November 17, 2011, 2:30 PM — Parallels Desktop 7 is the latest release of Parallels' virtualization program, which allows users to run Windows, Linux, and now even OS X Lion directly within Mac OS X. Since Macworld last reviewed Parallels Desktop 5, the program has acquired an updated interface along with a slew of performance improvements and new features. Among the latter, there's a simplified window for configuring virtual machines, support for Lion's full screen mode, Launchpad integration, an in-app store for purchasing Windows and other programs, the ability to use iSight (and other) webcams within Windows clients, improved virtual printing, and more.
Parallels installs quickly and requires no real intervention from you; it even checks for updated versions during the installation process. You choose to install the application wherever you like; it doesn't have to live in your Applications folder. You must activate Parallels Desktop (by entering your serial number) the first time you run it. Parallels presently requires one license per computer, so if you use both a desktop and laptop Mac, for instance, you'll need to buy two copies of the program.
After activating, a new Parallels Wizard window appears. It focuses on helping you install Windows from a variety of sources. You can also install Mac OS X Lion (if your Mac is running Lion) from the wizard, import an existing virtual machine, and visit the Parallels Convenience Store, where you can buy a variety of operating systems and apps that run on them.
Parallels also makes it simple to install Chrome, Fedora, and Ubuntu operating systems: You can download ready-to-go versions of them from within Parallels, and they then auto-install themselves. It really doesn't get much easier.
If you want an operating system that doesn't enjoy such explicit support in Parallels itself, you can still create a virtual machine for it yourself; counterintuitively, you start with the Install Windows from DVD or Image File option, then use the installation file (.iso, typically) for whatever operating system you want to install. There should be a more obvious way to do it.