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ZAC BOLAN

Getting Real in the Virtual World Editing an image in the open source Gimp Image Editor within a VMware Fusion Unbuntu Desktop virtual appliance downloaded for free from VMware’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace.

unning Windows on a Mac is by no means a new trick. When I first wrote about the subject for PrintAction (Windows on a Mac, April 2007) software emulation of other operating systems on a Macintosh had already been around for more than a decade. Connectix Virtual PC was the first mass-market product to bridge the OS gap. The company’s early success eventually led Microsoft to buy Connectix in an unsuccessful bid to sneak through Apple’s backdoor. Virtual PC and other early emulators worked by dynamically recompiling the x86 code of the guest OS into something the PowerPC processor of an early Mac could understand. For the uninitiated, x86 refers to the instruction set architecture that evolved from Intel’s original 8086 processor. This architecture has been implemented by all the major processor manufacturers and is the basis for nearly every OS on the market, from MS-DOS and Windows to BSD, Linux and Mac OS X. Early adopters of emulation technology consisted mainly of Mac geeks who were so excited over shocking their friends with a Windows startup screen on their Power Mac G3s, they completely overlooked the fact that the guest OS would operate at the pace of a snail. While technically feasible, the experience of x86 emulation on a PowerPC Mac was like wearing wool mittens inside a hand puppet and trying to play a guitar. At Apple’s 2005 World-Wide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs changed the Macintosh landscape forever with the announcement that Apple would migrate from IBM’s venerable PPC processor and into the Intel world. At the time, the Mac pundit community was divided equally into those that

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16 • PRINTACTION • MAY 2009

felt this was a move to the dark side of computing while others welcomed the shift to what promised to be a lively and evolving family of processors. Four years later the hubbub has died down with the majority of those pundits agreeing that the move was a good one for the company. Apple’s market share has grown beyond Redmond’s most pessimistic projections as the Mac continues to build on traditional strongholds of media authoring and education into business and enterprise markets. In 2006, Apple introduced its Boot Camp technology to the masses in a public beta program, running within Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, opening the front door for Microsoft. Simply put, Boot Camp enabled Intel Mac users to natively dual-boot into either Mac OS X or Windows XP. Boot Camp was an immediate hit and, despite Apple’s caution that this was a beta program, many users made Windows on a Mac a part of their daily lives. Boot Camp moved from beta to prime

time in OS X 10.5 and became a major selling feature of Leopard. Besides breaking the ice with skeptical enterprise IT managers, Intel Macs running Boot Camp became an invaluable asset to prepress departments on a budget needing to straddle both sides of the IT fence. Ionically, even though these new Intel Macs were now fast enough to emulate a guest OS at a reasonable speed, Apple’s shift to Intel processors sounded a death knell for this antiquated technology. Software developers instead channeled resources into x86 operating systems such as Windows and Linux addressing the Intel Mac’s processor directly, skipping the slow emulation translation process. This shift in parallax heralded the dawn of the Golden Age of virtual machines – a fully functional operating system that would work directly with the host computer’s processor, contained within a disk image.

The anticipated panacea of virtual machines replacing desktop hardware was the bright and shiny promise in the early days of this new virtual world. Well, four years have passed and at least some of these virtual dreams have become a reality. Virtualization software has finally matured to the point that you do not have to be a geek to run multiple operating systems on your Intel Mac. The players

Currently, there are two contenders locking antlers for the virtual crown – each with their own unique advantages and weaknesses. Parallels was the first major player on the virtual scene, with VMware’s Fusion following shortly thereafter. Following Apple’s Boot Camp model, both companies aggressively entered this burgeoning new market with expansive public beta programs allowing users to test-drive their applications for

Twin sons of different mothers: Both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion enable users to build, configure and manage virtual machines for most x86 operating systems.


extended periods of time while the developers compiled user feedback to improve their products. I’ve been working with both Fusion and Parallels Desktop since these early betas and with each subsequent update the products are becoming more usable as the differences between the two diminish. Software: Parallels Desktop v4.0 (3810) MSRP: US$79.99 Download: Downloadable 15-day demo Software: VMware Fusion v2.0.4 MSRP: US$79.99 Download: Downloadable 30-day demo Test hardware: MacBook Pro 2.8ghz, 4GB RAM Guest OS: Windows XP Pro SP3, Vista Ultimate SP1, Unbuntu 8.10 Desktop

