I started with DOSBox, which I still think is the best DOS emulator I have been able to find for the Mac. It's open source (huge plus!), and works well with most of my DOS games without any configuration. Primarily I used it for Martian Dreams, which I managed to finish in a relatively painless manner. And, interestingly enough, it will run Windows 3.11 rather well (sans networking). For gaming, there isn't anything better. It also runs Word 6.0 without a hitch, in the DOS environment. Not that I would use it for writing anything serious, you understand. Rather I use it for background refreshers.
But, like with all great things that are developed in Open Source, DOSBox is limited. Technically it's possible to install Windows 95, but I want something a bit more stable. Unfortunately, on my personal machine, I'm running a PowerPC. That limits my choices considerably for what is out there.
Of course my work machine is a Mac Pro, and rather well put together. I installed Parallels on it at first, just to play around with it. It worked just the way Windows XP is expected to work: Slow and clunky. But it worked well, and I could get my networks setup, my access taken care of, and work with Office 2007. So I was happy, and this was all before VMWare came out with Fusion.
Now, when VMWare announced Fusion, I was immediately defensive of Parallels. Sure, Parallels initially kernel-panicked my machine, but that was all in the past! I got it working, and it did the job for me. I didn't think I would ever work with VMWare.
Then Leopard came out, and the game changed. I had Parallels 2.x, and it didn't work in Leopard. I had to purchase 3.x. You can probably imagine my excitement over that. So, I went with Bootcamp for a while (tri-booting my Mac Pro), and hobbled along.
Recently (as in this week), my IT department told me they purchased VMWare for me a month ago, and just never told me (or anyone else they had purchased it for) that it was available. I snatched it from their hands, got the CD Key, and then downloaded the latest version. Within a half an hour, I not only had VMWare installed, but also XP! So here is my experience with VMWare Fusion vs. Parallels:
Installation was quick and painless, though my experience with Parallels told me to download the latest version of the emulator, and not use the included CD. It is rumored that there is an automatic update tool built into the installation.
|First installation crashed my system, requiring a reboot. After reading the boards, I learned that everyone else that had an Intel Core 2 Duo processor had the same problem and ranked the program as poor. A download of the latest version of 2.x worked well, and the installation took the expected amount of time|
Configuration was really painless. It automatically detected my Bootcamp partition, but even better it had an automated installation for the Windows OS that was clean and easy. It allowed installation from a Disk Image of the install CD, which made it that much more convenient to install the OS.
|Parallels really understood the meaning of Wizards when they came up with their install process, blazing the path for VMWare to follow on the Mac OS. The installation could have been automated, but I preferred to do a basic install. As of 2.x I was unaware of an option to install from a disk image, and I couldn't tell you if that option is in 3.x|
VMWare's performance is where it excels. The boot sequence is faster than I have seen anywhere, and as such it does a remarkable job. Connecting and disconnecting peripherals is a breeze, and subsequent configurations are simple.
|Parallels had some performance issues that I didn't notice until I installed VMWare. Perhaps it is because it was 2.x and not 3.x, but it was noticeably slower when booting to Windows. Other than that, the performance was not noticeably any different. The one thing that was a problem for me on Parallels was the USB jump drive. It had trouble detecting it, because Mac detected it first. I would unmount it on the Mac, and then try to mount it in Parallels, and it would still fail. That was annoying.|
All in all, it was a good experience, and both get the job done. It just seems that VMWare Fusion manages to make it more fluid. And as the price tag for both is the same, I'm convinced that VMWare is the better choice for me.
But I also mentioned that I would talk about QEMU, or Q for the Mac. This is an open source emulator that not only allows you to install Windows, but you can emulate other processor types as well. Need a Sparc machine? It's there. Need to run something for an ARM processor? It's waiting for you. The only problem is, it's terribly slow. The huge bonus is, it's the only way (short of purchasing Virtual PC) to have Windows installed on the Mac PowerPC.
The specs that it emulates to is really impressive. In fact, I should be able to run a couple of Windows games on it without any trouble, and as it's all about the old-school games, it should be a problem to run them on my Powerbook.
So, what's the final verdict? VMWare wins for me on the Intel machine, and QEMU is the clear winner for the PowerPC. Parallels is a close second to VMWare, and both beat QEMU on the Intel machine (for now, anyway).