Thursday, June 26, 2008

Virtualization on the Mac; VMWare Fusion vs. Parallels

Let me start off by disclosing I am an architect, software developer, consultant and author so my use of virtualization may not be the typical use. Your use and results with virtualization are likely to vary. That said the way I primarily take advantage of virtualization on my Mac is segmentation. By that I mean I typically have multiple virtual machines at one time. I organize them by client, project or technology. This enables me to simplify my life. For example, one of the best things about owning a Mac laptop for a consultant is it allows me through virtualization to carry all three major operating system; OSX, Windows and Linux, all on a compact and powerful device. In addition, it enables me to create customized and easily backed up environments for each of my clients. When my assignment or contract ends, I can backup the virtual machine to a large secure hard drive and when my clients return with more work or questions, I am able to bring everything back up the way it was.

I bought my first Mac, a Mac Book Pro, just over a year ago. I immediately purchased a copy of Parallels because at the time it was the only viable virtualization option available for Mac. I successfully used Parallels for about 9 months on OS X 10.4 Tiger. I endured some minor annoyances which I will discuss later but over all I was extremely pleased. Then I upgraded to OS X 1.5 Leopard by backing up my whole machine, formatting the hard drive and reinstalling the OS and all my software. After that, I started running into some stability problems which I will describe later. That made me start evaluating other options. After discovering how my friends enjoyed VMWare Fusion, and based on my experience with other VMWare products, I made the switch. So for the past four months, I have been creating all new VMs in VMWare and using Parallels for my existing VMs.

I think both solutions are excellent and I will be the first to admit that some of my issues with Parallels could be self-inflicted. But this experience encouraged me to provide a comparison of the features and things I like and dislike about both products. I hope it helps if you are trying to evaluate virtualization solutions for the Mac.

VMWare Fusion

Over all, I have found VMWare Fusion to be extremely stable and simple which is why it is now my primary VM solution. However, it lacks many of the Mac integrations I enjoy in Parallels and does not have very many configuration options.

+ Stable, works well on OS X 10.5 Leopard and with Spaces
+ Larger community
+ Many reconfigured images
+ VMs can be shared between Windows and Mac versions of VMWare
+ VM is stored in a single stand alone file
- Not very may configurations, including changing a VM name - the solution for that feels very hacky
- Poor integration with the Mac - integration between the Mac and VM is the same as having two separate machines on a network.
- Start up performance from sleep seems slower than Parallels, but that might be because it uses an overlay until the machine is ready so it may just be perceived performance
- Making a clone is just copying a file. When you start the new VM copy, it prompts you as to whether this is a move or a clone which feels very reactive not proactive.
- Virtual library window stays up in the background after the VM is started
- Sound doesn’t work even after following forum and tech tips

Parallels Desktop for Mac

Over all, Parallels excels in Mac integration.

+ Great Mac integration - I love the fact it shows up as a device like any disk image
+ Parallels explorer enables you to see file contents of a VM with out starting it up which can save time when you just need a file
- Unstable with OS X 1.5 especially when using Spaces
- Constantly crashes my whole machine when I plug in a projector while it is running
- Prompts me with warnings of missing devices every time the VM starts up after removing the original base VM I cloned from
- I can not stand that the applications running in the VM are added to my dock. This needs to be changed to a configurable option
- Some times it does not want to shut down without forcing it when certain applications are running
- With Spaces turned on after my Mac wakes up, I get horrible screen painting issues in my VM

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