VMware or Parallels: Which to choose?


After a year of running Windows applications on my MacBook Pro using Parallels Desktop, I decided to give VMware Fusion a test drive to see if I noticed a discernible difference between the two programs. My interest was triggered by my recent consulting experience with a Windows switcher who became very frustrated when his Windows virtual machine became unstable after he simultaneously updated both Parallels Desktop 3 and OS X 10.5 on his iMac. Before I pinpointed the source of his problems, he was on the verge of trying either BootCamp or VMware or dumping his iMac altogether and going back to his Windows PC.

While my Windows OS is the same as my client’s (Windows XP Professional), my Parallels configuration has been problem-free. What I learned from my client interactions was that his Windows applications began to behave abnormally because he had neglected to update Parallels Tools after he had installed the latest patch for Parallels Desktop.

Both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop include a utility for converting Windows virtual machines created by the other tool’s application. While both programs are also able to convert a Virtual PC VM, Parallels only supports XP and Vista conversions while Fusion is capable of converting any flavor of Windows.

On my PowerBook I restored my old copies of Windows 95 and 98 that were configured to run under Virtual PC. I succeeded in converting both for use in VMware Fusion. Completing each conversion required several hours of time and a lot of patience to install the necessary drivers. I first had to convert the Windows virtual machines to Virtual PC 7 format. Both of my Windows installations were created with older copies of Virtual PC. After performing the Virtual PC conversion, I launched Add/Remove Programs in the Windows control panel to uninstall the proprietary drivers called Virtual PC Additions. Afterwards, I used the VMware Importer utility to open and convert the Virtual PC data file.

My Windows 95 setup was more problematic and time-consuming. After I succeeded in converting my Virtual PC copy of Windows 95, I wanted to install VMware Tools to gain drag-and-drop access to my Mac desktop but ran into a roadblock because Windows didn’t have access to the Mac’s DVD drive. Moreover, Windows kept giving me the message about a VMware Tools installation log that wasn’t writable.

Windows 95 error opening log

To gain access to the drive and bypass the log error, I downloaded the missing PCI Bridge driver from a web resource (windrivers.com???) and added a TMP path statement to the end of my autoexec.bat file, courtesy of a tip that I found here.

SET TMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMP

Even though I was able to install VMware Tools and the CD drivers, my Windows 95 configuration still lacks a number of desired features. While I can drag-and-drop files between my Mac and Windows desktops, I can’t run any of the VMware Tools functions such as Disk Shrink or access a network drive or share folder.

Running VMware Tools in Windows 95

Unable to browse network in Windows 95

I also can’t install Internet Explorer 5.5, as Microsoft eliminated download access to the setup files several years ago. In lieu of Internet Explorer, I installed the Opera web browser, which works just fine.

On the other hand, my Fusion installation of Windows 98 supports all the VMware Tools functions, accesses network resources, and runs Internet Explorer 6, Outlook Express 6, and Adobe Exchange 3 (the precursor to Adobe Acrobat) within a virtual disk file that takes up a mere 664 megabytes — a file that can be backed up to a CD.

In addition to Windows 95 and 98, I also installed a fresh copy of Windows XP Home Edition using Fusion. Looking at the list of active programs in Activity Monitor, I noticed that Parallels seems to require more system resources than Fusion. If you want to run either XP or Vista on your Mac, either Parallels or VMware Fusion are capable of satisfying your request if you want to run both Mac and Windows applications simultaneously without having to reboot. On the other hand, if you’re the type who can’t part with an unsupported OS like Windows 98, then look to VMware to satisfy your needs.

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