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Parallels preps major update to Windows virtualization software

Parallel, Inc. is preparing to make a quantum leap in the art of Windows virtualization software for the Mac with a new version of its Parallels Desktop software that will introduce a refined user interface and greater support for Apple Computer's Boot Camp software.

A beta of the upcoming release, distributed to testers this week, packs a completely redesigned interface for windows and dialogs, making them even easier to manage and more appealing to the eye.

Another major enhancement in the new version —labeled Parallels Desktop for Mac Beta Build 3036 —will allow a pre-installed Apple Boot Camp partition with Windows XP to be used as a virtual hard disk drive. Users of the software will be able to boot from that Boot Camp partition directly from within Parallels Desktop, forgoing a restart.

Build 3036 will also allow the main Parallels Desktop window to be resized like any other Mac application window and the Windows interface will instantaneously auto-adjust its screen resolution to match the new window size.

Another long awaited feature slated to make its debut is "seamless drag-and-drop" of files and folders between Windows and Max OS X. Along the same lines, a feature called "coherency," will display Windows applications as if they were Mac ones.

"Try it and enjoy best of both worlds truly at the same time," Parallels told testers in a set of release notes accompanying the beta build. "No more switching between Windows to Mac OS. "

Also near completion is a feature that will cater to users having more than one virtual machine (VM), making each of them "available through centralized VM catalogue which appears on each Parallels Desktop for Mac instance start."

Parallels told testers the latest builds of the virtualization software improve graphics performance by up to 50 percent on different applications. Meanwhile, improved USB compatibility will do away with the annoying "wait 5-10 seconds" message that typically appears when connecting a USB device to Parallels Desktop.

The software's networking capabilities are also receiving a significant boost, with on-the-fly switching between network modes while the VM is running and support for up to five virtual network interfaces. Similarly, users will also be able to run Cisco VPN and many other complicated networking applications in conjunction with Connection Sharing Mode.

Other new features included in build 3036 include one-click virtual machine aliases, transparent mapping of command-AZXCV key combinations, shared folder configuration on-the-fly, drag-and-drop of CD/FDD images and folders, and some new eye-catching animations that coincide with Power On/Power Off/Suspend/Resume/Pause functions.

Additionally, Parallels said its adding a "Transporter Beta bundled" in the new version that will help users migrate their Windows PC, VMware or Virtual PC VMs to Parallels virtual machines.

The Renton, Wash.-based company said build 3036 will be a free update to the current version of the software.