Parallels Desktop for Mac is the best tool on the market for running Windows on any Intel-based Macintosh. Windows users are not going to believe us, but it's true. Parallels Desktop for Mac runs Windows even faster on Intel MacBook Pros than it does on comparable PC hardware. Update: Parallels Desktop 3.0 - run Vista on a Mac

Our two Windows XP Pro on Macintosh installations run great. One is a year old, which is about how long Parallels has been available either in beta or release form - and both have lots of software installed on them.

The single best feature in Parallels 2.5 (Build 3188), which sells for $79.99 in the US and was released on 27 February, is something the company calls Coherence. We're not sure we like the name, but we love what it does. Coherence makes Windows apps look for all the world like they're running on your Mac. They're not, of course; they're running on your Parallels virtualised Windows installation.

Some people reading this are already sceptical. But let us tell you, Parallels delivered on this one. You can switch into Coherence mode whenever you want. We have it set up to do this when we press Ctrl, Spacebar. Once in Coherence, the Windows desktop disappears entirely. Your Windows apps have program stubs in the Dock whenever they're running. By default, the Windows taskbar and Start button appear along the bottom of your Mac desktop, which lets you launch other Windows programs and switch among running apps. Your Mac programs resize their windows automatically to accommodate the taskbar. (Or you can use Windows' settings to make the taskbar disappear unless you point at it, whereupon it rolls over your existing app windows.)

We frequently have Internet Explorer 6.0, for example, running on Windows XP in Coherence mode when working on a Mac. Windows apps running in this way look and act much like any of your Mac program windows. You stop even thinking of them so much as Windows apps or Mac apps. They're just your apps.

Parallels has thought of all the little things. If you're an Expose fan, for example, you'll find that your Windows apps running in Coherence mode act exactly as your Mac apps when you press F11 or trigger Expose in your preferred way.

Someday we hope the Mac will be able to accept Windows app installations and run them on its own. Until then, Coherence is as close as it gets, and that's okay because the user experience is excellent.

For those of you who just want to work in Windows, Parallels does that well, too. By pressing a key combination (we use Command, Spacebar), you can toggle back and forth between your Mac desktop and your Windows desktop. Parallels offers a rotating 3-D cube effect - and other transition effects - to animate the change between desktops. It's quite easy to work in both desktops at once, moving back and forth. You can also minimise the Windows desktop to the Dock if you prefer.

Click here to read the second part of our review of Parallels Desktop for Mac 2.5, which covers hardware support, Windows Vista and the (few) concerns we had with Parallels Desktop.

Parallels Desktop for Mac 2.5: Specs

  • Windows support tool for Intel Macs
  • Windows support tool for Intel Macs

OUR VERDICT

This product is absolutely an essential tool for Mac users who have the need to access Windows applications. It provides several ways to do that, and it works exceedingly well. Parallels for Desktop 2.5 is on our A-list of Mac apps. If you're running an Intel Mac, you have to grab Parallels. Without it, you're just not getting the most mileage out of your Mac. This is a must-have product.

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