3+1 Reasons why Parallels 7 wins VS VMWare Fusion!

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Update: I’ve also explored the Parallels Desktop 8 and VMWare Fusion 5 and compared them here. You might want to check that article out too.

Caveat: This is an updated article which I originally wrote using Parallels Desktop 5 and quickly after that, upgraded to Parallels Desktop 6, comparing it with VMWare Fusion 3.0. That’s almost exactly one year ago from today.

Now, if you are not already aware, Parallels Desktop 7 is to be released on September 6. With this latest version, here’s a revised and updated viewpoint on my comparison between the two.

Why virtualize and not just simply use Bootcamp? Well, if you’re like me, especially if you are working in an organizations where a most of the internal ERP systems are built only for Windows platform, and is also a Mac user, chances are you would want to be able to run both Mac and Windows applications at the same time. Thus, if you are also in the ‘same boat’ as I am, read on!

If you’ve done your homework online, you would know that there is basically two main options to choose from, either to go with Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMWare Fusion.

Parallels 7 for Mac

Parallels 7 for Mac

Both are pretty good choices and the current versions are very stable indeed. Both also costs the same retail price of US$79.99 and providing almost the same set of features. A quick search on Google as well as on Twitter reveals two camps that is generally happy with their choices. So, which would you choose? To be honest, even I don’t think I can provide that answer. However, what I can do instead is to perhaps share my experience after having used both VMWare Fusion 3 and Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac for over a year and now shortly after test-driving Parallels Desktop 7 for about a week.

I won’t be divulging much into the comparisons of Parallels Desktop versus VMWare Fusion here in this post. Both works as advertised. And if you want point by point technical comparisons, Google would provide you with those elsewhere. This would also not be a complete review or walkthrough of Parallels and VMWare Fusion. There’s loads of that elsewhere. Instead, I’d focus more on the differences and key reasons that made my choice.

Why so? Well, in my experience, both Parallels Desktop version 5 (and 6) and WMWare Fusion 3.1 are very stable in running the virtual machines. Most postings I see online generally compares the much older versions of both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. So those comparisons aren’t valid anymore. As I mentioned earlier too, both have very similar sets of features as well. Installation and setting up of a new virtual machine is fairly easy that anyone who knows how to install Windows would be able to do it. Template configs are provided on both products to ease that process. So choosing between these two isn’t all that easy today. So instead, I’d share my views based on my experiences using both of them and now the latest version of Parallels Desktop 7 and share why I continue to recommend putting your money on Parallels.

A year ago, it took me a while too before I was able to decide which one to go for but in the end I did choose and I was surprised why I did for Parallels, and how little those difference that made the choice was. So without wasting anymore bytes, let’s get into the whys of Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac versus VMWare Fusion 3.1! And if you are already on Parallels Desktop 6, why you should Upgrade today! to Parallels Desktop 7.

1. Parallels desktop 7 plays really nicely with Lion OS X.

From an investment point of view, I see that Parallels has always been in the forefront in getting new features out into the market much faster than VMWare. Also, Parallels Desktop for Mac is perhaps one of the key products of Parallels, so I’m sure a lot of investment dollars goes into the R&D of the product as well. In VMWare’s case, Fusion is the only Mac product amongst their huge portfolio, so it’s not difficult to see a lesser focus compared to their other products. Thus, it’s no surprise that Parallels Desktop was the first virtualization software that takes full advantages of Lion’s capabilities.

Parallels on Full Screen mode

Full Screen app!

The best thing I like about it’s compatibility with Lion is the consistency of the Full Screen experience. Before Lion, I usually run the virtualized Windows apps in Coherence mode. And with Linux OSes like Fedora or Ubuntu, I would usually just live with Windowed mode. I rarely use the full screen mode as the OS X menubar and dock some times does weird stuff over the VM. But now after being ‘trained’ to love full screen apps and it’s flexibility to easily ‘slide’ across one another, I started to like running stuff in Lion’s full screen mode if it’s supported by the app. And now with Parallels 7, I started to run my VM’s in full screen mode again, with the occasional Coherence mode for Windows apps when I need them to run along my Mac apps, which is starting to be pretty rare now that those Mac apps are also being run in Full Screen mode! 😀

Apart from the full screen compatibility (which to me is pretty huge deal itself if you can’t already tell), there are a host of other Lion-ish stuff that gets optimized and incorporated with Parallels Desktop 7. For one, if you use your Mac’s iSight a lot and is sick of switching control over the iSight back and forth between OS X and Windows, then you’d be happy to know that now, the iSight works simultaneously on both the host and VM. If you like to get your Windows apps to appear on LaunchPad (which I hardly use myself actually), this is also available. Mission Control of course also controls your Windows applications in Coherence mode as if it was just another Mac app running on OS X. Nice!

All in all, you can’t say you’d get the same experience at all with VMWare Fusion on Lion. In fact, when I run my VMs (when I have to) on Fusion, it would usually be in full screen mode OR in Windowed mode. On Snow Leopard, I would still sometime run stuff in Unity mode. However, while it might work well enough, the performance is noticeably more sluggish. Which brings me to the next point where Parallels just trumps over VMWare.

2. Performance…

Parallels 7 Coherence desktop

Coherence mode is really fast!

If you could care less for Lion compatibility, then perhaps performance is a key consideration for you. Objectively, I am unable to clearly measure the difference without using proper tools available to me, i.e. benchmark tools, atomic stopwatch, ultra high-speed cameras, etc. But then again, benchmarks usually does not really reflect the real world usage anyways (despite everything they would claim).

