Thursday, February 28, 2008

VMWare Fusion vs. Parallels vs. QEMU

This week, in between classes, I have been experimenting with virtual machines. Why, you may ask? Because I have been going through old-school gaming withdrawals, and because I need to teach Office 2007 classes. Both require a Windows environment of some sort, and so my quest began.

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).


OralDave said...

FYI, there was a Virtual PC for Mac back in the PowerPC days. It was purchased and offered by MS. You can probably still find a copy somewhere.

Jerry said...

I recently purchased a new iMac and was running a couple of programs on Boot Camp, primarily Camtasia Studio for training that I do.

I had heard a lot about Parallels and went to the Apple Store to try to learn more there. There I found out about VMware Fusion and eventually bought it.

It was easy to install, works flawlessly and seamlessly. My camtasia productions produce with no delays. It just quitely and effectively does what it is supposed to do. I am very happy with Fusion.

Alwyn Schoeman said...

Virtualbox is another option you can check out. Its free, but unlike dosbox is more on par with vmware.

Jim said...

I was a Parallels user, using it to run QuickBook's PC version on my Mac. Parallels crashed and I could not find my data. To get support you dial a long distance number in the U.S. and wait for easily an hour to talk to tech support in, get this, Moscow. Less than helpful. I will never, never get close to this company or their software again. Don't have experience with Fusion but wanted to leave a warning about Parallels.

devon said...

I installed Boot Camp on my MacBook, given that I had to use MS Outlook, and that Word and Excel for Windows are more appropriate for my needs, but I keep running into hardware issues when I'm running Windows Vista.

The external monitor I use keeps freaking out--the display settings change constantly, they aren't retained when I close the lid of my computer or restart, and in general it's been a big headache.

My three questions, for someone who's used Fusion, are:

1. Will this likely be an issue if I switch to Fusion.

2. Will I be able to switch over to Fusion without having to get rid of my Boot Camp partition and thus, having to start over from scratch?

3. I'll be running almost everything on Windows applications, is Fusion capable of handling this smoothly?

Thanks for any feedback!

Jeremy Robb said...


I'm sure you have already had a lot of answers to this, but I thought I would throw this in: VMWare Fusion makes using the Bootcamp partition easy. The only exception is for applications that can't run in a virtual machine (like Neo Steam).


Yes! I've checked out VirtualBox since this post, and I've liked it. I don't like how it packages the images, though, because it makes it difficult to distribute in a lab environment. It's a great alternative to Parallels, and I would even say VMWare if you need a free, open-source option. ^_^

Jeremy Robb said...


I did manage to get a copy of Virtual PC for Mac, and it didn't work well with my 10.5 computer, or with 10.6. I finally just opted not to install it, because 1) I couldn't get the blasted thing to work, and 2) it would cause a lot of garbage code to show when I would image with asr. I don't recommend it.