So at work I need to be able to have access to a personal UNIX playground and the form that you have to fill in to get a licensed VMFusion instance is a nightmare so I decided to look at the alternatives. I already had Parallels installed on my MacBook Pro but I had not done anything with it. I also decided to try and get Ubuntu running on my Windows Vista machine using the free (to download) VMWare Player.
VMWare Player requires a special image (I used this one) however once the software and the image was downloaded (the images are sensibly torrented although the player software itself does not seem to be), getting the system running was extremely easy. You just click on the image, it loads up and you update within Ubuntu as normal.
Getting Parallels working was not as as easy. I tried a standard DVD from a Linux Magazine, that failed with an X error where the X window could not be started. So I downloaded a text based installer and ran through that. It had the same problem and after reading this item in the Parallels Knowledge Base I took a guess at the problem and set the resolution during the text installation to be 1024 by 768. That sorted the issue and after that the major problem was networking. The Parallels installation did not seem able to share my wireless connection. Once I connected my Ethernet cable then the instance updated fine. Oddly once I set the VM to use Shared networking I could use the Wireless connection but counter-intuitively setting the Ubuntu instance to use the Wired connection. I guess at that point Parallels was able to weave a little magic and make the connection available and the issue of whether the physical hardware was Ethernet or Wireless was completely irrelevant.
Both systems run their virtual machines very quickly but VM Player seems to be the better suited to rapidly stopping and starting the machine. It works pretty much like a normal application, you fire it up and close the window when you are done. The Parallels application is much less seamless. Both applications use a similar amount of space to save their state, VM Player perhaps runs a bit fatter from my experience.
VM Player is pretty amazing for a product that is offered for free and is definitely a well-done teaser product. If you have never run a virtual machine before I would definitely recommend giving it a spin. Parallels is a slick and excellent program but its focus on running Windows under OS X seems to have led it to not being able to create a trouble-free installation experience for the leading desktop Linux distribution of today. That is a big mistake and even Parallels’ relatively low price tag of £50 to £60 does not excuse it. Some things should just work. After all at some point you are going to appreciate having the flexibility to install a OS how you like and at that point you may be more tempted to upgrade your existing solution than switch to a new application altogether.