VMware Fusion vs Parallels

I’ve used VMware products literally for years. Without them, it would have been a lot harder to run my business. So when I ended up buying a MacBook Pro as my main machine, the first program I bought for it was VMware’s Mac offering, Fusion.

It worked, mostly. And over the last couple years, it has gotten better, but I’ve always gotten the impression that it was something of a red-headed stepchild for VMware. They’re very slow to release updates compatible with new versions of operating systems, and with a new version of Ubuntu out every six months now, that’s kind of important. Worse, they have never supported any Linux compositor, so I can only use more recent versions of Ubuntu in “classic” mode… I’d never even seen the new Unity interface in action, let alone used it.

VMware Fusion has other failings too, minor but very annoying:

  • Several versions ago, it started telling the VM that the system is almost always plugged in, regardless of whether it is or not.
  • When I’m away from my external mouse and have to use the trackpad, trackpad taps have always gotten “stuck” in the Linux VM. The system notices that you’ve tapped only after you move the mouse cursor a bit, which leads to some very annoying problems.
  • VMware does not support IPv6 on virtual machines. Not too important right now, but it will be, and I’d like to start playing with it as soon as I can.
  • The big one: hard drive accesses are REALLY slow, and I still get a lot of “IOwait” even after making this change. This might not be entirely VMware’s fault, but I have no way of proving or disproving that right now.

My current 20GB virtual hard drive is also getting full, and I wanted to rebuild the virtual machine anyway, so it was time to look at alternatives.

The first thing I noticed yesterday, when I started, was that VMware Fusion v4 had just been released the day before. I eagerly perused its features and changes, only to find that it had only two things that I wanted: full OS X “Lion” compatibility and “Time Machine-compatible snapshots.” Whoopti-do. Sorry, that is not worth upgrading for. Worse, it seemed rushed, because there were lots of reports of problems with it.

Then I checked out Parallels. From various forums I’d already heard that they updated it for new OS versions very quickly, and that it fully supported Ubuntu’s compositor and newer Unity interface, so it started out with an instant bonus. I discovered that they’d just recently released a new version too, v7 (likely why VMware Fusion v4 was rushed into release too early), and there’s a special offer for “cross-grading” from VMware Fusion for only $30 right now. I also discovered that their virtual machines fully support IPv6, and that they provide much better support on their forums than VMware does. Even better, they offer a free two-week trial, which I jumped at.

I haven’t fully finished setting up my first virtual machine yet, but so far I’ve proven that it does fully support Ubuntu’s new Unity interface. (I’m not sure I like the new interface, but it does apparently eliminate the memory leak problem in XOrg that I’d been battling for a while now, by eliminating X itself. 🙂 ) So far it also seems much faster, I’ve seen very few “IOwait” indications in the System Load Indicator applet.

We’ll see if it remains that way after I’ve used it for a couple weeks. If so, I think we’ve got a winner.


  1. I’m not sure what it’s using. I didn’t see Xorg in my process list earlier, but it’s there now, and growing, so apparently I was mistaken on that count. 🙁

    On the other hand, I’ve nearly got my main virtual machine set up, and it’s ridiculously fast compared to the VMware one. I’ve also converted my Windows development VM to it as well, and it’s also faster by a huge amount, probably three or four times faster.

    On the third hand (what, you don’t have one? 😉 ), I’ve run into my first bug in it already, a networking bug that’s apparently a couple weeks old, and that I heard about before I even decided to try Parallels. I can’t tell exactly what’s causing it, but it only seems to happen if I compile something in a VM that’s actually stored in the host’s filesystem. I rarely need to do that, and I’ve found a work-around for now (copy the source to the VM’s filesystem first).

    (That was the only bug that I heard about before I tried it, and hopefully it’ll be the only one I find too. 😉 )

    • Hmmm, that $30 crossgrade looks very tempting. Maybe I’ll try the demo some time in the future, though I must admit in OS X, I do very little VMing, so I could live with VMWare for a while. I have even thought of switching to Virtual Box, the webOS SDK uses Virtual Box for the simulator, so it would reduce the department of redundancy department here. (Which is a lot better than the excruciatingly slow Android SDK simulator, which means you have to deploy to your device – luckily that’s free and supported on any Android device, in order to test.)

    • You may not have seen the VMware problems I did, especially the huge speed hit. It looks like it was due to some sort of swapping, but I have no idea why either the host system or the VM would be swapping anything. The VM has 2GB, and my monitoring programs say it’s not using any swap space at all. The host system has 8GB, more than enough for the VMs that I run, and still has more than a gigabyte of memory free.

      On top of that, I don’t know why such swapping took so long under VMware. With full use, I’ve started seeing it in Parallels too on occasion, but it’s finished a lot faster there — that’s the source of the three-to-four-times speed increase that I mentioned earlier. I originally thought that must be due to a really slow hard drive, but after looking up the specifications on this system, I could see nothing justifying that. Now it just looks like a VMware problem of some kind.

      From some things I’ve read, I have a suspicion, which I’ll propound in a later blog post if I think of it.

      • The trade-off for running Parallels vs. VMWare has been called speed (at some things) vs. stability, apparently Parallel’s stability has improved a lot, at least on your system, and VMWare’s overall stability and speed haven’t lately. If I’m in the market for a VM-software upgrade, which I might be if I move my hackintosh to Lion, I’ll take a serious look at evaluating Parallels. Back in the VMWare 1.0 and 2.0 days, it was not very stable so I didn’t want it.

      • I haven’t had any stability problems in VMware, it’s true. But I haven’t seen any in Parallels yet either. Of course, I haven’t tried to run games in it yet; if I do, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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