Whoever coined the phrase “have your cake and eat it too” was probably an Intel Mac user running Parallels Desktop for Mac. All the ease and beauty of Mac OS X with the ability to run Windows programs as needed in an environment that’s nearly as fast as the “real” thing.
After a long public beta period for Parallels 2.5, SWsoft surprised many Mac users last week with their announcement of Parallels 3.0 after a short private beta. Parallels 2.x users could upgrade sight unseen for $39.95 until June 6, otherwise the upgrade price would be $49.95 (Full version is $79.95). Nowadays, we are so used to having trial software and public betas, that the very thought of paying for an upgrade before having the software in hand made a few nervous. Who was I kidding? I knew I wouldn’t be passing this upgrade by. My money was quickly on the table at the reduced price.
Parallels 3.0 (build 4124) was released to the world today and is available for download. You will need to request a trial activation key if you want to try it out before purchasing, even if you have a previous version installed.
What’s new and interesting for existing users? Plenty.
First of all, if you think that there’s a chance you’ll want to go back to Parallels 2.5 STOP. Back up your virtual machine (VM) first. It’s a good idea to backup your VM regardless, but essential if you want to run Parallels 2.x ever again. When you first go to launch your VM in 3.0, you’ll be greeted by this dialog box:
Be sure that you complete the installation of Parallels Tools (Action -> Install Parallels Tools…) in the VM before doing anything else. Parallels will install additional hardware and 3D drivers, you’ll want to make sure that Parallels Tools is upgraded to match. Don’t let Windows attempt to update drivers. Nastiness may happen. Let Parallels do the work.
By far, the “killer” feature in Parallels 3.0 is Smart Select which unifies file section in both operating systems. In the Preferences window, you can select which operating system is the default for certain web actions, regardless of which operating system is acting on the file:
Unfortunately, this behavior is a little quirky. I clicked on a link in a Word 2003 document and Safari opened the page, even though Firefox is my default OS X browser.
More reliably, right click on a document in either operating system, and you can choose to open that file in an application in the other OS (and set it as the default). Who would have ever dreamed that this was possible before?
In Parallels 2.x, it was easy to navigate your Mac OS X space from within the VM/Windows space. Not too convenient to go in the other direction. Now in Parallels 3.0 you can dig inside your Windows files without launching the VM. Handy if there’s just a document you want to grab or backup without waiting for Windows to boot up. When the VM is running, the drive mounts in Mac OS X and can be explored like any other drive.
Be careful here…looks like you can do some damage to your VM install if you move/delete one of those countless .dll files you shouldn’t touch.
Parallels 3.0 offers “Snapshots” that let you freeze your VM in a point in time. It takes a few seconds to create the snapshot file. Once a Snapshot is created, you can “move” back and forth between different snapshots using an easy-to-navigate dialog box. Handy if you’re about to install something risky.
Version 3.0 promises better USB 2.0 support, and hardware accelerated 3D graphics. It certainly feels faster than the previous version. It’s not the only virtualization game in town, but clearly this is the application to beat.