InfoWorld review: Windows on the Mac

Parallels Desktop 5 and VMware Fusion 3 get faster, smarter, and optimized for Windows 7, while Sun’s VirtualBox 3.1 lags behind

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Graphic performance in Seamless mode can be a bit unresponsive, and it was a bit jerky when dragging windows around. And this is without Windows' hardware-hungry Aero feature, which VirtualBox doesn't support.

For Mac Pro users with eight processor cores, VirtualBox 3.1 enables users to assign up to 32 virtual processors to a single virtual machine, compared to 4 for VMware Fusion 3 and 2 for Parallels Desktop. Assigning multiple virtual CPUs makes a virtual machine run faster. But because you can't assign more virtual CPUs than the number of real processing cores, most Mac users can't take advantage of this feature. For all Macs except the Mac Pro and the Xserve, 2 virtual CPUs is the most you can assign to a single virtual machine in any of these virtualization products. With VirtualBox, when I tried to assign more than one virtual processor to a virtual machine on a dual-core MacBook Pro, a message stated that the setting is "non-optimal."

With Version 3.1, Sun added a unique feature called Teleportation. This is the ability to copy a virtual machine from one computer to another while the virtual machine is running, regardless of whether the host is a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC. It's an interesting technology that could be useful in enterprise situations, but the average Mac user is not likely to ever work with it.

VirtualBox's most compelling feature is its price: free. If you only need to run Windows XP or don't care about 3-D graphics, and you don't mind not having the Mac OS X integration features, VirtualBox 3.1 will work. But with list prices of $80, Parallels Desktop 5 and VMware Fusion 3 don't exactly break the bank.

Windows (and Linux, etc.) on your Intel-based Mac

Cost Guest Support Pros Cons
Parallels Desktop 5 $79.99; $49.99 upgrade Supports 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, Windows Server, Linux, *BSD, Solaris, and other guests, including Mac OS X Server (see details)
  • Best overall performance
  • Most extensive integration with Mac OS X GUI
  • Supports Windows 7 Aero 3D
  • Supports OpenGL 2.1, Compiz interface on Linux
  • Installing Mac OS X Server and importing Mac OS X Server VM were problematic
  • Uses some Mac OS X effects in non-standard, gratuitous ways
Sun VirtualBox 3.1 Free; enterprise licenses available Supports 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, Windows Server, Linux, *BSD, Solaris, and other guests, but not Mac OS X Server (see details)
  • Solid virtualization with broad guest support at no cost
  • Allows Mac Pro and Xserve users to assign multiple virtual CPUs to individual VMs
  • Lacks Mac OS X integration and interface niceties of Fusion and Parallels
  • No support for Windows 7 Aero 3D
  • No support for Mac OS X Server
VMware Fusion 3 $79.99, or $99.99 with 12-month subscription; $39.99 upgrade, or $59.99 with 12-month subscription Supports 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, Windows Server, Linux, *BSD, Solaris, and other guests, including Mac OS X Server (see details)
  • Provides best support of Mac OS X Server
  • Extensive integration with Mac OS X GUI, and other useful interface features
  • Supports Windows 7 Aero 3D
  • Handy virtual machine library
  • Sometimes stumbled on graphics-intensive tasks

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This story, "InfoWorld review: Windows on the Mac," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in WindowsMac, and virtualization at InfoWorld.com.

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