bar), and you’re done. Toolbox comes free with Parallels, but you can subscribe to just the Toolbox for $19.99 a year.
Many apps claim to be “cross-platform” these days, but once you start to dig down into specific features, it’s often clear the focus is mostly on one side of the PC/Mac divide. With Parallels, you don’t need to settle for a compromise. For anyone constantly jumping between the two operating systems, Parallels 15 represents a good time to rest their legs and get to work.