15 Mar

VMWare Fusion vs. Parallels

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In the spirit of full disclosure, this post is a direct result of  a previous post I made on falling back in love with my MacBook Pro. What happened is that within a few hours of posting, a representative of VMware contacted me and gave me a free license to their Fusion product, a virtual machine client for the Mac.

So, I am running both VMware and Parallels on the same VM. I did this by using the VMware Importer. I simply pointed the Importer application at my Parallels VM and 30 minutes later it had made the VMware PC I am using as I write this post in Live Writer. Not too shabby.

That said, the importer application will not create a Fusion VM from a Windows Virtual PC VHD, which is what I wish it would do. For that, you must download a different application, which installs on the machine you want to turn into a VM for Fusion and it builds itself. Parallels also has an application that does this, an both work the same way.

This is my most frequent way to get a VM onto my Mac, create one from a pre-existing physical box or a Virtual PC VM. It would be nice if either vendor would make a Mac VM out of the PC one by simply operating on the VHD file, but not at this time.

Advantage: None.

Neither VM application will let me use the extra buttons on my MS Explorer track ball, because they both emulate a PS2 mouse driver to connect through to the mouse.

Advantage: None.

In Unity mode, Cohesion in Parallels, my favorite windows app, RocketDock, looks very pixelated and is pretty chopped up. In parallels, it looks great. This isn’t a big deal in an of itself, but the implication is the graphics are somewhat choppy coming across the OS boundary.

Advantage: Parallels

While in Unity mode, there is a menu item for Applications, which works like the start menu in Windows, only a little better. In Parallels, the Windows start menu and whole lower menu bar show up right on your Mac desktop. The difference is simply a matter of personal preference, as the functionality is exactly the same. I personally like VM Ware’s execution of this feature.

Advantage: VMware, but subjective

What about the important stuff? What about performance? Reliability?

I have no way of knowing (at least I am not aware) of how to measure the actual performance of the 2 VMs while they are spooled up. I guess I could test them by timing a run of some application, but this is a little beyond me caring. I will say that the Fusion VM seems slower. This is totally unscientific, though. I almost feel uncomfortable writing it, because it may not be true. It may just be a perception on my part.

Advantage: None.

Here’s one: VMware has one file that represents the VM. Nice. I wish the other VM manufacturers had this instead of the myriad of little nugget files that they spawn off.

Advantage: VMware

Size on my Mac disc for the Parallels hard drive: 27.7G. Size for the entire VMware virtual machine: 24.4G.

Advantage: VMware

VMware has support for 64 bit operating systems. Parallels doesn’t. Yet.

Advantage VMware

Conclusion? Not really.

So what will I run with? I am not sure yet. It is pretty difficult to find an advantage other than the 64 bit OS support. Feature parity between the two is almost scary equitable. I guess it’s a tight race. Both solutions will obviously do a good job. With VMware’s penetration into the enterprise space, I am sure they will sell more licenses simply because people will have good interop with their corporate environment. Parallels isn’t a big name in the enterprise space at this time, although they are making inroads.

They are very comparable on price point, too.

The one thing that would sway me in a particular direction is the ability to dynamically re-size a VM’s hard drive without too much pain. This is a nightmare in MS Virtual PC. Parallels provides a 3rd party utility that does it for you when you buy the $100 Premium version. This is good, but I would rather just have that baked in to the base product.

I cannot find similar functionality in Fusion. Maybe someone from VMware would chime in here to let us know wassup wit dat? Maybe it’s there and I can’t find it?

If I find anything truly differentiating in either product I will blog on it, but for now both suit my needs fine.

22 thoughts on “VMWare Fusion vs. Parallels

  1. Hi David,

    I am a very satisfied VMWare Fusion user. THere is one point in your post where it suggests Fusion VM is a single file, however it is actually a package. If you copy that file to Windows you will see that it consists of multiple files. This, however, does not change my opinion on VMWare Fusion being superior.


  2. I have learned more about it in the last few days. You are absolutely right. I was looking at the one file that resulted from a conversation from another machine. After you begin using the package, it grow with the other files necessary, just like all other VM vendors.

    Frankly, I am having some issues with the VMware right now.

    This is my thread on the VMware forums.

  3. David,
    im having the same problem lately that you posted about. vmware has been a nightmare. their customer support couldnt help me either unless i paid (a 2nd time) for support. I didnt even know about Parallels until i saw your blog.. thank you.

  4. really? everything with parallels is so clean.. works like a charm.. again i have to say thanks..and i hope you get that figured out. i havent talked to their support yet but its gotta be better than what i had to deal with at vmware

  5. I have used Parallels for a couple of years now and absolutely love it. It was suggested to me to look into VMware’s Fusion today as it was supposed to be far superior to Parallels. I am not too sure of this and none of the searches yielded data to support the claim. I am sticking with Parallels for now as it works great on my MBP in multiple environments (e.g. work, personal, teaching, etc.). I teach how to use technology for efficient and effective research for graduate students and will continue to endorse Parallels.


  6. I use Parallels, and I like it a lot! I have never had problems with it. It works great on my MacBook Pro, only that I can’t play 3d games. I have used Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista Ultimate, Ubuntu Linux (7… I think), and Puppy Linux! All of those operating systems worked fine! I only have one complaint. 3d graphics don’t work 🙁 But I don’t think that is easily possible in a VM. I wish I could somehow “split” my video card. It is 512MB GeForce 8600M. I wish each OS (Mac and Windows) could use half the processing power and 256MB of RAM. But I am a very (and satisfied) parallels customer. It works great for a VM!!! I highly reccommend parallels for anyone needing a VM capable of running a 32bit x86 OS! (Sadly, it doesn’t have emulating capabilities (No PowerPC emulation)). I use Boot Camp for playing games and using graphics-intensive applications.

