VirtualBox vs VMWare vs Parallels on Mac?

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by BC2009, Nov 6, 2009.

  1. macrumors 68000


    Jul 1, 2009
    I am getting ready to finally "make the switch" to Mac and I need a Virtualization solution
    to ease the transition for my wife and let me run my work environments as well.

    I have been considering VirtualBox ( which is free for personal use, as well as VMWare Fusion 3, and Parallels. The satisfaction rating seems to be lower with the Parallels users (maybe disgruntled on charging folks for 2 upgraded within 2 months of each other) so I have almost ruled it out, but I still need to decide. The big thing here is that I need this software from day one to make sure my wife doesn't have to miss a beat during the transition. I'd rather not be reinstalling Windows _again_ in 2 weeks to switch solutions.

    Anybody have any experience with VirtualBox on Mac and can maybe share some of the shortcomings versus VMWare Fusion or Parallels? Is there good reason fork over the cash and go with Fusion or Parallels?

    Any feedback would be great.
  2. macrumors 68020

    Bill Gates

    Jun 21, 2006
    VMware Fusion 2 was an excellent product. To a lesser extent, VMware Fusion 3 is as well. The current release suffers from some performance issues and as a result has created some disgruntled users over on the VMware forums. That said, a VMware employee has referred to the latest OS X 10.6.2 patch as potentially resolving some of the performance issues that Fusion 3 currently suffers from. With 10.6.2 seemingly close to release, I would hold-off buying any virtualization product until the verdict is in as to it's performance impacts.

    If you choose to go the free route, and install VirtualBox, you will get roughly the same experience as you would with Fusion or Parallels Desktop. Both Fusion 3 and the new Parallels Desktop 5 both support Aero under Windows Vista and 7 guests, and Parallels introduces "skinning" to Windows applications and dialogs, making them appear Mac-like, whereas Fusion and VirtualBox do not offer such a high-level of integration. I've heard from others that Fusion is generally more stable than Parallels Desktop, but I can't personally comment on that nor can I offer any comparison with VirtualBox. Both Fusion and Parallels Desktop also offer DirectX 9 support under Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, which suffices for a limited selection of games.

    In summary, each product has it's own strengths and weaknesses. I would wait for 10.6.2 to be released if you can, so that you can give VMware a chance to perhaps improve its product's performance on the Mac. If you have the time, try downloading each product, install a VM and give it a try, since both VMware and Parallels over a trial period. Note that VMware also offers deep-discounts to students, if that applies to you. If you're on a tight budget, VirtualBox will more than suffice.
  3. Moderator emeritus


    Aug 16, 2005
    VirtualBox has been plenty good for me. I don't need it much though, generally just to use IE for web development checking. It will partly depend on the types of programs you want to run. Are there specific applications you'll need to be able to run?
  4. thread starter macrumors 68000


    Jul 1, 2009
    Two Different Use Cases

    Use Case 1:
    I will likely be installing a Windows XP and a Linux image on my new iMac so I can do my work from my iMac when working at home rather than my work laptop. I plan on getting some external hard drive enclosures for my two laptop hard drives and hook them to my iMac via USB or FireWire and then when I go to the office, I'll just swap the hard drives into the 2 bays on my laptop and be good-to-go. The Linux I will setup to boot natively or as a VM and the windows will be 100% VM (either running under MacOS at home or under Linux when on the work laptop).

    Use Case 2:
    My wife's computer will need to run Quicken (until we migrate to something like iBank or the new Quicken for Mac comes out) as well needing to run her PrintArtist stuff or any old programs we have that she may want (like games and and our "Learn Italian" software).

    My ultimate goal is to have "No Windows", however my wife agreed to us paying the "Apple Tax" to replace our aging PCs providing she can still do the stuff she does now and be able to switch at her own pace. I'm looking forward to having our computers perform decently without the constant malware updates and threats (not to mention having a backup solution that works -- since Acronis True Image brings our machines to an absolute crawl).
  5. macrumors 65816

    Sep 19, 2009
    Interesting post; I'm thinking about this very thing too, because I'm replacing an aging Dell tower with a 21.5" iMac, and plan to install Windows 7 for MS Office and a few other insundry things. VirtualBox is my favorite (open source mainly, but I like Sun products in general), but no Aero huh? That's a shame. But is it really missed after all?
  6. macrumors 68040


    Jun 15, 2004
    I'm using vmware, the reason i choose that is because i used in on win earlier to run solaris and had good experiences with that.
    I've never tried parallels, but many seems happy with it.

