How to Use the Mac Touch Bar with Windows Applications in Parallels Desktop 14

This is part of a series of blog posts about the new features in Parallels Desktop 14.

Last year in Parallels Desktop® 13 for Mac, we added Touch Bar™ support for Windows applications. This proved to be so popular that we increased Touch Bar support in Parallels Desktop 14.

Applications with built-in support

Touch Bar support for some of the most widely used Windows applications is built into Parallels Desktop. In version 14, we increased the number of applications with built-in support. They’re shown in Table 1; bolded ones are new for version 14.

Office 2016 Applications Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Visio, and OneNote. Some have multiple Touch Bar button sets, depending on the context.
Windows 10 Utilities Cortana, Task View, Taskbar, File Open, and Save As
CAD/CAM Applications SketchUp, AutoCAD, and Revit
Popular Applications Quicken, QuickBooks, and Visual Studio
Browsers Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Vivaldi

Table 1: Windows applications with Touch Bar support built into Parallels Desktop 14.

Figures 1 and 2 show the Touch Bar buttons for two of these new applications: Microsoft OneNote and SketchUp, a popular CAD/CAM application.

Figure 1_OneNote Touch Bar

Figure 2_SketchUp Touch Bar

Designing your own Touch Bar button sets for other Windows applications

For other Windows applications, you can design your own set of Touch Bar buttons. There are two ways of doing this: using the Apple® interface for Touch Bar customization, or using the Parallels Desktop method to design a custom set of Touch Bar buttons for a particular application. Each way has its own specific pros and cons.

1. Using the Apple interface

macOS® has an extremely elegant and easy-to-use way of defining a Touch Bar button set. Parallels Desktop 14 gives you access to this with a single menu command, “Customize Touch Bar for (app name)”. Video 1 shows this process for defining some buttons for the Windows Notepad utility. You simply drag the buttons you want down to the Touch Bar:


To achieve this elegance and ease of use, Apple had to sacrifice the power of defining your own buttons. So if the buttons you want are shown in the Apple dialog, great! This is by far the easiest way to get a custom button set. However, if you want other buttons, or if you want the buttons to be differentiated by color or with a unique icon, you will need to use the Parallels Desktop method.

2. Using Parallels Desktop

The Parallels Desktop way is to describe the buttons you want—including their text, color, and size—in XML, and then put the text file with this XML into a special place in your Windows VM. Yes, this is a lot more work than the Apple way—but it gives you a lot more power. My colleague Alex Sursiakov gives you all the details in his excellent blog post on Advanced Touch Bar customization.

Figure 3 shows the XML code I wrote and the result of this code for the Windows utility Notepad++.

Figure 3_XML code and the resulting Touch Bar button set for Notepad++


Figure 4 shows the range of possible Touch Bar button sets that can be built with XML.

Figure 4_Examples of XML-defined Touch Bar button sets

Remember that Touch Bar support like this is a unique feature of Parallels Desktop. If there’s a Mac® application you use that doesn’t have Touch Bar support, there is no way to add a Touch Bar button set for it. If you use some other way to run Windows applications on your Mac (like Boot Camp®), you won’t have Touch Bar support for those applications. However, you can add Touch Bar support for almost all Windows applications that you run on your Mac using Parallels Desktop 14.

Which applications have you defined a custom Touch Bar button set for? Let us know in the comments.

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