Parallels 8 Overview

May 26, 2013

App Overviews, Apple

In the fall of 2007 I pressed the “checkout” button on Apple’s web store for a 21″ iMac which I still use today. Although confident that I had made the right decision, there were two things that scared me a little at the time.

  1. Switching from an Operating System that I knew cold (Windows Xp) to a brand new Operating System (Leopard) that I had very little exposure to at the time.
  2. My potential need to use software that was Windows-only.

Fortunately neither of these proved to be insurmountable issues. Having said that, there are solutions should you find yourself being frustrated by either of points listed above. For issue #1, you just need to spend time using the OS (Mountain Lion is the current iteration). Issue #2 can be easily solved by using Parallels 8. When you install Parallels it gives you the ability to turn your Mac into a Windows PC, a Linux box, and many other types of machines I can promise you or I have never heard of.

So here’s how it works. The first thing you’ll see upon installing Parallels, is this screen which gives you the option to install an Operating System on your Mac. You can see below, there are options to install Windows, Linux, Chrome, and more.

Parallels Install Screen

From here, the Parallels software will pretty much do the rest. It will ask you where you want to install your new OS (you provide a location/folder for the files), and it will guide you through the process. I used the default settings for hard drive space and memory – of course you can change these to best suit your needs.

So what is Parallels doing at this point, how exactly does it work?

Parallels creates a “virtual machine” in the location that you specify. For me, that location was a folder on an external hard drive that I have connected to my Mac via a Firewire 800 cable (basically the same as USB only faster – USB will work okay too). The Operating System that you install (Windows, Linux etc) runs from this location. Think of it this way: let’s say we have a television set with a cable box hooked up to it – that’s our Mac. The TV will work perfectly fine for the rest of it’s life, but the option to feed it more sources is there. Adding a new Operating System to your Mac is kind of like adding a new component like a DVD to your home entertainment system. It won’t affect your current setup, it’ll just take up a bit more room in your cabinet (hard drive).

Once you have an Operating System or two installed on your Mac, you can quickly call them up without the need for a restart or any crazy coding. All you have to do is open Parallels 8 and you will be presented with the following screen. Of course yours will differ based on what Operating Systems you have installed. On my computer, I have Microsoft Windows 8 and Ubuntu.


All that is required from here is a single-click on the Operating System you wish to use. Once you make a selection, Parallels runs the Operating System from the location you specified during the install on what is basically a “virtual computer” (see virtual machine link above). The following screenshot was taken from my computer running Microsoft Excel 2012 from Windows 8.


Windows 8 running on Mac OS Mountain Lion

As you can see from the image above, Parallels doesn’t take over your Mac and turn it into a Windows or Linux machine. The great thing about Parallels is that it runs within your Mac Operating System allowing you to switch quickly between Windows and Mac. There’s even an option within Parallels to copy and paste between the two systems. You can even setup Notification Center in the Mac Operating System to alert you when you have a message in Windows. Oh, and did I mention full screen support is available should you want to invest yourself fully in a session with Windows 8? All you have to do is click the full screen arrow in the top right-hand corner of your Windows window (that sounds odd..).

If you’re so inclined, you can even run TWO operating systems as I’ve done here with Ubuntu and Windows 8.

Windows 8 & Unbuntu Parallels 8

So why would someone require a piece of software like Parallels?

The answer is going to differ from person to person. Some people whether through work or school, require a particular Operating System in order to run software that they need on a daily basis. For example, the database querying software that I use on a daily basis is not supported on an Apple computer. For me personally, the need for Windows/Ubuntu came when I began my new class as school. Since I spend most of my days working with Excel, I find the Office suite of products to be far more user-friendly within Windows. Excel for Mac is okay. Excel for Windows is both more functional and more familiar to me.

Are there any drawbacks?

Not really. Just remember that Parallels creates a “virtual computer” for every Operating System that you install. That means each one will need memory, both in the form of RAM (temporary) and hard drive space. Take my situation for example. My iMac is 6 years old now, so hard drive space is getting a little tough to come by. By installing the virtual machine on an external drive my space issue becomes moot. Unfortunately, there are some performance drawbacks in doing it this way. If you can, go for a local install and skip the use of external drives. Maybe you’ll have better luck on a newer system, but in general, you can’t go wrong with a local install.

Another drawback is that after you’ve paid for Parallels, you’re then on deck to shell out cash for a copy of Windows if you don’t already have one. This can see things get pricey in a hurry.

How’s the performance?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph my computer is a few years old now, and my virtual machines are stored on an external drive. On the whole, performance is good, but things can slow down a bit if I have a lot of programs open and I’m doing a lot at once. I suspect this is more of a moot point on newer machines with local virtual machines.

Generally speaking, would you recommend Parallels?

Absolutely. I found it to be more user friendly than Virtualbox, especially in the realm of graphics and resolution when resizing the display window. Parallels 8 gives you a quick and easy way to run multiple Operating Systems from a single Mac computer. Setup is easy, it’s user friendly, and it let’s you carry on and stay up to date with any Operating System you want/need in your life.

My only gripe with the software was a feature called “Parallels Tools“. I was continuously inundated with requests to update/repair my Parallels tools, and after several efforts to complete the upgrade I gave up.

If you have the need to run software that you can’t find on your Mac – Parallels is well worth it!




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2 Responses to “Parallels 8 Overview”

  1. Mark Says:

    First, this post is exactly the information I was looking for. Second, I have an early 2013 MacBook Pro 13 inch Retina, 3 GHz i7, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB Flash storage. Using Parallels 9, I want to run Windows 7 or 8 (whichever I can get cheaper) on an external hard drive for Quicken and Office purposes. While I don’t consider myself a computer genius, I’m also not completely inept. That being said, I want to make sure I understand exactly what I need to do here. The way I understand it from your post (which has been the clearest I have read thus far), I need to download Parallels 9, hookup my external HDD and cd-rom drive, insert whatever Windows OS I get into the cd-rom, open Parallels and follow the on-screen instructions – choosing to save the Windows OS and all Windows files to the external HDD. Please correct me if any of this is wrong.
    Another question I have is, what kind of external HDD do I need to use? I’m looking at LaCie’s mobile HDD’s – either a LaCie 500GB @ 5400rpm, LaCie 500GB @ 7200rpm, or a LaCie 120GB SSD – all three of these are USB 3.0. It appears to me that either the 120GB SSD or 7200rpm would be the best for speed purposes. Of course it doesn’t have to be LaCie, I’m fine with another brand, I’m more interested in what speed and size are needed. Additionally, will I need to partition the drive? Say 50% Mac – 50% PC? I know Windows 7 needs about 18GB. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for your time.


    • Tech Barber Says:

      Hi Mark,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      It sounds like you have a good idea of how to install Parallels as the steps you mention are correct. In terms of which external hard drive to buy, this is entirely up to you. All of the one’s you mention will work – just keep in mind the higher the drive’s RPM the faster the data access. I don’t have any experience with LaCie so I can’t really comment. Western Digital’s have always worked well for me.

      The drive that you purchase won’t need to be partitioned as you can just save your install to a folder on the drive. I suppose you could partition a section if you wanted to, but I don’t personally see any advantage in doing so.

      Let me know how it works out and good luck!



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