InfoWorld review: Desktop virtualization for Windows and Linux heats up
VMware Workstation 7 is still king for developers and techs, but innovative VirtualBox 3.1 and easy-to-use Parallels Desktop 4 gain ground
The subsequent availability of Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac once again puts the Windows version behind its favored sibling in terms of functionality. For example, while the Mac version supports popular features such as Windows Aero Glass, the Windows version is still stuck running the Aero Basic theme, which puts it at a competitive disadvantage to VMware Workstation 7.
Fortunately, Parallels 4 still has enough redeeming features to stand on its own. For example, you can now create virtual machines with up to 8 virtual CPUs and 8GB of RAM. Automated installation scripts (similar to VMware's Easy Install mechanism) now take the pain out of installing and configuring new Windows-based VMs. And an improved snapshot feature makes it possible to set up timed snapshots of a VM's state -- useful for rolling back changes or repairing a VM after a crash or malware incident.
[ Parallels Workstation 4 Extreme's support of Intel's Virtualization Technology for Direct I/O on Nehalem-based workstations delivers near native performance for graphics, disk, and network I/O. Read the review. ]
Another useful feature is the ability to save a cloned image of a VM as a template that can be reused as the basis for new VMs. This is handy when you need to create a number of VMs with similar baseline configurations and want to avoid the repetitive installation steps common to each VM.
Based on the nature of these new features, it seems clear that Parallels was targeting VMware Workstation for Windows with this new release. The Easy Install clone, timed snapshots, and templates are all responses to features that are present in VMware Workstation. And while they serve to bring Parallels closer to parity with previous versions of Workstation, the reality is that VMware Workstation is itself a moving target.
Yes, Parallels Desktop for Windows now supports more virtual CPUs per VM than VMware Workstation, but it makes no distinction between discrete processors or cores, and Parallels also requires a system with hardware virtualization support in order to run its VMs. (VMware and VirtualBox support both hardware virtualization and legacy binary translation, allowing them to run on systems lacking Intel or AMD hardware-assisted virtualization technology.) And while Parallels Desktop now has a timed snapshot feature, it's not as granular or as sophisticated as VMware's pioneering Replay function, which has been a staple of Workstation since version 6.
Overall, Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Windows and Linux is a solid product for customers in need of a traditional desktop virtualization solution. It's fast, easy to use, and great for those who need to run multiple operating systems. The problem is, almost nobody is looking for such a solution anymore -- at least, not on the Windows platform. Unlike with the Mac, where virtualization is essentially a lifeline technology, on Windows it's more of a niche application, a stopgap measure for legacy compatibility.
So while VMware focuses its energies on lucrative vertical markets, Parallels seems stuck looking at the world through the prism of Mac OS X. And as with most things hailing from within the Apple Reality Distortion Field (RDF), Parallels' perception of what Windows users want (and are willing to pay for) is clouded by too much fruit in the diet.
|VMware Workstation 7||Parallels Desktop 4 for Windows and Linux||Sun VirtualBox 3.1|
|64-bit Windows and Linux support||Host and guest||Host and guest||Host and guest|
|Max virtual CPUs||4||8||32|
|Max RAM per VM||32GB||8GB||16GB|
|Windows Aero 3D support||Aero Glass||Aero Basic||None|
|Host support||Windows, Linux||Windows, Linux||Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris|
|Cost||$189 per seat||$79.99 per seat||Free for personal use with open source version available|