Playing with Leopard and Virtual Machines
The two major virtualization packages are VM Ware’s Fusion and Parallels Desktop 3.0. I decided to take a quick look at both of them using trial versions that can be freely downloaded from each manufacturer’s website. You can reach those sites by simply asking Google to find either Fusion and Parallels.
I started by downloading VM Ware’s Fusion. Its installation was straightforward. On the first launch of the application, a wizard detected my Boot Camp installation and automatically configured Fusion to run from it. The Windows desktop appeared inside a large, silver window that was slightly smaller than the entire desktop and required using scroll bars to reach parts of it. One of the buttons on Fusion’s toolbar was “Full Screen”, and clicking on it replaced the Leopard desktop with the Windows desktop surrounded by black borders. (To get the XP desktop to fill my screen, I would have had to change the screen resolution within Windows itself.) Redraws of my mouse cursor as it moved across the Windows desktop sometimes showed abnormal artifacts due to an apparent slow refresh rate. An advisory message told me I needed to install VM Ware Tools to improve graphics and mouse response, so I clicked on the menu items to do so but didn’t see any kind of noticeable response. Windows then said I needed to activate it, but it crashed before I could. All in all, though it hadn’t been too bad, Fusion just hadn’t provided the kind of system response I was hoping for. It could be that my version had not been tweaked for running under Leopard. And my overall impression was that Fusion simply didn’t seem to have the feature package Parallels did.
After uninstalling Fusion, I surfed over to the Parallels site and downloaded the latest trial version of Parallels Desktop 3.0. The Parallels trial period is a bit stingy; it only lasts for 15 days while Fusion’s lasts 30. The Parallels installation also went smoothly; and just like Fusion, Parallels detected the Boot Camp partition and then set itself up to work with it. The initial part of the Parallels launch went smoothly, but when I commanded XP to start, I got an error message stating it “could not allocate enough memory to the monitor PE!” I found a discussion of that problem at a Parallel’s forum. There didn’t seem to be a cure, but knocking down the amount of virtual memory assigned to the virtual machine might help. I tried that but got no improvement until after a second reboot when Parallels launched XP normally. Once I got to the XP desktop, I flipped the system from windowed mode to full screen mode to Coherence mode; and it responded beautifully. Coherence mode is my favorite; the XP Start menu and bar resides at the bottom of the screen and the Leopard Dock rides up the right, and Windows applications appear on the Desktop as if they were native OS X applications. I did some writing (of this article, actually) using Word 2007 in Coherence mode. It worked great.
However, Finder’s menu bar was showing me a battery icon that was nearing empty. To shut down XP before my battery died, I commanded XP to shut down, but it hung. I tried bringing up Task Manager to see what was going on but had no luck. I tried commanding XP to shut down again but saw no response. Ultimately, I wound up doing what I didn’t want to do, i.e., commanding Parallels to Force Quit.
At that point, I wasn’t sure if the Boot Camp partition had been damaged, so I rebooted into Windows using Boot Camp. The first black screen appeared followed quickly by the dreaded message I’ve seen too often when Windows wouldn’t boot; it could not find the file “hal.dll”. I rebooted back into OS X hoping Parallels might fix the situation. If not, I’d have to reinstall XP; and if I did that, Parallels was coming off my system.
The first time I tried to restart Parallels, I got the “memory allocation monitor” message again. I reset the virtual machine memory allocation down to 512K from 1024, quit Parallels, then relaunched it and tried again. This time, Parallels launched XP and it appeared to be normal. Once in the XP desktop, I commanded it to shut down, and it did but not until I manually quit several routines it reported weren’t responding. I rebooted back into XP using Boot Camp, and this time it all worked as it was supposed to. Then, I went back into OS X and uninstalled Parallels. I decided, just like I had some time ago, that the risk of having Parallels corrupt my boot partition was a risk I simply wasn’t willing to take.
My wife uses Parallels all the time and exclusively. She has no problems with it; so, despite my own decision not to use it, it wouldn’t take a lot for me to change my mind about it. VM Ware’s Fusion is a worthy competitor for Parallels, though the latter seems more feature-rich. I believe Fusion will need another upgrade to crank out its best performance under Leopard while Parallels could use the same to make it more stable.
I found out recently I qualified for a free upgrade from Parallels 2.0 to 3.0 (by buying P2 after May 7, 2007). I’m still waiting for Nova Development to send that my way; and when I get it, I’ll decide whether I’m going to give that to my wife (probably) or use myself. If the latter, I’ll blog about it again; but, for now, it looks like Boot Camp is good enough for me.