Tuesday, January 1

OS Virtualization on a Mac: Parallels vs. VMWare

Now that Apple's computers use Intel processors like the rest of the desktop computing world, it's become easy for Mac users to run other operating systems in tandem with OS X. Sure, PowerPC Macs can dual-boot certain Linux distributions that distribute a compatible version, but a lot of Linux software packages are written only for Intel's x86 platform.

With the change in processor architecture, a Mac can run all the mainstream desktop operating systems... including Windows, if you want. In fact, you no longer even have to reboot the computer to switch the running OS; virtualization software is now available to let you boot a virtual "guest" system within your OS X "host."

The two competing commercial programs for virtualization within OS X are Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. (There are a few free-software alternatives, but I haven't successfully used any of them.) It seems that VMWare and Parallels are both very good at what they do, and they seem to be playing a constant game of leapfrog such that "who's better" is constantly switching sides.

It was really hard to make a distinction between the two, but after reading an intense comparison on MacTech.com I discovered that:

  • Parallels is a little bit faster than VMWare

  • However, the faster the "host" Mac, the less speed difference there is between them

  • VMWare is much better at virtualizing operating systems other than Windows (i.e. Linux)

Since I have a fast, recent Mac, and I plan to run a lot of Linux virtual machines, that clinched it for me. In fact, I ran into a poll on MacResearch.org that showed that people virtualizing Windows tend to go for Parallels those running Linux VMs tend to go for VMWare. Since my primary application will be Linux virtualization, I bought VMWare. I tested it before I bought it, and it's been running the latest version of Fedora (one of my favorite Linux distributions) just great. It also looks like I'll have plenty of cool features whenever I decide to start virtualizing Windows.

And, since I bought in 2007 (December 31, but it counts), it looks like I'll be able to take advantage of a $20 VMWare rebate as well. The website says it'll take a few days for my order to be fully processed and for my rebate eligibility to be verified, but it looks like it will go through.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you bring up this particular topic. Parallels seems to be leading the virtual machine wars on the Mac platform from what I've seen. Not sure why. I think it might have something to do with the way it's advertised on Apple's website. When I purchased my Mac, they were pushing Parallels pretty hard during the checkout. Can't remember if there was VMWare anywhere close by.

I've had much better performance out of Fusion's [VMWare] multiple core support than Parallel's... uh... non-multiple core support. Managing a virtual machine on a dual-screen setup is great; but after migrating all my everyday tasks to OSX, I just don't understand why anyone would want to put up with the headaches involved.

If you want to run Linux, why not just dedicate an old machine to running it instead of playing with a virtual setup?

augmentedfourth said...

Well, Parallels seems to be the go-to virtualization if you want to run Windows in a VM, which is probably why it's so hyped. "Run Windows Apps!" seems to be Apple's current hog-call to would-be switchers.

I had an old machine going as a Linux testbed for a while, but it consumed too much power and it was too big of a deal to switch distributions. Here I have the ability to run multiple distros simultaneously if I want... plus, whenever I feel like shelling out for an XP license I'll also be able to play some old Windows games without rebooting (Indiana Jones & the Emperor's Tomb, Fallout 1&2, Escape from Monkey Island...).

Lauren said...

Um, wow. I understood 2% of nothing in that post :-P I'm glad you like your 'puter.

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.