    If I was aware of virtualbox earlier I might have gone that route, but since i already have vmware im sticking with it.

    MY wmware experiences are great.
    I run only a few applications that need windows and atm i have a tinyXP installation on vmware, which doesn't consume too much resources.
    Vmware also integrates nicely into macos and i have my mac dock on the left side of my screen and the windows taskbar on the bottom.

    My advice would be to try out virtualbox, since it's free, and upgrade to either paralles or vmware if you feel virtualbox is inadequate.
  7. macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    I use VirtualBox for my 64bit Win7 (used XP prior). I used this because why pay $80 when I can do it for free..... I've had no problems, performance is good (no lag or slowness at all), and it is easy to use. I recommend VirtualBox. If you don't like it, it has a feature where you can export the .iso file (this is the "harddrive" of the VM) to other virtual software. No reinstall needed of Windows. Just export .iso and import into VmWare or something and your good. I've never done this though as I've been happy with VirtualBox. If you go to they have all details there. I think you can even view the user manual and just search for this in there.

    Some Win7 Aero features due indeed not work like someone mentioned. Like if you have multiple IE windows open, when you hover your arrow over it in the task bar you would get a "thumbnail preview" of the windows. In virtualbox you don't, something still appears but it's just the title of the windows, no preview. So like it will say and on the line below or whatever. But frankly I don't care if I have these added features. Just eye candy, you don't miss any functionality.

    I use it on my Macbook 2 GHz core duo with 4 gigs of Ram. I allocate 2 gigs (2048 MB) to my VM when in use leaving 2 gigs for my Macbook. Runs great.

    On a side note you do know Quicken has a Mac verison now. I've been using it since I got my first Mac a few yrs ago. I got Quicken 2007 for Mac. It was very easy to switch. Followed instructions to export data out of Win Quicken and then import into Mac Quicken. No data loss, just pick up where you left off. The menus and stuff are different but very easy to get used to.
  8. thread starter macrumors 68000


    Jul 1, 2009

    Thanks for the detailed info -- I'm definitely going to save the cash...

    No Windows 7 for me -- just XP -- I intend to be done with Windows before ever having the need to upgrade (that is my hope).

    I've read other threads on this forum that pretty much say that Quicken for Mac is severely lacking when compared to Quicken for Windows. I am taking your experience has been different.
  9. macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    Yeah, XP ran great with VirtualBox. I would still be using it but Microsoft had a deal going on (I think it still is for the time being) where if you're a student you can get Win7 for $30. Either the Home version or Professional version. I figured what the hay, only $30 bucks and I need Windows for at least another 3 yrs for my college work. What if they stop supporting XP before then you know?? $30 bucks beats a few hundred anyday. So I got the Pro version.

    I know Vmware Fusion users tout the "unity" feature where Mac programs can run side by side with Windows and associated programs on your display. VirtualBox has that too, it called "seamless mode" on VirtualBox. You of course still have the normal mode and full screen mode.

    Check this link out below. It has a bunch of videos on the page with how to setup and use VirtualBox. I found it very helpful when starting out.

    My experience has been different, a good one. I wonder what those other people were trying to do......(never read those threads)

    Everything that I could do and did with Quicken for Windows I can do on the Mac version. The interface and menus are different (look different too) so the steps to do something like generate a report might be different. The overall program has a different look. I can generate graphs on anything I want, or non-graph reports on anything. Track all my accounts....I never have used the bill pay feature on Quicken ever (either version) so I can't say anything about that. I am an active trader/investor and use it to track my buy/sells, performance, download quotes.....all that good stuff. Some things took a bit to learn how to do but I figured it out just by playing around in no time.

    Maybe those other people were trying to do something and couldn't figure it out and got frustrated and gave up, I don't know. Like I said, I haven't read those threads.

    When the Mac 2010 version comes out I won't be upgrading because they are taking some features away. Like in the 2010 version it allows you to track the overall value of your investment accounts and the value of your specific holdings. It will not, however, track investment buys and sells, nor will it provide some advanced investment performance reports. That is a HUGE loss for me as I use those features a lot. So I'll be staying with the 2007 version.

