NEW YORK—Siri is making the jump to the new Apple TV, but Apple’s voice-driven digital assistant still lacks a presence on Macintosh computers running OS X, including the latest version of the operating system El Capitan.
So on my MacBook Air, I summoned Cortana instead.
You’re familiar with Microsoft’s own chatty digital assistant if you have a Windows Phone or a Windows 10 computer.
But Cortana on a Mac?
Her appearance is made possible through Parallels Desktop 11 software, the latest version of the company’s “virtualization” software. Parallels lets me run Windows 10—and by extension Cortana–on my Air, and it worked at the same time I was running OS X, whether in Yosemite or El Capitan.
As on any Windows 10 computer, I summoned her by barking out a “Hey Cortana” command.
I also used Parallels on the Air to run the Windows version of Quicken finance software, to use the new Windows 10 Microsoft Edge browser, and to run other Windows programs on the Mac.
Parallels lets you display Windows 10 full-screen on your Mac. Or you can run Windows apps and functions as if they were part of the Mac interface, a feature known as Coherence.
Virtualization isn’t new, and Parallels and its chief rival VMware, through its Fusion software, have been at this for awhile.
A brief explainer: Think of virtualization as the ability to run Windows or other “guest” operating systems such as Linux or Chrome as virtual machines that largely behave as if they’re stand-alone computers. If you have ample space on your Mac, you can run multiple virtual operating systems simultaneously, even two different versions of OS X (say Yosemite and El Capitan).
If you’re wondering why you’d choose Parallels instead of just using the Boot Camp software that is included with Mac OS X to run Windows, the answer is simple—with Boot Camp you must boot up to Windows or OS X separately, and must boot up again to switch among them. And you can’t run both operating systems at the same time.
A few things to keep in mind: In setting up Parallels, you’ll have to to supply your own full version of Windows 10 (or download the software), along with an activation code that tells Microsoft your copy is legit.
Once Parallels is installed on your Mac and you connect a new external device, a phone say, you’ll have the option to “assign” the device to the Windows or the Mac side.
On this new version of Parallels, you can take advantage of the Mac’s “Quick Look” feature to view Windows files without actually opening those files. This works whether you’re in OS X or the virtualized Windows environment. You can also get to the Windows 10 Action Center from the Mac’s taskbar. And if you so choose, you can open any Mac file in Windows.
I did run into some snags. At times I received low memory warnings in Windows. I also had some problems printing, and only got it to work after some technical assistance over the phone from a Moscow-based Parallels engineer. And Parallels generally can get a bit dense at time, with complicated features and controls aimed at more technically astute customers.
New buyers pay $79.99 for Parallels 11. If you own versions 9 or 10, you can upgrade for $49.99. And you’ll need to upgrade if you want Parallels to be compatible with Windows 10.
Meantime, Parallels is introducing $99.99 annual subscription pricing for more advanced business or professional versions, but that may be overkill for most consumers.
As for Siri, I’d still welcome her debut on the Mac. But for now thanks to Parallels, Cortana makes a fine stand in.
The bottom line
Parallels Desktop 11
$79.99 or $99.99 for annual subscription with more advanced features.
Pro. Lets you run a virtualized version of Windows 10 on a Mac. Through Coherence you can run Windows apps as if they’re part of the Mac.
Con. Ran into some technical snags with printing. Some of the features can get geeky. You must supply your own copy of Windows.
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