A superior mobile client and mass deployment support make Parallels Desktop 7 a winner for Mac-based virtualization.
One of the facts of life a Mac
user has to face is that a substantial body of software simply isn't available
for the platform. In some cases, that's not a problem if equivalent
applications for Apple's operating system exist. But all too often, corporate
users and the people who support them don't have that alternative-especially in
the case of applications built in-house. And workarounds for such a situation
amount to choosing between dual-booting Mac OS X and a corporate Windows image
on the one hand, and on the other, using virtualization tools that allow users
to run a variety of operating systems within the Mac environment. Parallels
Desktop 7, which was released in early September, provides a solid foundation
for the second approach and goes beyond merely supplying a platform for such "foreign"
What sets Parallels apart from
tools such as VMware Fusion or Oracle Virtual Box isn't the mere capability to
run foreign operating systems as guests of a Mac host. That's something one can
now take for granted, although all three vary somewhat in their support for specific
guest platforms. Nor is it the ability to seamlessly present applications from
an installed guest operating system within the context of the Mac environment.
That, too, is common enough that its absence is more likely to be noteworthy.
Instead, Parallels shines best
in its remote management features. The Parallels Mobile app for iOS devices-a
separate purchase through the iTunes App Store-allows users to remotely control
Parallels Desktop from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch from just about anywhere.
Virtual machines (VMs) can be launched, suspended or shut down from the
Parallels Mobile app, which is a great convenience for road warriors who want
to travel with a minimum of hardware.
The new release of Parallels
Desktop, as one might suspect, adds support for the new user interface elements
of OS X Lion. This includes integration with Launchpad and Mission Control, and
support for Lion's Full Screen mode when working with Windows applications. In
my testing, which used server and client installations of Windows-including the
client version of the Windows Developer Preview-I found no noticeable
difference between the performance of Parallels Desktop 7 on either Lion or Mac
OS X Snow Leopard and similar use of VMware Fusion 4. I'm sure that someone,
somewhere, has benchmarks "proving" that one of these is somehow faster. But as
I found, the big difference isn't a matter of speeds and feeds.
In addition to the basic and
"switcher" editions of Parallels Desktop 7-the latter includes a USB
cable that allows users to transfer an existing Windows installation from a PC
to a guest VM, and video tutorials for the novice user-Parallels offers a
volume license option, the Enterprise Edition. This debuted in July (at the
time, as an option for Parallels Desktop 6) and allows mass deployment by way
of an install package builder. The Parallels Desktop Enterprise Edition works
with a variety of remote management tools for the Mac platform, including
Absolute Manage (formerly LANrev), JAMF Software's Casper Suite and LANDesk, as
well as Apple Remote Desktop. It's an easily configured way to ensure that a
deployment of scores or hundreds of installations is done consistently from one
machine to the next.
Another feature of Parallels
Desktop that stands out is the simplicity of setting up new VMs. The Parallels
Wizard allows one to convert an existing physical installation, whether on a
different computer or external storage device. It lets one download prebuilt
Parallels appliances running Fedora, Google Chrome or Ubuntu. It allows one to
copy existing VMs, whether created under Parallels or VMware. And it
facilitates the purchase of Windows 7 directly from Microsoft or the use of physical
media for installing Windows.
The basic requirements for
Parallels Desktop 7 include a Mac with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and at
least 2GB of physical RAM. The company
recommends 4GB for use with Windows 7 as a guest operating system. But as with
any virtualization software, I'd say that if one plans to use a guest operating
system regularly, there's a good case to be made for going whole-hog and
springing for at least 8GB of physical memory. Parallels Desktop 7, as noted,
will reach its full potential under OS X Lion, but it can be used with the
final releases of Leopard (10.5.8) and Snow Leopard (10.6.8).
The remote access feature isn't
perfectly foolproof, but it's awfully close. I had some difficulty when trying
to configure a Parallels Desktop client for this feature, when the server on
Parallels' side of the cloud wouldn't accept a user ID and password until I'd
stopped a service on the client, counted to 100 and then restarted the service.
That may have been a fluke. At press time, neither Parallel's engineers nor I
had been able to replicate the problem. Once that was sorted out, the Parallels
Mobile client performed flawlessly, allowing me to access Parallels Desktop
clients in eWEEK's
Francisco lab and my personal workbench halfway across
town with equal ease.
Having recently taken a look at
VMware Fusion 4 (eWEEK, Oct. 3 - /c/a/Virtualization/VMware-Fusion-4-Is-Simply-Superb-590413/),
I couldn't be better placed to compare it with Parallels Desktop 7. In the end,
they each offer a solid platform for virtualization on the Mac and support a
wide range of guest operating systems. They are fairly mature and stable
products and are fairly straightforward to use. Although Fusion offers a
somewhat more Mac-like user interface and is a better choice for working with
VMs that will ultimately end up running in a data center environment, Parallels
has an edge in mass deployment scenarios. As frosting on the cupcake, the
Parallels Mobile client is far ahead of anything that VMware offers for mobile
devices. Advantage: Parallels.