    I guess it comes down to personal preference and what you use it for.
  10. macrumors newbie


    Nov 7, 2009
    Nairobi, Kenya & Ottawa, Canada
    Trying out Parallels & VirtualBox now

    Grreat forum! Well, my pal at the office here just outside Nairobi brought a new iMac with her when she came back from the US because she's tired of the constant updating (antivirus, Windoze, etc.) and system slow downs. They only need to run XP for the QuickBooks and MS Publisher. I downloaded and installed the lastest Parallels on a trial basis for like a charm. Only problem is it sometimes takes a while for your devices (USB sticks) to show up when you're doing any kind of Windows Explorer file browsing in XP. Does anybody else have this issue?? It's driving her batty. I allocated 640 MB RAm and 10Gb to Parallels.

    Afterwards, I downloaded the latest VirtualBox a few days ago to give it a spin. It runs XP quite well too, but we CAN'T seem to get the damn thing to access the USB drives. This is a major flaw/problem. Can some1 explain why this is the case? In this scenario, I allocated 1Gb RAM and 40 Gb HD to VBox. I have no doubts that VBox will continue to improve in the future...and the fact that it's FREE and runs on so many platforms is quite remarkable for such a piece of complex software.

    Conclusion??? If I can't figure out why (or how) VBox isn't able to access my darn USB flash drives, then it's gotta go!! Parallels does this so effortlessly. It asks you wheter you want to access the drive from OS X or to the Virtual Machine. Why can't VBox do this? I guess my pal can put up with waiting for 30 seconds before Windows Explorer is able to see the attached drives in Parallels, so I might tell her to just buy an activation key.

  11. dyn
    macrumors 68000

    Aug 8, 2009
    I have to add that most of those disgruntled users caused the problems themselves by not reading the manual. They simply upgraded Fusion but not their vm's. Running out of date VMware Tools can cause performance issues to some extend and a lot of other different problems. This is not very bug with the smaller releases but with a big release like 3.0 there is a big impact as some features are changed/added/deleted. Problems seem to disappear like snow on a very sunny day when they update or reinstall the VMware Tools.

    I'm guessing this is the case for about 90% of the users on that forum. You can clearly tell the difference between the inexperienced Windows users and the more experienced users that run different operating systems. The last part rarely reports problems and when they do they are more open and willingly to resolve the issues. It used to be a great forum but since 3.0 it has been taken over by noobs as it seems :(

    Luckily both Parallels and VMware offer 30 day trials and VirtualBox is free. However, it seems to be a good day to wait for 10.6.2 before buying (or not) one of those as it may resolve certain problems. Remember that Snow Leopard itself may be causing some trouble with some programs.

    I tried Fusion and VirtualBox and do not like VirtualBox. It is slower and a lot more buggier than Fusion is. Just like Parallels, VirtualBox seems to be aiming at Windows support rather than being a great virtualisation product. I need the latter as I mostly run non-Windows systems like FreeBSD, OpenSolaris and Ubuntu. Ubuntu is not much of a problem but FreeBSD and VirtualBox is not stable at all. Each time you start the vm it's a big gamble if it will work or not. I've tried several new versions and the situation get a little bit better but it did not resolve the instability problem as a whole.

    I also find the GUI of VirtualBox to be as horrorable as it gets. It's nearly unusable. You need to add the vm disk as well as installation disk to its own media manager before you can even use it. Trying to change the settings for a vm is also not very easy to do as it takes a bit too many steps as well as that it looks like rocket science. For most users that just want to run Windows in OS X this makes VirtualBox simply unusable and not an option. They have fine manuals, wiki, etc. which you most definitely are going to need.

    If you want to relocate the vm folder you're in for a lot of headache. Both Fusion and Parallels setup 1 folder for each vm and put everything that is related to that vm in that folder. This means the logs, the disk and the settings file. In VirtualBox this is not the case. VirtualBox sets up different folders for all vm's: you have 1 folder for all the log files, 1 folder for all the vm disks, etc. Moving 1 vm makes this procedure turn into a headache. The usb support also seems to be flaky for some users turning that into a headache as well.

    For what it's worth, Fusion has also the added value that it uses about 90% of the same code as every other VMware product does. If you already use a VMware product this can be very useful as you can exchange vm's quite easily without the need to convert the vm to some format. None of the other products have enterprise level products such as ESX(i). VirtualBox however does support the open format that is used in some products for the vm disks. In theory this should make it easy to exchange vm's.

    Aero and the Coherence/Unity features are supported by Fusion and Parallels but Parallels seems to be doing the best in this area (it's a lot smoother and there are far less issues with it compared to Fusion 3). Due to limitations in the graphics driver VirtualBox is unable to do things like Aero (but most likely will be able in the future).

