For a lot of computer geeks, virtual machines are both a time-saver and a boon for productivity. Whether you need to run older software on a specific version of Windows or need to spawn a few test Linux environments for developing and testing purposes, picking the right software for the job all comes down to your fundamental needs. For most folks, Microsoft Virtual PC and Oracle VirtualBox (both available for free) usually cover all the essentials and get the job done just fine. But what if you are looking for a different platform to work with that might bring a bit more to the table?
Working in parallel
For those who are curious, Parallels' answer to competing VM products in Parallels Workstation 6 for Windows and Linux. For virtual machine software, it offers features that many have come to expect such as undo disks for VM images, guest integration capabilities, and Intel VT-x support. It was even the first application of its kind to offer enhanced support for the OS/2 operating system, which either ran poorly or refused to install under other products, like VMware. However, many of these features have pretty much been copied fairly well by VirtualBox, among others. Those applications offer the same level of guest operating system support and features for no cost.
Since Parallels Workstation 6 does cost $49.99 at retail, there has to be far more compelling features in order to justify the expense for many potential customers. In my personal experience with this product, I found that the guest additions, particularly for Linux guest operating systems, seemed to be more solid and less prone to crashing when compared to the same Linux distribution installed in a VirtualBox VM.
Even Microsoft Virtual PC lacks support for any guest integration outside of select versions of Windows, making that choice substantially more limited for power users. For road warriors and mobile junkies, the Parallels Mobile app for iPhone or iPad allows you to access Parallels virtual machines remotely on your Apple mobile device.
Aside from those two interesting extras that stand out from the rest of the crowd, Parallels Workstation 6 is kind of a coin toss at the normal price of $49.99. Considering the free alternatives that exist out there that can do the job nearly as well, it can be hard to justify spending the cash. Fortunately, Parallels is currently offering a deal for their Workstation product to new customers.
For a limited time, you can purchase a full license to Parallels Workstation 6 at a far more reasonable $9.99. At that price, it's definitely worth having a copy around, especially if you work extensively with Linux operating systems, as the integration tools and guest drivers tend to be more solid than the competition.
An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Customer Success Professional for Ultimate Software in Santa Ana, California.