The Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac update adds the ability to run Windows 7, but it can't pull ahead of VMware Fusion or Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox for OS X hosts in the tight race to run virtual machines on Apple equipment.
Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac and VMware Fusion both list for $79.99, while Sun's VirtualBox for OS X hosts is a no-cost download. If price is your primary evaluation factor, the choice is clear. However, if your development or daily-use needs require that you easily move files between Mac and Windows applications-or your workloads contend for physical host resources-then Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion should go to the top of your list.
I tested Parallels for Mac on a Mac mini with the minimum required Intel Core Duo, 1.66GHz processor, and on a Mac Pro with two dual-core Intel Xeon 2.66 GHz processors and an Nvidia GeForce 7300GT graphics adapter with 256 MB of RAM.
New in this point version of Parallels Desktop of Mac, which was released Jan. 19, is the ability of VMs to use up 256 MB of RAM on the video adapter.
Also new is the ability of VMs to utilize up to eight CPU cores and a maximum of 8 GB of RAM. I was able to assign all four of the CPU cores on my Mac Pro to VMs running in Parallels for Mac. Applications responded in a snap.
The Parallels Adaptive Hypervisor takes on greater importance given the greater CPU and RAM capacity that is available for VMs. By enabling the Adaptive Hypervisor option, I was able to let Parallels for Mac automatically allocate the host CPU resources between my VMs and the Mac OS X applications depending on which application I was using at the moment. For example, while running Microsoft Outlook in a Windows XP VM and working on a video file on the Mac Pro using Final Cut Pro 5.1, the CPU resources were shifted to the more processor-intensive graphics application.
Parallels for Mac is simple to use. Parallel Tools, which provide mouse integration, and Parallels Coherence, which allowed me to easily move between the Mac OS X environment on the physical host and the Windows applications installed in a virtual machine, are intuitive to use. Adding guest controls-whether in VMware Fusion or Sun VirtualBox-can be a bit of a chore. My tests showed that Parallels has (correctly) assumed that the user wants enhanced mouse and file integration features and made the installation of these almost an automatic part of the virtual machine creation wizard.
I installed Microsoft Office:mac 2008 on my physical Mac hosts and Office Professional 2007 for Windows on a VM running Windows XP SP3. After starting both applications, I could cut and paste heavily formatted text between the two applications with no loss of fidelity and no additional keystrokes beyond those normally associated with this action. New in this version of Parallels for Mac, I was able to use Windows Explorer to browse to a saved Word document in my Windows VM and drag the file to Word 2008 for Mac that was in the Dock on my physical host.
This behind-the-scenes integration of products that are running in different hosts is a convenient feature that competitors will find hard to beat.
Even so, it's clear that Parallels and VMware are locked in a competitive struggle that can play to the advantage of cost-conscious developers or IT managers working in smaller shops. One manifestation of this is that Parallels for Mac now nicely integrates security tools from Kaspersky Labs (the first year of the subscription is provided in the cost of the Parallels license) and back up and data management tools from Acronis, also included in the Parallels license fee.
Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.