Windows on the Mac: Parallels vs. VMware Fusion
Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion let Mac lovers have their cake and run Windows too. Parallels pleases with richer tools, while Fusion is first for heavy-duty use
Ever since Apple made the move from PowerPC processors to processors made by Intel, the possibility of running Windows on Mac hardware has loomed large. There is, of course, the dual-boot option using Boot Camp, but most of the buzz has been around two virtualization packages: Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion.
[ Parallels Desktop 3.0 was selected for an InfoWorld Technology of the Year award. See the slideshow to view all the winners in the platforms category. ]
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The value proposition
Virtualization won't necessarily save you on software costs, but the ultimate benefit is being able to run OS X and Windows (not to mention other operating systems) without having to buy two computers. Thus, Parallels and Fusion can help take the sting out of the premium price of a Mac.
Naturally, to run Windows in either Parallels or Fusion, you'll need to buy not only the virtualization software but Windows itself. Keep in mind that some Windows editions are not licensed to run in a virtual machine -- notably Vista Home Edition -- so you may need to buy a more expensive edition than you otherwise would.
Of course, if you already own the Windows software you want to run, then it's even easier to become a Mac bigot. For example, the organization I work for has an enterprise license for Office on Windows, but not on OS X, so I can load Windows and Office using the enterprise license and get an Intel-native version of Word that runs on my Mac for a fraction of the cost of Word for OS X.
Similarly, if you're switching from Windows to a Mac, buying a copy of QuickBooks for OS X will cost you $200 even though you already own a perfectly good copy for Windows. For the cost of Parallels or Fusion (both $79) you can run your Windows copy on your Mac.
Making Windows easy
The stated goal of Parallels as well as Fusion is to make life easy for people who want to run Windows on their Mac. Can you run Linux, Solaris, or even FreeBSD? Sure, but you're not in the target demographic. Switchers who love the Mac experience but have "that one Windows" application they can't live without are the sweet spot.
Making Windows easy is mostly about installing the OS. Most people have never installed Windows. Creating a new Windows virtual machine is dead simple in either package. They ask for a few parameters, including the product key, and then take over from there. Having recently installed Windows XP on bare metal, I can tell you that using a virtual machine makes installation easier.