Parallels still beats VMWare

Parallels Desktop 5 and VMWare Fusion 3 were both released in the last week, and as usual I tried both. I find that Parallels is noticeably faster running Windows 7, and it doesn’t slow down my MacBook Pro like VMware does.

When running a Windows 7 VM with 768M RAM allocated, VMWare uses 1GB of physical RAM and at least 20% CPU most of the time. Parallels uses around 632M and almost no CPU time when idle.

Parallels Coherence mode still looks a lot cleaner than VMWare’s Unity. Parallels starts up cleanly in Unity, while VMWare can’t switch to Unity until the virtual machine is fully booted & the VMWare tools are loaded. Dragging windows in Unity tends to be ugly, with desktop artifacts appearing, while dragging seems faster & cleaner in Parallels.

Parallels 5 adds a new crystal view, which resembles Coherence plus it makes the Parallels application disappear completely, with an icon added to the menu bar that lets you launch Windows applications.

Choosy is even more awesome than I realized

I use Choosy so I can switch between browsers easily. Instead of having to set Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, or some other browser as my default, if I have one browser open, links will automatically open that browser. If more than one browser is open, Choosy will let you pick which one to open a link in.

Today I discovered that it’s even more awesome than I realized: It not only lets you choose Mac OS X browsers — it also supports Windows browsers running under VMWare Fusion 3 (I haven’t tried it with Parallels yet, but I suspect it will work as well). If you have both a Windows and Mac OS X browser open, Choosy will show both of them in its menu and let you open links in either one.

Parallels Desktop 4.0 is a big win

I own both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion, and I’ve switched back and forth between them several times since each has its advantages. For a long time VMWare’s linux support was better and it supported more hardware features, including power management. Fusion 2.0 even made it possible to run Mac OS X Server in a virtual machine. However, running Windows in VMWare always felt sort of clunky with “Unity” and their integration was never quite as good as Parallels, even with the improvements in version 2.0

With Parallels Desktop 4.0, which was released today, Parallels is back on top. Their already excellent Windows integration got even better, with the ability to show Windows task bar notification icons in the menu bar. Desktop 4.0 also improves their Linux support with shared folders and it now lets you virtualize Mac OS X Server, which were the big reasons to use VMWare.

Other nice features include a new “modality” view, which shrinks the VM window and lets you float it over other windows, so you can keep an eye on lengthy operations like software installation while you work in another application. Parallels Desktop 4.0 can still show a screenshot of the VM in the dock icon, which is one feature I always missed in VMware.

Parallels’ new Adaptive Hypervisor really does live up to the hype. It automatically optimizes VM performance based on demand, so when you switch between Mac & Windows applications it will always give priority to the active application. They also reduced the CPU usage for idle virtual machines dramatically. Just having a virtual machine open no longer uses 20% CPU or more.

I had two virtual machines running Mac OS X Server and Ubuntu Linux 8.10 running at the same time on my MacBook with only a very slight slowdown.

You can get an additional 10% off all Parallels products with the coupon code MACM-VXKD-SALE .

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Running a virtualized Mac

VMWare Fusion 2.0 beta 2 is out and it lets you run Mac OS X Server (not client) in a virtual machine. It took some work, but I finally maaged to get it working.

Although I don’t have a Server license, Apple makes it available to Apple Developer Connection members, so I was able to download the disk image from the ADC member site.

If you try to install directly from the Leopard Server DVD image, you’ll find that VMWare doesn’t let you choose a .dmg file. To get around that, open the image in Disk Utility and convert to DVD/CDR Master. VMWare will then let you install from the resulting .cdr image.

If you try to use the default settings for the virtual machine, the installation will fail. VMWare has posted instructions for successfully installing Mac OS X Server. The important thing is to customize the VM settings, remove the IDE hard drive and add a 30GB SCSI hard drive.

When you start the installation, the installer won’t find any drives to install the operating system, so you’ll have to open Disk Utility in the VM and erase the virtual drive. Once you do that, the installation will proceed smoothly.

MacOSX Server in VMWare
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VMware 2.0 is a winner

I own both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, although I’ve been using Parallels mainly because VMware had a problem with Visual Studio and shared folders. Parallels did feel nicer running Windows XP, although it slowed down my system pretty badly, even with 4GB RAM.

Even though I was getting disgusted with Parallels’ terrible Linux support and the system slowdowns & freezes, I couldn’t use VMware because I was unable to check out files or download changes from Visual Studio to my shared folder, and Parallels didn’t have that problem. After attempting to get Ubuntu 8.04 and OpenSolaris running in Parallels, I ended up installing VMware Fusion along with it so I could run the latest Ubuntu, which wouldn’t even start in Parallels, while still using Parallels to run Windows.

The VMWare 2.0 beta released today seems to have fixed the problem (mostly). It still shows ‘error 1’ in Visual Studio’s log when I check out files from VSTS, although it actually completes properly. VMware generally seems less hackish than parallels and doesn’t slow down my Mac as much. I can even have two VMs running at the same time with no problem.

Parallels vs. VMware

I’ve written about this several times before, since I own both products. I keep giving VMware another chance because I really want to use it, but I keep going back to Parallels for several reasons.

The major reason I can’t use VMware is because it has problems with Visual Studio Team Server. I use VSTS for source control for my Mac projects at work, which means I need to share the Mac source folder to my Windows VM and have VSTS check in and out to it. Parallels is able to do it with no problems, but VMware always gives errors when checking out or downloading the latest version to a shared Mac folder, which occurs whether I use VMware shared folders or windows file sharing and mount it as a regular server. If this problem is ever fixed, I can consider using VMware.

VMware error
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Aside from that, there are a lot of things I like about both products.

Parallels Coherence mode feels a lot more polished than VMware’s Unity. If you select Coherence as the default, Parallels will automatically switch to coherence mode when Windows boots, even when it’s displaying the login window. VMware, on the other hand, can only be switched to Unity after it’s fully booted to the Windows desktop and you’re logged in. Dragging windows in Parallels looks a lot cleaner, since exposed windows show their contents immediately. With VMware, the newly exposed window will show the remnants of the window above it until you let go, when it will be redrawn.

Parallels integration between Windows & Mac OS X is also a lot nicer. You can double-click a Windows document in the Mac finder and have it open in the appropriate Windows application under Parallels. This is the closest you can get to a native feel for Windows applications. In fact I don’t have MS Office installed under OS X; I use Office 2003 in Windows XP to open Word & Excel documents when I can’t use iWork 08.

On the other hand, VMware has less impact on the system. Parallels usually slows down my MacBook Pro (2.5 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM) noticeably, often freezing it completely for several seconds at a time.

VMware also supports Linux much better. Parallels still doesn’t have drivers for the Ubuntu 8.04 (“Hardy Heron”), the latest version. VMware’s linux tools are also better than Parallels, since it supports sharing of Mac folders to the Linux VM, which Parallels doesn’t.

While I’m unhappy about some things with Parallels, I continue to use it because I use Windows XP a lot more than I use Linux and it works much better for me with Windows.

VMware vs. Parallels revisited

Since Scoble praised VMware, I decide to take another look at the latest version. I own both VMware and Parallels, but I currently use Parallels.

The new VMware converter made it easy to move my Parallels VM to VMware, so I was able to run my most recent Windows VM with it. Although there’s very little speed difference, I find that Parallels generally feels smoother and better integrated with OS X. Shared folders seem to work better in Parallels, and I like that it will boot directly into Coherence. With VMware I have to manually switch to Unity after Windows fully boots and I’ve already logged in.