    In the end they are all great products with some flaws. You need to try them in order to decide if the advantages exceed the disadvantages.
  12. macrumors 68000


    Oct 30, 2008
    Unfortunately, not quite true. VMs created in VMWare Workstation on a PC using their nifty Pocket ACE capability (which optimizes a VM for use on a thumb drive) cannot be run under Fusion.
  13. macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    When you plug in a USB device into your computer you need to mount it in the VM to use it, same as if you would insert a CD into your drive, then mount it in the VM to use it there.

    I do this when using a printer in my VM (connects via USB) or a USB flash drive.

    Here is how you do it on a Mac (sorry if you use a PC, never done there):

    If you already done the below steps and are still having problems I don't know what the problem is. I've never had any issues.

    1.) Plug in your USB device into the computer.
    2.) Wait a few seconds for the computer to see it
    3.) In the VM's menu bar at the top of the host screen click on "Devices"
    to open that menu.
    4.) Then click "USB devices", you now see a list of available USB devices to
    5.) Select which USB device you wish to use in the VM.
    6.) After 1 or 2 seconds the VM sees it and can be used in the VM
  14. dyn
    macrumors 68000

    Aug 8, 2009
    Yes it is completely true as I said "quite easily" ;). You can also exchange those vm's but you'll need to make some changes to it before you can exchange them with other products (in this case: leave out the ACE capability). It does not involve time consuming conversions to another vm format though. VMware has documented how to exchange vm's with their other programs very well making this process quite easily.
  15. Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I've tried VirtualBox and I seem to run into USB problems, its performance is subpar to vmware and the polish is not quite there.

    While someone mentioned why pay 80 bucks when VB is free, I found that vmware to be a better performing product. Why use a free program that really doesn't work well when you can get something for short money that performs so much better.

    I also wonder about the long term viability of virtualbox because of oracle's take-over of sun.
  16. macrumors newbie

    Jun 5, 2008
    FWIW, I'm running OS X v10.6.1 on a 24" iMac with Parallels v4.0, WinXP Pro and Quicken 2007. Quicken is the ONLY reason I have a VM with Windows installed. I can print to my HP LaserJet printer and I backup Quicken data with a variety of USB sticks. All work well, quickly and without problems.
  17. CBX
    macrumors regular

    May 15, 2007
    Is there much reason to go with virtualisation when there is bootcamp?

    Surely if you needed windows for anything serious bootcamp would be the best option?

    I can only see the point of virtualisation for dropping in to windows to test a website looks ok in IE etc, or to use the odd application every now and again.
  18. dyn
    macrumors 68000

    Aug 8, 2009
    I came across a video on youtube about someone comparing Fusion 3 and Parallels 5 (although it's more like an overview of Parallels 5). One thing I noticed was you actually had 3 areas in Parallels where you need to look: an icon in the menubar (which is not really functional, not many options in there), a stack with all the apps of the vm (curious how that is going to work when you've got multiple vm's) and the Parallels dock icon itself. With Fusion 3 everything that is in those 3 icons can be found in just 1: the icon on the menubar. The dock icon doesn't do much in Fusion 3, it just enables you to go to Fusion, select the vm library and drill down the apps menu of running vm's (which is a bit pointless as you can already do that with the menubar icon).
    There are other strange and sometimes useful GUI decisions made by Parallels that make me like Fusion a lot more.

    See for yourself:

    If you're asking that question you don't understand virtualisation. Boot camp is troublesome as you need to reboot when you want to run another operating system. When using virtualisation you simply start (or resume) the vm with the OS you want to run. You can drag and drop between host (=your Mac) and guest OS (=vm) and simply put things on hold (aka suspend the vm) when you want. Virtualisation products have a special mode where you can integrate Linux/Windows stuff with OS X so it looks as if that Windows application you need to run is a native OS X application. Very useful if you just want to run 1 application (like some vm management tool for VMware ESXi which only runs on Windows or Linux).

    Virtualisation is limited to what it can do performance wise (especially 3d performance like gaming). In such cases it is better to run the OS native by using boot camp. Other than that there is actually not much use for boot camp because it is annoying you need to shutdown everything, reboot and choose OS X if you want to use that. It sort of defeats the purpose and ease of use of a Mac. Imho the question should be: what reason do you have that requires the use of boot camp instead of virtualisation.
  19. macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    Because with bootcamp you have to reboot to go into windows. When I first bought my Mac a few years ago (shortly after bootcamp first debuted) I did use Windows in that fashion. Rebooting to switch was annoying.

