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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.