Run Windows With Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac

Windows, Linux, Chrome, and Android Can All Run on Your Mac

Parallels Wizard used for installing guest OS.
Parallels Wizard used for installing guest OS. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac is one of the leading desktop virtualization apps for the Mac. Without too much effort, you can easily run Windows, various flavors of Linux, Unix, Chrome, and Android. You can even run versions of OS X as a guest operating system, allowing you to keep old apps available on your Mac, even when the apps no longer run under the current version of OS X.


  • Parallels Wizard makes installing a guest OS easy.
  • Large choice of pre-configured operating systems available.
  • Runs Windows 10, including the ability to use Cortina.
  • Integrates features of the guest OS and the host (OS X).
  • Can be used to run beta versions of macOS Sierra.
  • Power-saving travel mode for MacBook models.


  • Two out of three versions of Parallels are based on a subscription model.
  • Graphics performance hasn’t seen much improvement over previous versions.
  • Standard version only supports 4 CPU cores and 8 GB of virtual RAM.

When Apple switched from PowerPC processors to Intel, it opened up the possibility to make use of the underlying Intel architecture built in to every Mac to run Windows, not in some complex emulation, but almost directly on the underlying hardware.

Apple provided its own solution in the form of Boot Camp, but while it ran Windows directly on the Mac’s hardware, Boot Camp didn't allow both OS X and Windows to operate simultaneously.

That slight problem with using Boot Camp helped fuel the race to develop a native desktop virtualization app that would allow both the host OS, OS X in this case, and a guest OS, such as Windows or Linux, to run at the same time, without having to restart the Mac to switch between them.

Parallels turned out to be the first company to produce a desktop virtualization app for the Mac, and over the years, the app has gained performance, stability, and maturity, not to mention a lot of features that separate it from other virtualization solutions for the Mac.

Parallels Desktop 11 for the Mac is the latest version, introduced in the summer of 2015 and still going strong.

Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac Features

We're going to be looking at the Standard version of Parallels Desktop 11, as opposed to the Pro or Business versions; the chief differences are the latter two use a subscription model, and remove the artificial limit on the number of CPU cores supported, and the amount of RAM that can be assigned to the guest OS.

I say the limit is artificial because earlier version of Parallels had no such limits, and the limits imposed seem mostly to exist as an artificial barrier to separate the standard version from the subscription versions.

Travel Mode: Improves battery life by reducing or outright shutting down resource-intensive services within the virtual environment to increase battery life. Once your Mac is back on standard power, all features are restored.

You can configure the Travel Mode to meet your own personal needs, such as letting it automatically handle the changeover, and enter Travel Mode when the battery is at a specific level.

Quick Look: If you're used to using the Mac’s Quick Look feature, then you're going to love that Parallels has brought the Mac’s Quick Look capabilities to Windows.

Cortina: Apple is getting ready to bring Siri to the Mac in the fall 2016 release of macOS Sierra. Parallels, on the other hand, brought Cortina, Microsoft’s voice recognition and natural language processing system, to the Mac almost a year earlier, via a Windows guest OS. Because of how Parallels integrates the Mac and the guest OS, you can even use Cortina to launch Mac apps.

Using Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac

Parallels has a lot going for it, and one of the most important features is its easy method of installing a guest OS. If your plans include installing Windows, Linux, Chrome, Android, or even OS X, Parallels has a pre-configured “Appliance,” essentially a premade guest OS environment that can be downloaded and installed with little, if any, tweaking needed before use.

Of course, you can also use the Parallels Wizard to walk through a guest OS install from scratch. Either way, installing a guest OS is a simpler process than with competing desktop virtualization systems.

Once you have a guest OS installed, there are various modes in which the guest OS can be run. You can run the OS full screen, which immerses you in the OS just as if it were running on its own, and not on your Mac. You can choose to run the OS within a window, which lets you freely switch between the Mac OS and the guest OS.

Coherence mode is the ability to run a Windows app as if it were just another Mac app running within its own app window. It’s actually a bit of sleight of hand. Parallels hides the Windows Desktop, and any Windows-related services that may be running, then overlays the Windows app you have launched on top of the Mac desktop, giving the illusion of running a Windows app on your Mac. This is actually a very functional mode to operate in when you're using Windows just to run one or two specific apps you may need, and don’t really care that much about running Windows itself.

Modality is yet another operating mode. It runs the guest OS in a transparent window, letting you see the Mac’s desktop and any apps the Windows desktop may be hiding. This mode can be helpful if you need to rapidly switch back and froth between your Mac apps and Windows apps.

Data sharing is, by my way of thinking, one of the most important features of Parallels. If you've gone to the effort of running a guest OS and its apps on your Mac in a virtual environment, then chances are you need to be able to share files between the two environments.

Normally, at this point you would go through an elaborate process to turn on file sharing, and then get the two different operating systems talking to each other. Or, you can just tell Parallels you wish to share files, and let the virtualization app take care of all the hard work for you. In the end, you end up with an easy-to-use and very transparent way to share information.

Final Thoughts

There's no doubt about it. Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac is the virtualization app that works the best with the Mac. It has a wide range of supported guest OSes; it even allows you to run the Mac OS as a guest, a great way for working with the upcoming macOS Sierra beta.

Parallels is easy to use, and though I gripe about the reduced support for CPU cores and memory, in actuality, the standard edition of Parallels can meet the needs of most users, even with the hardware restrictions.

Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac is available from Amazon.

A demo is available from Parallels.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.