Windows on the Mac: Parallels vs. VMware Fusion, round 2
Both VMware Fusion 2.0 and Parallels Desktop 4.0 have made strides in bringing the Windows experience to the Mac
A little more than a year ago, I reviewed VMware's Fusion 1.0 and Parallels Desktop 3.0 to see how they stacked up. Since then, both products have undergone major revisions, so I thought I'd see how this horse race is coming along. Both Fusion, now in Version 2.0.1, and Parallels, in Version 4.0, allow you to run another OS -- Windows, Linux, and others -- on your Mac as a guest of OS X. They provide what's called a hypervisor, which can host multiple guest OSes running at the same time.
The most important thing about both of these products is what hasn't changed: Pick either one, and you'll get a solid performer that lets you run Windows or Linux on your Mac. Both systems offer easy Windows install, and both support even the most taxing Windows applications with aplomb. That said, there are differences between them, and depending on your exact needs, you might find one a better choice than the other.
The biggest change in these platforms since my last review is that both vendors have filled in glaring holes. Parallels now supports SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) and 64-bit operating systems. Fusion sports a completely redesigned, Cocoa-native interface and preference pane that makes it a more natural fit in the Mac environment.
[ Parallels' iPhone app and Fusion's vmrun portend new ways to control virtual machines. ]
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I tested both packages on my MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo running OS X 10.5.5). I have 4GB of memory -- abundant RAM is a must-have for a good experience with either product. You'll also need plenty of disk space, since each virtual guest machine you create takes multiple gigabytes of disk space.
Because the integrated experience is an important selling point of Fusion and Parallels, I wrote this review with both Office 2007 on Windows and Office 2008 on the Mac using a single document and shared folders, using both Parallels and Fusion. Both environments provide a way to get to applications on the guest (the virtual machine) from the Mac desktop. In the case of my review, Parallels and Fusion both offered Word 2007 on the "Open with…" menu when I right-clicked the file.
Whether you choose Fusion or Parallels, you won't have a seamless dual-OS experience unless you install the guest tools in the guest system. These tools are a set of device drivers that let the guest OS talk to the virtualized hardware presented by the hypervisor. Much of the integrated experience, not to mention nice features -- such as being able to resize the screen and cut and paste between the guest and your Mac -- depend on them. Both packages make installing the guest tools easy for Windows users and doable for Linux users.