Mac virtualization face-off: VMware Fusion 5 vs. Parallels Desktop 8
Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion support are promoted but existed in previous versions. So what else is new?Follow @MobileGalen
The shortcuts are not consistent, so using them is more hassle than just sticking to the mouse. For example, on a PC, Windows-C opens the charms bar and Windows-D switches to the Windows Desktop. In Fusion, you use Command-Shift-C for the charms bar and Command-D for the Windows Desktop. Some shortcuts add Shift if there's an existing Mac shortcut that would conflict, while others do not; it's a guessing game as to whether to hold Shift (and holding Shift when it's not required doesn't work). The right approach would be to use a consistent modifier-key combination to represent the Windows key.
Also, I was very disappointed to discover that I could not use Apple's gesture-capable hardware in the Windows 8 VM. Sure, you can perform mouse actions on a Magic Trackpad, Magic Mouse, or built-in MacBook trackpad, but Fusion 4 allowed the same. What you can't do is use the pinch and expand gestures, the rotate gestures, or any of the other gestures that the Apple hardware is designed for (and that work in OS X Mountain Lion) and that Windows 8 supports.
As an application, Fusion 5 works with a few native OS X Mountain Lion features, such as better supporting Launchpad for access to Windows applications and passing notifications in the guest OS to Mountain Lion's new Notifications Center. However, these are minor conveniences not worth $50.
Fusion 5 promises to run some Windows-only USB and Bluetooth hardware not supported by the Mac and to make them accessible to the OS X host. I have no such hardware to test whether this feature works as advertised, but this capability might be handy in Windows-dominated workplaces that use Windows-only peripherals -- which I suspect is a small number.
Oddly, the $50 upgrade nets you Fusion 5 Professional -- there is no upgrade to the standard edition. Professional adds the ability to create locked-down VMs for BYOD scenarios, the ability to configure private networks, the ability to import OVF virtual machines, and support for Perl-based scripting. These features may be handy to IT organizations and developers, but will be superfluous to most users.
All in all, Fusion 5 feels like VMware trying to get another $50 from excited users who assume wrongly that the new OS X and Windows require a new virtualization product -- they don't. It should have been a free upgrade.
If you spring for Fusion 5, be sure to install the 5.01 patch to solve some performance problems in the 5.0 version.
Parallels Desktop 8: Overpriced upgrade with few useful additions
As with VMware Fusion 5, the big selling point of Parallels Desktop 8 is already offered in the previous version: support for OS X Mountain Lion and Windows 8 VMs. Installing Windows 8 in Parallels Desktop 8 is no different than installing any version of Windows -- no subterfuge needed as in Parallels Desktop 7. But Parallels Desktop 8 does introduce an annoyance in installing Windows: The installer runs in a small window you can't resize, so it's extremely difficult to read and follow the prompts.
Parallels has also revamped the creation of OS X Mountain Lion VMs, but the change is for the better. The process for installing OS X Mountain Lion in Parallels Desktop 7 is a pain, requiring you to extract the InstallESD file from the Mountain Lion installer package -- which most users don't know how to do, even though it's easy -- as opposed to simply pointing to the installer itself as you'd expect. Parallels Desktop 8 doesn't require this contortion to install OS X Mountain Lion.
Once you've installed OS X Mountain Lion in Parallels Desktop 8, you'll find no real difference from running it in Parallels Desktop 7. Likewise, running Windows 8 in Parallels Desktop 8 is mostly like running it in Parallels Desktop 7.