Parallels says new Mac virtualization app keeps edge over VMware

Touts study showing 64-bit Windows 7 runs 22% faster on Parallels than Fusion

Parallels Inc. released the latest version of its Windows virtualization software for Mac computers on Wednesday, which it claims remains faster and more powerful than VMware Inc.'s rival app.

Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac boasts 70 new features, including compatibility with the latest, highest-end versions of Windows 7 and Mac OS X, full support for Windows' enhanced graphics user interface, Aero, and deeper integration between Windows and Mac such that users won't notice when switching back and forth between the environments.

Many of those features and improvements, such as the deeper Windows-Mac integration, are also available in VMware Fusion 3.0, which was launched last month.

The difference, according to Parallels' CEO Serguei Beloussov, is that Parallels deploys these features in a better and faster way than Fusion.

For instance, in addition to debuting a new Crystal mode that completely replaces Windows user interface elements with the Mac's, Parallels 5.0 also lets virtualized Windows apps be controlled by Apple's multi-touch trackpad gestures such as pinch, swipe and rotate. Users can also cut and paste formatted text and layouts between applications running in Windows or Linux guests and the native Mac OS X.

Beloussov also cited a study by Crimson Consulting commissioned by Parallels that shows the 64-bit version of Windows 7 to run 22% faster on a MacBook Pro using Parallels than on Fusion. Parallels also transmits data over networks and USB faster than Fusion, he said, displays graphics and video better and uses less Mac CPU cycles, resulting in better battery life.

One user of the Parallels 5 beta who agrees is Simon Loffler, an Australian Web designer.

"The UI is so much better. Everything feels tighter and better thought-out, and the config buttons on the bottom of the VM window are intuitive yet minimal," he said."[Parallels 5.0 also] seems to require less resources than Parallels 4.0, as OS X runs slightly smoother."

Despite an intermittent problem with the driver for a Logitech steering wheel for games, Loffler rated the new version "overall, a very nice upgrade from Parallels 4" that he said "totally beats" VMware's Fusion 2 (Loffler hasn't used Fusion 3).

Parallels 5 lists for $79.99 and includes several other utilities from Kaspersky and Acronis. An upgrade version costs $49.99.

First introduced in mid-2006 shortly after Apple released its Intel-based Macs, Parallels for Mac has two million users.

Parallels beat VMware to market by a year. Though a much smaller company than VMware, Parallels relies heavily on Mac virtualization sales (about out one-fifth of total revenue) and thus invests accordingly, says Beloussov.

"The virtualization engine for all our products originates from the Mac," he said. By contrast, VMware invests more in its server virtualization because that is where it makes most of its money, Beloussov said. "They don't optimize for the Mac," he said.

Besides Fusion, Parallels Desktop also competes with Apple's Boot Camp feature, which lets Mac users boot Windows or Mac OS X (though not run them simultaneously).

Apple has not yet updated Boot Camp for Windows 7, and has not released a new version for a year and a half.

Beloussov argues that Apple is slowly pulling back on its Boot Camp efforts. He claims that virtualization software such as Parallels are already so streamlined today that most Windows apps will run faster virtually than natively via Boot Camp.

Parallels is also readying a new version of its Mac virtualization product that will be aimed at developers, he said.

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