Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac takes Windows to macOS Big Sur

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Running Windows on a Mac with Parallels Desktop just got better. Again.
Running Windows on a Mac just got better. Again.
Image: Parallels

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac launched Tuesday, bringing new features and performance enhancements that mean the virtualization software delivers the “ultimate Windows-on-Mac experience,” the company said.

The update also preps the popular software for the upcoming release of macOS Big Sur. That required a major effort from Parallels’ engineers.

“We had to re-engineer all of the (kernel extensions) that we would need from scratch to work with the new macOS kext that’s integrated into the product,” said John Uppendahl, Parallels’ VP of global communications, during an online briefing about the software. “And to give you context, that alone took 25 man-years of engineering work.”

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That laid the groundwork for Parallels running on macOS Big Sur, which will bring big changes to Macs this fall.

“On macOS Big Sur, Parallels Desktop 16 uses native macOS system extensions instead of deprecated kernel extensions by default,” Uppendahl said. (While Apple showed Parallels Desktop running a Linux virtual machine on a Mac powered by Apple Silicon at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Uppendahl said he could not comment further on the subject.)

New features, performance boost

As usual, the new version of Parallels brings performance improvements.

“The innovative new features in Parallels Desktop 16 include the world’s first support for Metal applications with 3D capabilities running in a macOS Big Sur virtual machine on a macOS Big Sur host,” said Nick Dobrovolskiy, Parallels’ senior VP of engineering and support, in a press release. “Performance improvements include launching twice as fast, up to 20% faster Windows resume and shutdown, faster DirectX and more.”

And, while Parallels says its users currently run more than 200,000 Windows applications, the new version makes the virtualization software work with even more. The specialized 3D software demoed during the briefing operated smoothly.

The new (old) way to run Windows on Mac

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac comes in three editions, all with different features: Standard Edition, Pro Edition and Business Edition. All are available Tuesday. (The differences are arcane. See press release highlights below if you want to know more.)

Pricing is somewhat complicated as well. A new perpetual license to the Standard Edition costs $99.99. An upgrade for a perpetual license costs $49.99. A new subscription costs $79.99 per year. For the Pro Edition, a new sub costs $99.99 per year and an upgrade costs $49.99 per year. A Business Edition sub costs $99.99 per year. Parallels Desktop subscriptions come with Parallels Toolbox (a suite of helpful apps for both Mac and Windows) and remote desktop app Parallels Access.

A version is available in the App Store, but its features have been constrained to meet Apple’s restrictions.

Buy from: Parallels (free trials are available)

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac press release highlights

New feature highlights:

• DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3: Up to 20 percent faster DirectX 11 and improved OpenGL 3 graphics in Windows and Linux.
• Increased battery life: Stay productive on the go with up to 10 percent longer battery life when Windows runs in Travel Mode.
• Automatically reclaim disk space: Virtual machines (VMs) can be set to automatically return unused disk space when shutting down.
• New multi-touch gestures for Windows apps: Use smooth zoom and rotate Trackpad multi-touch gestures in Windows apps.
• Enhanced printing: Print on both sides and use more paper sizes, from A0 to envelope.

Key new features in Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac Pro Edition

• CPUs and RAM: Assign up to 32 vCPUs and 128 GB vRAM for each VM.
• Microsoft Visual Studio plug-in: Visual Studio integration simplifies testing applications
across operating systems.
• Create and name custom networks (new): Name your custom networks for more
organized and productive testing.
• Nested Virtualization: Run and test Microsoft Hyper-V based virtual machines in your
Parallels Desktop virtual machine.
• Command Line: Rich command line interface (prlctl and prlsrvctl) allows flexible work
automatization.
• Vagrant, Docker, and Jenkins Plugins: Complimentary Vagrant, Docker and Jenkins
plugins/providers for developers.
• Linked Clones: Make a new VM from a snapshot of the exiting VM. The linked clone
occupies only a fraction of disk space that is used by the parent VM, as it reuses disk sectors
that are the same for both VMs.
• Archive a VM right in Control Center: Pro users tend to have many virtual machines which
occupy a lot of disk space. In-place archive right from Parallels Desktop Control Center, with
the ability to manage the configuration of an archived VM, brings unique convenience.
• Prepare for transfer (new): Export a VM in a compressed format as a solid file for easier
and faster upload and transfer to new hardware.
• 50+ features: More than 50 useful and time-saving features are included in the Pro Edition.

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac Business Edition

New Parallels Desktop 16 Business Edition features, which are in addition to all Pro Edition features, include:

• Corporate VM provisioning: Easily configure VMs with preinstalled applications to upload and host for employees to securely download and run on their Mac devices.
• Upgrade control: Centralized administration provides flexible controls to manage access to new Parallels Desktop updates, new feature releases, upgrades and new macOS releases.
• Passwordless update: Administrator credentials are no longer required for Parallels Desktop updates, making it easier for IT and users to keep it current even when users are not admins on their Mac devices.
• Easy installation on macOS Big Sur: Parallels Desktop installation on macOS Big Sur does NOT require approval of system extension, so installation is fast, seamless and does not require rebooting your Mac.