Parallels' virtual machine software for Intel Macs -- previously known as Workstation -- has been rechristened Parallels Desktop, and developer is now offering a Release Candidate (RC) version for users enrolled in the beta program.

Parallels Desktop enables Intel-based Macs to run Windows and other operating systems designed for use with Intel PCs. It works differently from Apple's Boot Camp software because it does not require you to restart your Mac -- instead, the operating system works within a window on your Mac OS X desktop.

Although not quite as fast as running Windows XP natively, Parallels Desktop does provide considerably faster performance than a PC emulator, because it's operating a "virtual machine" by leveraging hardware built into the Intel chip. You can have multiple virtual machines with different operating systems all working at once, bound only by your Mac's RAM and CPU performance.

Parallels spokesman Benjamin Rudolph recently explained the company's decision to rebrand the software in his blog.

"As you probably know, 'Workstation' is a very Windows-centric term, and we received a lot of comments from our users stating that since we've got a great Mac product, we should make it look and sound like a Mac product," wrote Rudolph. "We listened, and the result is 'Parallels Desktop for Mac'. We're really pleased with the new name, and we hope that you are, too."

Parallels has made a number of changes since the previous beta release, including a new interface, improved performance and stability, better USB support, improved networking and sound support, better fullscreen operation, an uninstaller, and other features.

Rudolph admits there's still some work to do -- Parallels is ironing out some issues related to instability with some USB devices and a hanging bug associated with the installation of FreeBSD 5.4.

Parallels Desktop for Mac costs $39.99 (around £22) to pre-order. System requirements call for any Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X v10.4.4 or later.