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
Both products performed well on the basics, so I decided to dig into some of the corners where virtualization products have typically lagged to see how they stacked up.
Preserving a true Windows experience
In previous versions of both Parallels and Fusion, I had trouble getting printing to work. There are some improvements in these new versions, and I'm happy to report both print reliably, although Fusion has the upper hand. VMware has supplied virtual print drivers that act as shims between the Windows environment and the Mac printer drivers. There's almost nothing to do. You enable the printer and print. Fusion uses the drivers already installed in OS X to do the work.
In Parallels Desktop, on the other hand, the printer shows up as a parallel port. You then have to go through the usual process of finding a driver that matches the printer, installing one if it isn't available, then setting up the printer. In short, Parallels does too good a job of preserving the true Windows experience.
Entering the 3-D world
One of the places where both products claim improvements upon earlier versions is 3-D graphics. I ran a few programs that make use of 3-D graphics and DirectX to see how they fared. I also ran these same programs on a ThinkPad T60 just to make sure I knew how they ought to look in physical hardware with a stock video card.
The first program I tried was Microsoft's World Wide Telescope (WWT). This exactly is the kind of program a Mac user might want to run inside a virtualized environment because it's very cool and available only on Windows. WWT on Fusion was usable, but barely; there were artifacts and annoying jitters. On Parallels, WWT just flickered incessantly and was completely unusable.
The second program I tried was Microsoft Flight Simulator. Based on the results of the WWT test, I expected an epic fail, but it actually worked pretty well on both platforms. Both even recognized my USB joystick when I plugged it in without any fanfare. The only hiccup was when Fusion's auto-protect decided to interrupt my landing at Provo Municipal to save a snapshot. Apparently, it doesn't interpret input on the joystick as an indication that someone's using the machine.
People who want to run PC games on their Mac typically use Apple's Boot Camp. My conclusion is that's still a good idea. While Flight Simulator ran on Fusion and Parallels, the experience is better in Boot Camp. Even the occasional drop into WWT isn't very useful on either of these virtualization platforms yet.