    B. Macheli

  7. I’ll use whichever one provides support for multiple snapshots of the same system. I use this – no, that’s an understatement – I organize all my work around it – in VMware Workstation, it is dumbfounding to me that Fusion doesn’t have it yet. Please VMware, multiple snapshots!

  8. I use Parallels and in the convergence mode it is possible to hide the windows bar. You just have to know where to find the little doohicky that does this.

  9. I have used Parallels on my MacBook Pro since October last year and with Leopard since it’s release. I only learned about Fusion yesterday so googled opinions between the two. It would seem Fusion cannot offer me more for my needs than Parallels can however I do have a couple of questions; when I attempt to run Parallel upgrades (and there are many) my vm locks up and I can only Force Quit the app then restart. Anyone else have this issue and any problems with upgrades (freezing, frequency, etc.) on Fusion?

  10. most of these comments and reviews are pretty worthless. at minimum, start a full system virus scan in xp, jump back to osx, import 10,000 mp3s, jump back to windows, burn a cd, then go back to osx and launch a web browsing session.

    this should all run at the same time.

    one will cave, the other will hang on tight.

    hint: the one with the pretty face….well shall we say…it’s only skin deep. “simple and clean” lol, as one previous comment put it…is akin to the wizard of oz, what you don’t see behind the curtain is what really matters.

    bah. i decree all your geek cards summarily destroyed.

  11. I sell refurbished macs on ebay preloaded with Parallels and windows XP / Vista.
    The ease of backing up your virtual hard drive is a joke!
    You can simply copy the folder, and put it back on your computer if anything ever happens .
    Its very simple to use.
    I will be honest, Ive never used VM ware fusion, because I never had the need to. I tried parallels first, and its the one that Works for me, so I never needed to search again.
    The only drawback as one poster said, is 3d video acceleration for gaming, ect.
    No way around this in a VM at this time.
    Parallels did do a major improvement from ver 2 to 3, before you couldn’t even use a good screen saver. Now you can play quake 3 arena! So improvements are on the frontier.

  12. I’d really like to see a performance and benchmark test of the apps we use between both OSes all the time: All the main MS Office Apps (Excel, Word, PowerPoint); and all the main Adobe apps (Photoshop CS3; Illustrator 3, InDesign 3, Flash 3, Dreamweaver 3 –> and what would be really great is to benchmark the CS4 versions first.).

    As a pretty new Mac-Exclusive user (used windows/linux/max for 15 years) I’d like to see an OS that that can stand on its own with all the deadfall in the way.

    I’d love to see the startup speed of Vista apps on the MacOS X 10.5.5 side ….. 100 seconds seems like my hard earned cash to apple has been converted to hard core advertising; whilst Windows at least has ReadyBoost and SuperFetch in full action (note to the unitiated: it’s freaking fast boot up times for applications here. Mac needs to CATCH UP.)

    With all the options of SSDs and 72Kk HDDs and etc, it’s especially easy to get caught up in the fray.

    Here’s to hoping this column will provide some lab results on modern Intel Mac Mac vs. Dell/Lenovo hardware.

    Cheers, font9a

  13. Uh “nice review,” but you’re forgetting ALL the important features. Coherence and unity are probably the biggest features of interest, as there are programs that you just can’t get in a Mac…. How well does Unity/Coherence integrate with Mac OSX? Is it fast? sluggish? How does it look? Is it prone to screen artifacts? How is the drag/drop support? Clipboard support? File system management/compatibility? Was network bridging/NAT well thought out, or was it clumsy or defunct? How are each of the tool packages?

    How about Graphics acceleration? The real problem with running virtualized environments has been sluggish/defunct graphics when rendered on the host. How does each software package measure up? Do either of the packages support hardware virtualization and, if so, did you get it working?

    Are you really writing an honest review without using ANY benchmark software? I would go back to the drawing board with this post… tell us ANYTHING that’s important instead of “Fusion’s non-standard start menu iz teh k00l!”

  14. I am a recovering Windows user! (16 years). Some Client server experience. That has been suffering from PTS -Post traumatic MS-syndrome until I switched to Leopard this past April. Am having a ball!

    Just would like to know the performance distinctions between Parallels vs VMF! Am a user not a programmer or a gamer. I simply have 2 ASP subscriptions that require Explorer I must use. And want somthing fast and effective.

    BTW- I enjoy SUN Open office very much! Can’t beat the price or compatibility.

  15. One nice feature from Mac is that you can make a picture of a part of the screen, using shift command 4.

    Well, I was surprised that you can use these commands with Parallels from the Windows screen. The only thing: once captured, you have to “refresh” the desktop for the picture to appear like a icon… I love Parallels, ’cause It is surprisingly solid for general pourpuses, MS Office, iExplorer, real data streaming, and audio video editing (SoundForge Vegas). Only sometimes needs to restart when too many applications and files have been opened. But this happen also in regular Windows.

  16. I used Parallels on my MacBook and have a couple of VMs running, 1 with Win XP and the other with Oracle Enterprise Linux.

    There is one problem though.
    in Win XP VM, I use Citrix Access Gateway to VPN into my client site. The VPN connects, but I lose my internet connectivity including connecting to the client’s intranet sites !! where as everything works on a Win XP which is not a VM.

    I am going to download Fusion and see if this is a problem.

    Has anyone encountered this ?

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