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Revisiting Virtualization on the Mac

Revisiting Virtualization on the Mac

As debuts go, there was hardly a misstep from VMware Fusion, the company's first entry into virtualization on the Mac platform. VMware capitalized then on the trend of consumers shifting from Windows PC to the Mac platform, aided by Apple's switch to Intel processors. The only other comparable alternative then was Parallels Desktop for Mac, which found itself having a serious competitor for the first time.

Our own short virtualization trip into Fusion and Parallels in 2007 found that both products had some neat touches when it came to the integration between guest and host operating systems (OS), with Fusion the more eye-catching of the two thanks to its Spotlight and Expose integration. We couldn't quite say the same for the sluupgrade ggish performance of both software, no doubt a result of our less than optimal hardware, a 2.0GHz MacBook with only 1GB of RAM. (For readers who aren't well versed with these virtualization software and their basic features, we recommend building up the basics with our previous article as linked above and in our Related Links section below).

Flash forward to 2009 and both companies have newer versions of their virtualization software available. Despite starting from scratch, VMware has swiftly managed to capture a significant portion of the market for Mac virtualization products since its debut and all eyes are now on the company's latest version of Fusion, which has gone from version 1.0 to 2.0.2.

What's more, this latest version is available as a free for existing Fusion 1.x users. (Now if only Microsoft will follow suit for Windows Vista users upgrading to Windows 7 in the future). Parallels Desktop meanwhile has progressed to version 4.0 and while it's not free like Fusion for upgraders, existing users of Parallels do get a discount of US$30 off the retail price of US$79.99.

Hence, we'll be revisiting both these software in this article to find out what's changed and what's new. For our part, we too have a more capable MacBook Pro, the same luxurious 17-inch model that was recently reviewed. This MacBook Pro uses the new NVIDIA GeForce 9400M chipset, which means there's a GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor in addition to the GeForce 9600M GT discrete graphics on the unit. Our review model also came with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at 2.66GHz, 4GB of DDR3 memory and was installed with Mac OS X 10.5.6. When it comes to MacBooks, there is hardly a more powerful machine than the 17-inch Macbook Pro, so we're expecting a greatly improved experience from the two virtualization software this time round.

But before we go into the individual software and how they have changed, one thing that struck us during our testing was how both software appeared to be converging into polished Mac clones of each other, in terms of their features and their integration with the Mac OS. Perhaps in their quests to blend into Mac OS X, they have both arrived at a similar point despite starting differently. For example, below is the virtual machine library for both products, where it can be hard to distinguish between the two:-

Minimum System Requirements
Requirement/Product VMware Fusion 2.0 Parallels Desktop 4.0
Host Operating System Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later on an Intel Mac Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later on an Intel Mac
Memory 1GB RAM (2GB recommended) 1GB RAM (2GB for Windows Vista)
Hard Disk Space 400MB free disk space for VMware Fusion, and at least 5GB for each virtual machine. 400MB free disk space for Parallels and 15GB recommended for each virtual machine.