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Summary:

Any freelancer who does computer-related work, whether on or offline, probably understands the value of being able to work in multiple operating systems. That goes double for web workers, who need to know that what they produce behaves no matter who’s looking at it, or what they look at it with. Enter virtualization software. How does the new Parallels fare against VMWare Fusion for Web Workers?

parallelsvmwareAny freelancer who does computer-related work, whether on or offline, probably understands the value of being able to work in multiple operating systems. That goes double for web workers, who need to know that what they produce behaves no matter who’s looking at it, or what they look at it with. Enter virtualization software.

I’m a Mac user, but I don’t absolutely despise all other platforms.

Windows, for me, is like that black sheep uncle who can’t seem to do anything right, but who’s also sometimes the most fun member of the family. XP, that is. I’ve tangoed with Vista, but I still prefer XP, and it’s well-suited to use in virtualized machines. A lighter memory footprint, less flair, and more stability make it the perfect companion for either Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.

If you read my post earlier this week on TheAppleBlog, you know that my initial verdict sided with Fusion 2 over Parallels 4. Reasons for my decision included ease of use, OS X integration, and video performance.

As a web worker, the criteria for what constitutes good software is different, so I’m going to examine Windows-specific tools, and their performance under both virtualization platforms.

Dependability

If you’re going to be using any app in a virtualized environment, a key consideration is the stability of the program running the guest OS.

In my brief time with the two programs, only Parallels has given me reason to question its reliability. When viewing the exact same content in Internet Explorer in both it and Fusion (running the exact same version of Windows installed from the same source), Parallels’ IE crashed twice while Fusion had no problems. In terms of macro issues, Parallels again loses points, since it was the only of the two to experience a system-wide freeze, which only a hard reset would correct.

Office

word

Fusion on the left, Parallels on the right

Say what you like about Microsoft Office, sometimes it’s all clients want to see, even if you advise against it. And yes, OS X has Office 2008, but it still seems to me like they handicapped the program somewhat to push customers in the general direction of Windows and Office 2007. In a head to head performance test, Word 2007 ran superbly in the Parallels virtual machine, showing only infrequent odd visual effects (skips, slight lag) when windows were resized, fullscreened, and moved around in Coherence mode.

A minor point, but for icon snobs, the Word icon in the dock showed less pixilation than that of Word in Fusion. The Fusion installation also displayed more unusual visual effects when resizing and moving the application window. Parallels also gets major points for syncing your documents folder and desktop, meaning that I didn’t have to drag any files to the virtual machine. On the other hand, if you do have to do a file transfer, Parallels is sluggish and sub-par by comparison. For Office virtualization, Parallels takes top honors.

Chrome and IE

Fusion on the left, Parallels on the right

Fusion on the left, Parallels on the right

Being able to run Windows-only browsers is key when making sure that webpages display properly in all setups.

Chrome has loads of useful functions for teleworkers, not the least of which is the ability to save sites as Applications. Having access to Web 2.0 apps without browser clutter is not only convenient, it also saves time and money that might otherwise be lost to procrastination. With decent specs and using Unity for Fusion or Coherence for Parallels, you can pretend you already have a fully functional OS X release of Chrome.

In both programs, Chrome runs smoothly, supports fullscreening, and performs snappily. All of the features are there, including tabs running for separate processes, which has saved me a lot of rework when a single instance has failed. Saving a Campfire room and WordPress dashboard as application shortcuts worked fine as well, but here roles were reversed regarding window lag and movement issues, with Fusion delivering the better performance of the two. Parallels does automatically make a shortcut on your OS X desktop, though, which is handy in a pinch. Internet Explorer also performed admirably in both settings, but it should be noted that in my early tests, IE crashed twice while trying to view Quicktime content.

General Issues

Both Fusion and Parallels demonstrated that they still have their fair share of kinks to work out. Parallels, for instance, wouldn’t let me drag windows to my second monitor in Coherence mode, while Fusion had no trouble making the jump. That’s nearly a dealbreaker, since I can see how quickly it would become tiresome to have to switch to windowed mode to move the application between screens whenever you needed to do so. The mirrored folder feature in Parallels is nice, but you can also set it up in Fusion, it’s just not on by default.

Verdict

Though both have programs have room for improvement, I have to side with Fusion again in this extended test, since most of the features which it lacks when compared to Parallels can actually be turned on. Plus, dependability and multi-monitor support when in OS integration mode are absolutely crucial in a multi-OS workflow, so it’s hard to side with Parallels until a later build delivers more stability and bug fixes.

You can get Fusion 2 and Parallels Desktop 4 now for $79.99 each. Fusion 2 is a free upgrade for users of the original program, while owners of Parallels 3 can upgrade for $39.99.

  1. I’m glad to hear I made the right choice ;)

    Really OT: Your desktop image is awesome. Where can I find it?

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  2. Darrell Etherington Thursday, November 13, 2008

    @John

    I can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that :)

    Here’s the link: http://mosqu1t0.deviantart.com/art/Vista-Ultimate-Wood-No-Glass-71941528

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  3. Sweet, thanks!

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  4. You say:

    “Parallels also gets major points for syncing your documents folder and desktop”

    Fusion also mirrors your folders, so you could map Documents to My Documents in the VM. I find this a better implementation that Parallels.

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  5. Thanks for the review.

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  6. Where’d you get such a nice desktop wallpaper?

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  7. Thanks for a great piece of info Darrell – we’re looking for virtualisation so we can test web apps in IE, etc. on our Macs and avoid replacing our windows box (which is now geriatric with a fan that sounds like it’s crunching bone)…

    One important question for anyone involved in web testing:
    Microsoft provide their timebombed Virtual PC images for testing different versions of IE. I understand that VMware Convertor must be used to convert the VirtualPC images to VMware images before they’ll run in VMFusion.

    VM Convertor is a PC only app., so have you or anyone else successfully used VM Convertor running in a VM Fusion WinXP image to convert VirtualPC images to VM images? Does my question make sense?

    Thanks for any advice on this subject.

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  8. Don’t forget about VirtualBox. It works pretty well and is free. I was previously using Fusion 2 because the guest OS’s can more easily be moved to/from our VMware servers. As I starting using xVM on my servers, I’m now able to more easily use VirtualBox on my Mac as well.

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  9. Darrell Etherington Friday, November 14, 2008

    @Martin

    Thanks for the comment. I hope I take your meaning correctly, and I’m not certain because I haven’t had to do what you describe myself. The beta tool described in this forum post may help you.

    I can’t personally test the solution because I’ve since lost all of my old Virtual PC images. The tool linked is an importer, not a converter, but failing that the process you describe seems like it may in fact work.

    I recommend downloading the Fusion trial and giving it a shot, provided you back up your images first.

    Sorry I can’t be more help, Martin.

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  10. Darrell Etherington Friday, November 14, 2008
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