Friday, July 14, 2006

Parallels - Where's the catch?

Screenshot of Parallels running on a Mac with Ubuntu as guest OS
There was a time when running two operating systems on a computer meant dual-booting or buying a hugely expensive licence from Vmware Inc. Now everyone's at it; Microsoft are giving away their Virtual PC product for free, Apple allow their Intel Macs to dual-boot to Windows and also recommend the use of Parallels. Parallels allows multiple guest operating systems to be installed inside OS X with the virtual machine completely separate from the host system . As a web developer, it's useful to be able to test the web sites I create on different operating systems. Could Parallels be the answer? Surely it couldn't be that easy?

It would seem so. I downloaded the trial version, registered for trial activation key and installed it. I started with Ubuntu, as it's free and simple. I started the virtual machine inserted the freshly download install CD and off it went. I couldn't believe how simple it was. It's a bit weird when Ubuntu says "This operation will delete all of the data from your existing partition", when it means the 8GB that Parallels has conned it into thinking is its own hard disk. It's like magic. It's bizarrely simple how network communications between the guest OS and the host computer just work.

So why should anyone bother with Vmware, who virtually (no pun intended) invented the whole idea? Because Vmware are concentrating on the enterprise market. They know that they can't really charge for a desktop product because it'll be in every Linux distribution soon and the other major OS developers will follow suit. Vmware's unique selling point is their Enterprise class product where the virtual machine can be transferred to another physical server without interrupting its operation. Now that's clever, but it'll cost you!

For the computer user who fancies dabbling in a bit of Windows, a bit of Linux all from the same Mac, then Parallels is the best thing on the market at present. Anyone fancy betting that OS X Leopard will have virtualization in it?

I'll try creating an Windows XP virtual machine shortly and I'll report back on my findings soon.

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