One long-running question, for which no single unanimous answer seemingly exists, is the best method for running Windows on a Mac. For years, based on numerous client experiences, I advocated leveraging Apple's Boot Camp. Others consistently proclaim that Parallels Desktop is the king, while IT professionals often suggest VMware Fusion is the best bet. Following numerous updates, and the release of Windows 8.1 and OS X Mavericks, it's time to revisit this topic.
The Boot Camp drawback
The primary Boot Camp disadvantage, of course, is OS X users must reboot a Mac to run Windows. But when Windows subsequently loads, Microsoft's operating system operates well. No hardware resources must be dedicated to powering OS X, which typically means Windows runs smoothly.
But many users do not wish to interrupt Mac sessions simply to run a Windows application. Further, information from a Windows program must often be repeatedly entered within an OS X-based application, which ultimately makes Boot Camp an inconvenient solution.
Desktop virtualization to the rescue
Parallels and VMware have been offering their respective Windows desktop virtualization solutions for years. However, the burden of concurrently powering two operating systems, and the complexity of managing virtualized desktop environments, has occasionally proven to be overwhelming for some users.
Both manufacturers have made improvements that simplify Windows installation and configuration on Macs. Windows performance inside OS X has noticeably improved, thanks in part to virtualization tweaks and Mac hardware improvements (an entry-level MacBook Pro now ships with a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 CPU and 4 GB RAM, and Retina models include faster SSDs).
Which flavor should you choose?
Parallels vs. Fusion is an ongoing argument that's not going to be settled here. Let's just get that out of the way. Simple Internet searches reveal numerous genuine and sincere tests claiming to pronounce the rightful champion. Ultimately, the desktop virtualization platform that works best for you and your organization will depend upon several factors, including how you're running Windows, which Mac models you're running Windows on, and the presence (or lack) of an in-house IT department.
After reviewing the latest enhancements within Parallels Desktop 9 and VMware Fusion 6, and considering that most users I encounter seek to run a single, specific Windows application on a Mac, I now recommend VMware Fusion 6, which adds additional IT controls for firms that want them, boosts virtual machine performance, and simplifies use and operation.
Both products, to their credit, have simplified the process of installing Windows on a Mac. Both offer comparable performance. Both work with Mavericks and Windows 8.1. Yet, VMware Fusion 6 costs just $59.99 (USD), compared to $79.99 (USD) for Parallels Desktop 9. Considering the bargain price, and the fact VMware's Settings menu further simplifies fine-tuning a Windows installation's configuration — making it easy to dedicate additional processor, RAM, disk space, and other elements, as required — this is an easy selection. As a result, VMware Fusion has replaced Boot Camp on my MacBook Pro. Opening my organization's Windows-based proprietary business applications require only a few clicks and less than two minutes to fully load. Problem solved.
What method do you use and recommend for running Windows on Mac? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.