Home > macintosh, software, windows > Mac VM’s – November 2008 Part 1

Mac VM’s – November 2008 Part 1

It’s been a while since I took a look at three Virtual Machine packages for the Macintosh, and all three have moved on from the previous versions. Parallels has recently seen a step to version 4, VMware Fusion is now on version 2 and so is Virtualbox. With the release of Parallels came claims of big speed improvements so it’s time to try all three again and see if one has edged ahead of the pack.

To start I decided to try a simple task. Most users  will likely be installing Windows (Vista was used here) in their VM, so the first tests are how long does it take, how many steps are involved and how good are the default options chosen for you.

Parallels 4


Once Parallels is installed all that’s required is a click on the File>New Virtual Machine menu or the plus button in the Virtual Machines window. Here’s the first window.


Helpful for a new user, and nice to see the option to skip the introduction screen. The next step asks where the operating system will be installed from, either a real disc or an image file. I could only select the Pioneer DVD writer, the software would not detect my DVD-rom.


The continue button took me to the next screen where the Vista disc was detected and details for user account and product key can be entered.


Entering the information here means Parallels will perform the install for you with no further input required. Next step is naming the VM with a few other options.


One last confirmation of the OS install source, then Parallels is off.


The install process is automated from that point on, so as previously mentioned you are not asked any more questions. The one thing missing from the install were any details of the VM’s hardware such as number of processor cores and memory. A quick look at the settings while Parallels was installing Vista showed the default choices were one virtual processor, 1024Mb of memory and a 32Gb hard drive. Not bad choices for a 4Gb machine with a quad core processor, and you can change these settings any time the virtual machine is stopped.

From starting the wizard to the Vista desktop being ready to use took 21 minutes, and included the installation of Parallels tools for host integration. This was automatic at the end of the install so again no user input was required. The only thing I did once the wizard was finished was install the included Parallels Internet Security suite, provided by Kaspersky. This appeared to work fine but Vista reports that the virus protection is turned off.


The Kaspersky control panel says every protection is working fine, so I’m not sure what is going on here. Maybe Vista needs updating to SP1, so that will be covered later in the tests.


Parallels did very well in this test, the initial install completed in 21 minutes, five steps (four if you want to turn the introduction off), and the default options were sensible for current consumer macs.

VMware Fusion 2


Next on test is VMware Fusion, recently updated to version 2.0.1.The VMware Vista install was just as smooth as Parallels, the Vista disc was detected as the wizard started.


Account and product key details next, still nothing difficult for a new user.


Step three is a simple choice of sharing preferences.


Last step is a summary of the install which was a sensible balance, enough detail for those who want to know, and no confusing choices for those less experienced. The option to customise settings is available, and the choice of installation media was never asked since the Vista disc was automatically detected.


From the screenshots above it’s obvious there are a lot of similarities between Parallels and VMware Fusion. This continued through the test results with VMware taking an identical 21 minutes to complete the install including VMware Tools. Vmware also provides a Windows security suite, this time McAfee Security Centre.


No warnings from Vista this time, but the McAfee software did warn I was not fully protected when first starting. Clicking the ‘fix’ link sorted this out though no details of the problem were given.

VMware Fusion took 21 minutes and four steps to install, the default hardware options were sensible and displayed without further steps, and the included security software works correctly with Vista.

Virtualbox 2


When started Virtualbox displays a window listing available virtual machines and information on them. Installing a new one is as simple as clicking the ‘New’ button and following the wizard just like Parallels and VMware Fusion, starting with the introduction screen.


Next is the OS choice, unfortunately no automatic detection with Virtualbox.


Since Vista was selected as the OS I expected more than 512Mb of memory to be allocated by default when there is 4Gb available. It’s easy enough to drag the slider to increase the default but a better initial setting would be of more use to new users.


The virtual hard disk configuration is where things get a bit more involved. Virtualbox doesn’t create a disk for you, just recommends a size and leaves you to work through the wizard.


Clicking the ‘New’ button starts another wizard to create the virtual hard disk,starting with an introduction screen.


Options for virtual disk type are presented as the first step, with descriptions of each type. No benefits are listed for the fixed size disk, so why choose this?  A bit more guidance would be useful if the user is given a choice.


Size of hard disk is next, and another option to name the hard disk image file. It’s obvious by now that Virtualbox is aimed at the more experienced user who wants up front control over the virtual machine. 20Gb is a bit small for a Vista install so I increased this to 32Gb to match Parallels.


One more confirmation screen and the hard drive is done.


Back to the virtual machine wizard and the new hard drive is selected and ready to use.


One last confirmation of the virtual machine details before the VM is configured.


That’s not the end of the steps before installation can begin. I still had to go into the settings and specify the source of the install media, though Virtualbox would happily work with either the DVD writer or DVD-rom.


That brings the total to eleven steps, and the install took around 40 minutes, including entering the product key into Vista. The default choices were on the low side for memory and hard disk, so this is not a product for the casual switcher looking to run Windows under Mac OS. For an experienced user it’s ok, but I would prefer some well judged default choices to limit the amount of tweaking required before starting the VM for the first time.

For installing Vista it’s clear that Parallels and VMware Fusion are ahead of Virtualbox for ease of use and default hardware choices. In part 2 I will look at configuration options, then start on performance.

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