Still based on my experience of using Parallels Desktop 6 and now 7 versus VMWare Fusion 3.1, I’d say that Parallels is just way ahead as compared to VMWare on the Mac. Perhaps VMWare would do a much better job running VMs on a Windows machine.

And in my brief use of the of Parallels Desktop 7 so far, I’ve had noticeable performance improvements over it’s predecessor, which was already much faster than VMWare Fusion! And this is not just about running a single application fast on the virtual machine. It’s how little performance lag I get even when I leave the guest OS on all the time. Now, I just leave my guest OS running all the time in the background, even when I put the MacBook to sleep! Then again, I do have 8GB of RAM on my MacBook Pro, so maybe that’s an exception.

However, you’d also be happy to know that with Parallels Desktop 7, Windows VMs now start, stop and resume much faster. Parallels claims up to 60% faster as compared to even Parallels Desktop 6. And yes, while I can’t tell if it’s really 30% or 60% as claimed, it does feel faster.

Apparently, Parallels Desktop 7 also has an improved the 3D graphics performance but I don’t (yet) play games on my MacBook Pro, so I wouldn’t know this personally. Everything in Parallels 7 is also now fully 64-bit and in accordance to Apple’s guidelines in utilizing the core foundations of OS X, things should run better if not a lot faster.

3. See, Windows 7 running on my iPad!

Parallels Mobile

Parallels MobileIf you have and iPhone or iPad, you’d totally love what they did with the Parallels Mobile application.

Starting with Parallels Desktop 6, the iPad and iPhone app displays all the virtual machine available on your Mac, allowing you not only to start or stop it, but to also remote control the virtual machine!

So in essence, you could run Windows off your iPad or iPhone! Well, sort of. But imagine if you have a Mac Pro running Parallels with say, multiple virtual machines for multiple users, heck you can have a family of iPad users and all able to run their own VM instances off the iPad! If this is not cool, I don’t know what else is! 🙂

It even works if you set the virtual machine to run of Coherence mode! What you’d see is the actively running Windows app that’s running being shown on the iOS device! Awesome stuff.

What’s new with the latest version of Parallels Mobile that was released alongside Parallels Desktop 7? Copy-and-Paste integration with iOS! This is the one things that I was stopping me from using the app more often! Also, sound is also now transferred from the VM over to your iOS device.

VMware? Don’t get me started here. For one, even though there is a VMWare View Client app for the iPad and Android, you need the VMWare View Connection Server running to get it working. And if you’re running VMWare Fusion on your Mac, then well, you won’t have fun running Windows apps on your iPad. VMWare ain’t targeting users like you and me with this capability. It’s meant for the enterprise who runs VMs across a large virtual farm.

Parallels 3-VMWare 0

Parallels Mobile - Parallels, Inc.

3+1. Visual Eye Candy

Ok, this is a really small point. Which is why I call it a +1 point instead of a full point number 4. As I mentioned earlier, both Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMWare Fusion had a feature called Coherence and Unity mode respectively. What this mode provides is the ability to run Windows applications on your Mac machine as if its a native Mac application. What happens is Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion hides the whole Windows guest OS and only reveals the window of the application on your Mac Desktop. Both also integrates with Expose where the Windows application would appear in Expose along with the other running Mac applications.

Curved transparent corners, always.

Again, this is really small issue but it’s nagging enough for me to minus a point for VMWare Fusion. But Parallels really does a better job in the visuals department. My main guest OS is a Windows 7 virtual machine and Aero provide a really nice curved corners for the application window. Parallels consistently ensured that the the window is properly rendered onto the Mac OS X. You can see what I mean in the screenshot on the left. Notice that the corners of the IE 9 beta browser is perfectly seamless on top of Safari in the background.

VMWare Fusions’ Unity feature however sometimes renders a white background at the corner of the Windows application, make it look like a square corner. Perhaps it’s my dual-screen setup that I use when I’m at home that seems to mess things up. But hey, Parallels don’t have this problem at all.

Windows 7 on Parallels

The other thing that I hated about VMWare Fusion is the nagging Applications icon that runs off your Menu Bar to act as sort of the Start Menu of your Windows Guest OS. Again, this is a personal preference thing. And sure, it works fine. But it really felt out of place. I mean, having something a list of items drop down from the menubar as the means of running your apps on Windows just don’t feel right.

It’s a heck lot less intuitive as compared to Parallels that uses the Dock instead and sticks a Windows 7 Start Menu icon on it. Clicking on the icon then opens up the Start Menu. That feels more ‘in-place’ with OS X versus the odd ‘Menu’-style of navigation.

Also with Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac, integration with the Windows 7 guest OS is much better where even the Jump List is accessible from Coherence mode!

Very cool and it very visually appealing too!

So there you go, 3 +1 little differences that made me decide to go with Parallels Desktop. If you have the same views as I do, why now check out the new Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac: OS X Lion Compatible!

Update: I’ve also just added an entry here to compare between the latest VMWare Fusion 4 and Parallels Desktop 7 if you are not already convinced that Parallels Desktop 7 is the choice for you!

Latest Update: I’ve also explored the Parallels Desktop 8 and VMWare Fusion 5 and compared them here. You might want to check that article out too.

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3 Responses

  1. Jonathan Tan says:

    Good Review ken, btw don’t forget Oracle Virtual Box is improving daily ;P

    Cheers Jonathan http://MasterYourGadget.com

  2. Ken Ng says:

    Virtual box is indeed great for running Linux and Solaris VMs for local development work, not so great on the integration with Mac OS though. 🙂

  3. Ken,

    the article is useful, smart and funny as well as your other wrtings.
    Looking forward to read something new.
    Good luck!

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