How to Use Parallels’ “Coherence Mode” to Run Windows and Mac Apps Side By Side

Ever wish you could run macOS and Windows software, side by side, arranging windows from each operating system however you like? Thanks to a feature in Parallels called Coherence Mode, which you can use if you’ve set up Parallels to run Windows inside macOS, it’s only a click away.

In Coherence Mode, your virtual Windows desktop will merge with your Mac one, allowing you to arrange windows from the two operating systems side-by-side. You can think of it as a very polished version of VirtualBox’s seamless mode, but it’s more than that: the Parallels’ team laser focus on macOS means there are all sorts of integrations that similar tools wouldn’t even think to offer, like menus for Windows program in the menu bar and compatible keyboard shortcuts. It’s not quite as good as running a native Mac app, but it’s the next best thing.

How to Launch Coherence Mode in Parallels

To get started, you need a Windows virtual machine with Parallels tools installed. Here’s how to set that up if you haven’t already. Open your virtual machine and you’ll see a blue button at the top left of the window, to the right of the usual Mac window buttons.

Click this and your Windows desktop will merge with your macOS one. Programs you have open in Windows run alongside your Mac ones, which is a little weird at first.

There are a few other integrations that make it easy to use everything together. You’ll find a sort of Start menu folder in the dock, making it easy to launch Windows software.

If you prefer the actual Windows start menu, complete with search, simply click the virtual machine’s icon in the dock; the full start menu will launch above your dock.

From here you can search Windows, or access any other functionality of the Windows operating system, all without leaving the macOS desktop.

And the integration goes further: look at the macOS menu bar and you’ll find the Windows tray icons.

Speaking of the menu bar: Windows programs are somewhat integrated with the macOS menu bar, allowing you to do things like Copy and Paste.

It’s a subtle thing, sure, but it makes the Windows applications feel just a little more at home in macOS.

How to Configure Coherence Mode (and Turn Certain Features Off)

If some of these integrations bother you, don’t worry: you can enable and disable most of them. Shut down your virtual machine, then click the gear button next to its name in the Control Center.

Head to the “Applications” section.

Here you’ll find the option to disable the applications folder in the dock and the notification area in the menu bar. This is a matter of taste: some people will like the integrations, and some would prefer to head to the full Windows environment to access things like the tray icons. Happily it’s all up to you.

How to Exit Coherence Mode

Even with these integrations turned off, you might realize that Coherence isn’t for you, at least not constantly. No worries: it’s easy to turn off. Click the Parallels icon in the menu bar, then head to View > Exit Coherence.

Alternatively, you can right-click the virtual machine’s dock icon; you’ll find the same options.

More Than Just Windows

Parallels is mostly designed to make running Windows programs on Mac simpler, but Windows isn’t the only trick it can pull: Linux virtual machines also work well. Such machines even support Coherence, once Parallels Tools is installed. Here’s how that looks with Ubuntu.

The integrations aren’t quite as strong: a good chunk of the Ubuntu UI comes over wholesale, rather than finding a niche in the macOS dock and menu bar. But software runs, making it just a little easier to run Linux software alongside macOS apps.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.