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
Many people come to the Mac with an existing Windows machine that they'd love to keep using. To make this easy, both products include a tool for converting a physical machine into a virtual machine, known as a P2V conversion. The VMware product is called Converter. Using it entails downloading it to the Windows machine from the VMware site, then using a helpful wizard to configure the conversion. A few things confused me: First, the tool defaults to creating guests for VMware's enterprise product ESX. Second, when you select the type of guest VM to create, Fusion 2.0 isn't listed. I correctly guessed that the Fusion 1.x option would work, but less technical users might balk at that point.
The conversion took one hour and 20 minutes and worked flawlessly, but there were quite a few little details to get right. For example, the virtual machine that Converter creates isn't directly usable by Fusion; you have to create a new virtual machine from the disk image that Converter created. VMware provides a video that walks you through the process; I recommend you watch it before using Converter. Be sure to have a large USB drive on hand to write the guest images on to. You don't want to store the new guest back to the drive you're cloning.
In Desktop, the process is easier. Parallels offers an agent you can install on the machine to be converted; both Windows and Linux agents are available. Then a tool called the Parallels Transporter runs on your Mac and migrates the machine over the network or a FireWire cable. (Unfortunately, USB isn't supported yet.) This takes some time, since you're moving gigabytes of data around, but the result is a new, bootable guest. Of the two approaches, I found Parallels' to be the cleanest and easiest to use. There are fewer steps, and it just works like you'd expect.
Good news for switchers
When I run Parallels or Fusion on my Mac, I'm usually running Linux. That's not typical; the target of both platforms is Windows users. While both do an admirable job of running Linux, their most impressive features are aimed at Windows users.
If you're someone who needs to run one or two Windows applications all the time, you'll be a big fan of the way these platforms integrate the Windows and Mac experience. Coherence, in Parallels, and Unity, in Fusion, let Windows application windows run inside the native Mac Desktop -- hiding the Windows Desktop in the process. I've used this mode on both platforms extensively without any issues.
Parallels takes this one step further and integrates the Windows status bar with the OS X menu bar. One of the things I like about running Windows as a guest is hiding all of that cruft from view, but my head-in-the-sand approach may not be the safest way to run Windows.
Fusion is a native Cocoa application, which means that Mac users will feel right at home. For example, if you want to share a folder on your Mac with the Windows machine, just open up Fusion preferences, click on the sharing preference pane, and drag the folder from Finder onto the Sharing pane. That's it. The next time you look in your shared folder inside Windows, the new folder will be available.
A win-win scenario
You really can't go wrong with either of these great platforms. Whether you're brand-new to the Mac and want the security blanket of bringing your Windows desktop along or you're a veteran Mac user who needs to run the occasional Windows program, both Parallels and Fusion will suit you well. The competition between these platforms has served users nicely, and we're left with a choice between two strong-performing, easy-to-use applications. That's a good place to be.
Read more about virtualization in InfoWorld's Virtualization Channel.