There was once a product that allowed a Mac to run a massive variety of x86 and x86-64 operating systems harmlessly; It was called Parallels Desktop. Over the years Parallels enhanced the functionality of their product with the subscription only Parallels Desktop Pro which introduced powerful (although incomplete) command line tools, and the ability to run headless virtual machines as background services; particularly useful for server systems or Remote Desktop services (although you need to provide the Remote Desktop software within the guest system).
As the years went by Parallels worked tirelessly to provide the latest integration of the most horrible Windows features with the highlight being Cortana! Parallels also made sure that you knew their product is fully integrated into your Mac with harassing third party software trial prompts, additional Parallels software to mess-up your screen (Parallels Access), and a toolbox that reproduces functionality already present in macOS (Parallels Tools). Parallels wanted you to know that when your Mac could open up a file just fine, that it could hijack the file association and launch Windows instead so that the simple media file you were trying to open is transformed into a spectacular experience of your CPU burning, disk grinding and helping to heat your workspace.
In current times Parallels tell you that you can run a variety of systems on your Mac and not just Windows!, I have yet to satisfactorily work with a Linux system on Parallels without suffering network, display and and other serious faults. I tried to run a supposedly supported version of FreeBSD on Parallels and the less said about that the better, and don’t get me started on Android x86 which is offered within Parallels as a downloadable appliance!
Thankfully Apple have nudged me away from Parallels by first recommending the use of an appliance called NetSUSLP supplied in ova format, and the transition to a new architecture encouraging me to acquire some x86-64 hardware and operating systems for legacy support. Thanks to all this my iMac is now a Parallels free zone!
A Beautiful Solution!
Oracle VM VirtualBox is a marvellous solution to replace Parallels Desktop Pro which actually does what it claims to do!
Here’s a simple calculation: Parallels Desktop Pro (the closest equivalent to VirtualBox) costing only £79.99 per year! year after year after year! Now let’s compare that with VirtualBox costing £0.00 forever! ever and ever! with no activation server limiting the products usefulness for the future on older hardware!
Which is better value?
Let’s be fair to Parallels Desktop by pointing out that Windows DirectX acceleration is far better supported here, just as is true of VMware solutions. Back to VirtualBox and the diversity of actual working guest operating systems in phenomenal. Do you want to run MS-DOS 6.22 and some obscure utility on Windows 16-bit? with VirtualBox you can, with Parallels your Mac may start smoking! What about a graphical FreeBSD setup? again VirtualBox will do this beautifully whilst Parallels makes just booting FreeBSD a nightmare! Do you need to run Windows 11? VirtualBox can do that with respectable performance.
VirtualBox only supports macOS hosts up-to macOS Catalina inclusive (which I actually have a use case for involving an old Mac mini Server), but thanks to VBoxHeadless you don’t actually need to run it on a modern Mac. With the flexibility that ViirtualBox offers you can install it on a desktop system like Windows 10, or your favourite Linux desktop, but you can also install it on a headless server with no GUI and serve desktops to Mac’s running a simple app like Microsoft Remote Desktop.
How I Use VirtualBox
I have a variety of hardware in the Macintosh Rescue network including an old HP z240 Workstation running Windows 10, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Proliant Microserver Gen10Plus running Red Hat Enterprise Linux (no GUI) , and a 2012 Mac mini Server running macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Because of license restrictions from Apple relating to virtualisation I run VirtualBox on the old Mac mini with Mac OS X Server Leopard, and macOS High Sierra Server as guests, plus I have access to some other OS X guests which I can interact with through screen sharing or ARD on my Mac or iPad.
Because VirtualBox has that special price tag I also run it on my HPE Xeon powered server where I have a library of Linux systems, and a Windows 10 installation for use with Swift cross platform development, and a permanent server instance of NetSUSLP. I use the free Oracle extension pack with VirtualBox to make these virtual machines available to my Mac’s and iPad with vrdp (Virtual Remote Desktop Protocol) which enables me to have a graphical Linux workstation available at all times with no need to stress my iMac with Parallels.
Again encouraged by the price tag I run VirtualBox on my headless HP Workstation so that I have a legacy Windows XP system, a FreeBSD graphical system, an Android system and a Linux Desktop system (Ubuntu) available, and I can easily connect USB devices to the virtual machines to make restoration and system installation media, or BIOS flash disks.
If you have an x86-64 device spare with practically any operating system consider installing VirtualBox on that, and enjoy using your Mac as a Mac connecting to the virtual machines ‘when you choose!’ This will probably be a much more satisfactory experience than suffering the misery of Parallels and their hellish support system which you would have to use regularly due to faults with the software.
Another alternative for your x86-64 virtualiser is something like Xen or KVM, however they don’t offer the same level of support for antiquated or less commonly used operating systems, but they offer exceptional performance for modern guests.
I hope this guide encourages you not to waste money on Parallels Desktop,