VMware, Parallels preparing new Mac-Windows virtualization software

Parallels had the early lead, but VMware has 'really closed the gap,' says one analyst

VMware Inc. and upstart Parallels Inc. are both preparing to release upgrades to their popular software that enable Windows applications to run virtually on Mac hardware.

At its VMworld user conference, VMware today announced the general availability of VMware Fusion 2.0.. According to Pete Kazanjy, product marketing manager at VMware, the new version supports virtual machine instances running on as many as four processors, and lets users create VMs out of Mac OS X Leopard Server, which rival Parallels introduced in August.

Meanwhile, Parallels has released a private beta of Parallels Desktop 4.0, said Ray Chew, a senior product manager at the company. It will make an official announcement about the next version in the next couple months, he said.

A leaked version of Parallels Desktop 4.0 hit the Web earlier this month. The most recent version, Parallels Desktop 3.0, was released 15 months ago.

Demand for running Windows virtualization on Macs continues to grow. According to a Web-based survey released this month by independent analyst Laura DiDio and sponsored by antivirus vendor Sunbelt Software, 23% of the 700 businesses surveyed said they are doing some Windows virtualization on their Mac hardware, whether as client PCs or servers.

"Several dozen" had virtualized Windows on more than a thousand Macs, DiDio said.

While Mac management tools are growing, any remaining slack "wasn't holding them back," said DiDio. Several respondents cited ADmitMac as an adequate third-party Active Directory tool.

It's unclear who the market leader is. Parallels has sold more than 1 million copies of its Desktop product since June 2006. VMware sold 250,000 copies of Fusion in the first five months of its release in August, Kazanjy said. He declined to release more up-to-date figures.

DiDio's results indicated VMware Fusion and Parallels were "neck and neck" in terms of popularity.

A new entrant is DiscCloud, a small vendor that released software last month that it claims can be used to legally enable non-Apple PC servers to host Leopard client VMs. DiscCloud must be used in conjunction with VMware Server.

Brian Madden, an independent desktop virtualization analyst, said Parallels had the early lead in this market, but that Fusion had "really closed the gap."

"From a feature standpoint, they are just about the same," he said. "I personally started with Parallels, tried Fusion, and eventually switched over to it, since I figured I might as well go with the company that does it best."

Madden said that Fusion had added a lot more features than VMware Workstation for Windows "because it has such strong competition from Parallels."

Microsoft offers the free Virtual PC, but Madden discounted it. "In Windows, VMware really has no competition," he said.

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