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Head to Head: Parallels Desktop 6 vs VMware Fusion 3

We pit the two leading Mac virtualisation programs against each other to see which is best for running Windows on your shiny Apple computer.

Parallels

Installing Windows usually involves setting various preferences at various points during the installation process. Although these have been much reduced in Windows 7 compared to XP and Vista, they're still annoying as you have to keep an eye on the installation instead of getting on with more important work. Parallels' 'hands-free' installation wizard allows you to set all these preferences in advance, letting you install Windows unattended.

Parallel's installation wizard includes several other options to help you get up and running with your new VM as quickly as possible. It lets you set the number of processor cores and RAM dedicated to the VM. The VM's virtual hard disk image can grow to several gigabytes in size, depending on your Windows applications and documents, so the installation wizard gives you the option of setting Time Machine to not back up the disk image, dramatically cutting down the amount of data that needs to be backed up. This option especially makes sense if you'll be using a Windows backup program to back up your Windows files anyway.

A separate program, the Parallels Transporter Agent, allows you to create a VM from an actual PC. That PC has to be on your local network, so it would work more quickly if your PC and Mac were networked over gigabit Ethernet instead of wireless. The Agent can also work if the Mac and PC are connected using an USB transfer cable, such as the one Parallels sells for an extra 25 as part of its Switch To Mac bundle. Although we concentrated on installing Windows from scratch, we did try the Transporter Agent and found that it had trouble copying data from a Windows laptop with a restore partition.

Parallels ChromeOS

Dabblers interested in trying out Google's still in development ChromeOS can download and install beta versions using a menu option directly from within Parallels. A link is also provided to Parallel's online directory of ready-to-use VMs, although the selection isn't as vast as VMWare's.

Once your VM has been set up, it's possible to tweak its settings even further. The settings dialog has a plethora of options, so it appears a little cluttered. An option to search for the setting you're looking for, such as the one in the MacOS' System Preferences would be a welcome addition.

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