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Parallels Desktop 4 vs. VMware Fusion 2: The Web Worker Angle

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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.


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.


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.


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.

30 Responses to “Parallels Desktop 4 vs. VMware Fusion 2: The Web Worker Angle”

  1. I have a question. I have a Mac Book Pro with partition running an OEM version of XP. I tried Parallels and, once installed and run, I can no longer boot into XP. SO I must only run Windows via Parallels. And Parallels support was really unhelpful. I want to be able to do both, boot into XP directly and through the virtual machine. WOUld Fusion enable me to do that?


  2. I am due for a new PC and would really like to get an Imac. But the missing link is Parallels or Fusion being able to fill the gap so that I can continue to use the apps that are PC only. The lack of support from either company means that this is not ready for prime time and still is in the “bleeding edge” stage.

  3. bo zhong

    Having tried both fusion and parallels 3 and 4, for basic stuff like excel, word, surfing the internet, plus some unique stuff [updating using a usb device for datacards], speed is not noticeable between the two [maybe fusion is a bit faster]. However, usb connectivity is *much* better with fusion. BUT what makes fusion *much better* for my institution is customer support–parallels customer support is non-existent! You have to purchase each upgrade, and pay *again* if you malware or whatever crashes your machine and you need to download the program again. As well, several emails to support went totally unanswered.
    So performance-wise, advantage to fusion, particularly if you use usb peripherals; with respect to customer service, parallels gets an F.

  4. I just upgraded from Parallels desktop v2 to 4 this afternoon. The upgrade process was a little scary since it needed to convert my Disk Image files from the old to the new format. The converter reported that the image failed to convert, three times! (@ 25%, 50% and 75% completion.) Each time I installed the Parallels Tools from the menu (“Parallels Tools” are Windows device drivers for the emulated hardware) and the progress bar would jump ahead 5-10% then slow to a crawl for a half hour before finally stopping and reporting the aforementioned error. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Conversion of my 15GB drive image took about an hour. Final result? Everything’s working, though WinXP is demanding I ‘reauthorize’ it since it believes it’s running on new hardware.

    Graphics performance seems better on my original white Macbook (2ghz, 2GB Ram). I’ve not run any timed tests, but in general useage application launch times & runtimes feel about the same. (I use XP for software development, running Visual Studio 2008 & Oracle 10g)

    Gotta agree with Rick, support from both Parallels and VMWare leaves much to be desired.

    Why did I choose Parallels over VMWare? Feature-wise, it’s about the same as Fusion. In the end it came down to one thing: Familiarity. I’ve been using Parallels Desktop for over a year and it feels comfortable. Wish I had a better reason than that.

  5. Well, as a new mac user, I downloaded both the trial versions of Fusion 2.0 and Parallels 4.0.

    I have to say that I prefer Paralles much better than Fusion. They both were easy to install and get Windows installed on the macbook Pro, but Parallels seemed to work the best for me. Still getting used to the mac system, but right now, still like Windows better.

  6. Guys,

    Before writing a shuch review please learn the documentation and applications itself. Both applications have Preferences & Settings where you can specify many options. Just try and you will see the truth.

    Good look!

  7. On the support side, I think the “penny is dropping” (like a ton a bricks on my head, anyway).

    NEITHER VMWare or Parallels provides real support. VMWare gives you “free web access for 30 days” and Parallels gives you, if I remember correctly, some limited web contact, but points you to their fora, etc.

    They both want to sell you their “per incidence” support (taking a page from Mother Microsoft…)

    I had HORRIBLE time with Parallels: 3.0 wouldn’t launch in my OS X Leopard, and during install requested “address for ethernet networking card”. To some this may have been the equivalent of asking my name, but to me, I pored through the manual and came up blank. I solicited support from Parallels website, and NEVER HEARD BACK. Of course, they don’t provide an email address in the web support function (nor a “CC” line), so I have no copy of my request.

    Time passed, I focused on other things, and when I finally revisited the issue, I did find a Customer Service number to call (bluffing my way past the requests for my “support license”). I was told to upgrade to 4.0 and all problems likely solved… but they only gave me a “trial” activation key. (I learned it was only a trial AFTER I installed Windows XP, so now, I have my “single user” licensed XP sitting on a virtual machine I can’t access.)(They were offering a “free upgrade to 4.0 for 3.0 users” but only if you bought your [defective?] copy of 3.0 after a certain date.)

    So, it was “pay us again if you want to run the program you bought” or…

    I’m going to try (as in trial) VMWare, but I’m more than anxious that their support is using the same “buyer beware” [bef***ked?] model.

    Has the world simply capitulated to software sellers? (Ever try to buy a non-Mac computer without Windows installed? I was going to simply go buy a machine and upload Windows XP, but silly me, I could find no such thing…)

  8. Some really useful Info and a solution:

    VMware support did finally provide an answer to my question about using VirtualPC in a Fusion VM, this may be useful for some people:

    “VPC 07 will install in the XP virtual machine, but it will not operate properly. It will not see available resources correctly and most virtual machines will fail to start.

    Global Support Services
    VMware Inc.”

    At least they did finally reply. I’ve yet to receive any communication from Parallels at all although it is good to see Leto offering help.

    For anyone who want to use Microsoft’s VirtualPC images to test websites with different versions of IE, I’ve found a solution. It’s a guide on how to find and use an open source command line software which will convert Microsoft’s .vhd files to .vmdk files with run on Fusion. There’s also a solution for VirtualBox.

    Be sure to read all the comments as some contain corrections to the original post:

    Hope this is useful to someone

  9. Hello – I’m Leto, Blogger for Parallels.
    I really like the article, but I want to point out that it is possible to a move Windows window (windows windows windows?) to a second monitor when in Coherence with Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac. You just need to check “Use multiple displays” in the “Virtual Machine >> Configure…” then under “Coherence”.
    It’s the same place where you can change the settings for the Windows dock/taskbar.

    If there are any user-related questions anyone has, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll get them answered for you.

  10. @Darrell

    Thanks for the info. I’ve seen the thread you linked to already, so I’ve been playing with trial versions of both Fusion 2 and Desktop 4 since posting – as you suggested. Bit of a problem in that Vmware Converter will not convert my existing Win XP install to a VM image so am purchasing a copy of Windows to test (I’ll need it anyway for the MBP which is arriving).

    There’s also another option I thought of: run MS VirtualPC 2007 on a VM image of WinXP. That way the VirtualPC images don’t have to be converted at all. Somethign to try at least.

    One final point/rant: you’ll have gather I’ve not much experience of virtualisation, it’s a new subject to me.

    I’ve contacted Vmware with pre-sales questions and posted in their forums. I have to say that their support/attitude is not great. Forum response was just some condescending post about searching the forums before posting (which I did). Pre-sales question to VMware direct was just answered by referring me to the forums.

    VMware should realise that their in a war with Parallels. Their product may have the slight edge but as more people switch to Mac or (as us) upgrade from PowerPC to Intel machines, there will be more demand for virtualisation from people with little knowledge. Can VMware really afford to treat prospective customers like this? What will aftersales support be like?

    I’ve asked Parallels the same pre-sales question and so far no reply at all. Early days yet so maybe it will change.

    Footnote: on the positive side, it does underline how friendly the Mac community is in general. Thanks again Darrell for taking the time to answer my question as well as you could.

  11. You can use coherence on multiple displays. In the configuration menu you can set the working area to use multiple displays. The only way Fusion has an edge there is with “Full Screen” mode. They claim up to 8 monitors in full Windows, though I don’t get why anyone would want that on their Mac.

  12. Darrell Etherington


    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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.