    Now no more reboots and I can do things in both OS's if I wish at the same time. I'll take virtualization any day over bootcamp. Sooooo much easier.

    It's all about personal preference I guess.
  20. macrumors 68000


    Aug 28, 2007
    SE Michigan
    My wife uses a 2D paper cutting machine,Klick-n-kut, via Windows XP.
    We use VMWare 3.0 and zero issues. Machine on RH side of iMac.
  21. macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2008
    So with all this talk about Fusion 3 and Parallels 5, my interest has been piqued. So I downloaded a free trial of both (30 days for Fusion, 18 days for Parallels).

    A bonus for Parallels was that I was able to import my VirtualBox Win7 VM. It was fast quick and easy. Fusion 3 I wasn't, or at least I couldn't see where or how (yes I did look around and try). So I had to do a complete Win7 install, also installing the programs I use like Excel, Word, etc..... :^(

    One big negative for me was folder sharing on Parallels. I normally share only one folder with my Win7 VM, this contains stuff for my college classes. This is my portal between the 2. On Parallels I can still specify sharing this folder, however in order to do this I have to share my ENTIRE home directory on my Mac. So my Win7 can see my whole Mac!!!! I don't like that one bit at all. Unless someone knows a work around, my school folder has to be shared so I can't completely isolate the VM from my Mac.

    On VirtualBox and Fusion 3 this wasn't the case. I could opt to share that one folder only. Better for my heart and mind security wise.

    However I really like Parallels GUI and their coherence mode is AWESOME. I can access the Win7 start menu from my dock (cool as hell). Wayyyyyyy better than Fusion's Unity mode.

    Fusion's Unity mode works well too. However you can't get at the start menu like on Parallels. They do have an attempted start menu like thing when clicking on the Fusion icon in the Mac task bar at the top of the screen. But I don't care for it. If that was the true blue start menu of my VM, it would be much much better.

    So far Parallels is faster than Fusion and I like it better, it seems snappier. Not that I'm giving up VirtualBox yet.......Parallels doesn't have my $80 yet (yes, parallels 5 would be my choice). Maybe by the end of the trial it will have convinced me, but right now I haven't felt a reason to spend vs. free.

    But for the Parallels people out you know a work around for the sharing thing??? Share one folder without sharing the HOME directory??
  22. macrumors G4


    Jun 6, 2003
    Solon, OH
    A few notes regarding Parallels 5 and VirtualBox:

    VirtualBox works pretty darn well, for a free product. However, it is a bit crashy, particularly when I tried to shut down a Windows XP VM normally.

    As for Parallels 5, I'm glad I upgraded from version 4. It works great! As far as the sharing thing goes, I can look into that.
  23. macrumors newbie

    Nov 14, 2009
    I'm experiencing very long delays when I try to run a qualitative data management program, called NVivo 8 (a big but not enormous app), on my Windows XP VM with VirtualBox. I'm wondering what people in this thread think about virtualization performance on computers that have 2gb of RAM (note, I can't upgrade past 2gb) and whether it's reasonable for me to think that if I purchase Parallels 5 I will notice significant performance improvements. Right now I'm leaning toward BootCamp, which sucks to have to reboot. But, when I ran it in the past, it handled NVivo 8 like a dream.

    I should add, regarding my last post, in my VirtualBox settings I've allocated 1020 MB of RAM to my VM. So, when I'm running my virtualization software, half my RAM is dedicated to it. One last point: when setting things up this way, not only is my VM slow, but my Mac OS (10.6.1) also slows down significantly.
  24. Moderator emeritus


    Jul 19, 2002
    One benefit of virtualization, is that you can use more than one OS at a time.

    For example, you could have an iMac with an external monitor connected. On the iMac you have the Mac OS and on the external monitor you could be running Windows XP, for example, in full screen mode. Kind of like having two computers in one with a built in KVM that is automatic between the two computers. Very convenient.

    Of the three, Virtual Box is my least favorite.

    VMware Fusion and Parallels seem to leapfrog each other with each revision. Both have decent interfaces and work well. I am currently thinking which one of mine I will upgrade this time. Decisions.
  25. macrumors regular

    Oct 18, 2001
    You don't need to share your entire home folder in Parallels Desktop, read this help article for details on how to setup individual shared folders:
    Sharing Folders and Disks

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