The differences

I hesitate to call any of these differences advantages or disadvantages because what you do with your VM will define the killer features of the virtualization application best suited to your needs. For simple setup, Fusion emerges as the clear winner for automating some of the more tedious Windows configuration chores, such as installing a printer. By default, Fusion will automatically add any printer installed on the host Mac to the virtual machine (using the Mac’s driver), while Parallels simulates the Microsoft experience by leaving such things to the stan-

dard Windows setup procedure. While both applications support dragand-drop file transfer between the operating systems, Parallels seems to have done the better job of integrating this function. (Nothing is more frustrating than having to drag a file over your Windows desktop 3 of 4 times before the “copy” function works.) Additionally, Parallels provides Parallels Explorer, which allows the opening, examining and copying files from the virtual machine without launching Parallels and the guest OS – a real time-saver for quick file grabs. On the other hand, VMware has chosen

to focus on the vast virtual appliance market with Fusion supporting more than 60 guest operating systems compared to Parallel’s 25, making it the logical choice for those users needing to virtualize some of the more obscure OS alternatives. This can be a real boon to prepress departments that need to keep that one copy of PageMaker 4 running in Windows 98 for that “special” customer that won’t upgrade. Though their respective marketing departments would disagree, the average user will find that only a few other disparate features separate Fusion and Continued on page 30

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(The application MSRP for these products do not include the licensing costs of the guest OS. These operating systems must be acquired and paid for separately.) The similarities

Both products perform the same task – allowing a Mac user to install and run an x86 operating system within a virtual machine on their Intel Mac. Fusion and Parallels each have a simple configurationwizard approach to installing the guest OS in disk image which requires only a minimum of user interaction. Additionally, if users already have Windows installed in a Boot Camp partition, this can also be co-opted into a virtual machine. Besides running the guest operating system in a window or full-screen mode, these applications also allow the virtual OS to appear as a part of the Mac OS desktop. Parallel’s Coherence and Fusion’s Unity modes do an excellent job of integrating the virtualized application’s window, making it appear alongside any Mac application on the desktop. I found this feature useful when running a single Windows application, but quite cumbersome with more than one running. Users running a second monitor can also configure their guest OS to occupy one of the two screens, simulating the experience of running two separate computers that happen to interact. Fusion and Parallels both allow users to minutely configure and reconfigure their virtual machine to access as much of the host computer’s resources as desired. For example, more than one virtual processor can be assigned to a VM up to the hardware limit of the host, up to eight on an 8-core Mac Pro. Likewise, RAM, video memory, hard disks and USB resources can all be tweaked to the VM. Both Fusion and Parallels run best with at least 2GB of RAM – though their system specs indicate that 1GB is the minimum. Logically, any computer running two operating systems simultaneously is going to benefit from more horsepower – so more RAM and faster processors are better. Likewise, the host computer will need plenty of hard-disk space as each virtual machine is housed a disk image containing the guest OS along with any installed applications and relevant documents. For example, a disk image containing Vista Ultimate and Adobe CS4 can easily top 30GB. Thankfully, Fusion and Parallels each come with easy-to-use disk image compression utilities.

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Zac Bolan continued from page 17

Parallels. Both applications are solid performers and a good choice for most virtualization needs. Six of one, half dozen of the other

As the first major virtualization application to hit the market, Parallels has become the benchmark by which other VM apps are measured. Whether or not this stature is deserved is hotly debated across multiple forums. I was an early adopter of Parallels, starting with version 2, then through various betas to the current version. At times, Parallels worked for me very well, other times abysmally. Transitions between builds were generally smooth, as long I religiously uninstalled the previous version and backed up my VM before installing the new build. Then with version 3, I decided to use Parallels to access my Boot Camp partition, which turned out to be a huge mistake. After opening Boot Camp as a VM, any “activated” application installed in the partition, such as MS Office 2007 or Adobe CS4, would require “reactivation”

when accessed in Parallels creating significant licensing problems. Then, after several crashes, I was no longer able to mount my Boot Camp OS natively, instead restricted to accessing it through Parallels. Unfortunately this entailed having to completely rebuild my Boot Camp partition. Now at version 4, Parallels has matured into an easy-to-use and stable virtualization application that appears to have a small edge over Fusion in the speed department. However, during the buggy transition to the latest version, Parallels alienated some longtime users, subsequently bolstering VMware’s customer base. In spite of all this, I stuck with Parallels as my primary virtualizer mainly because of the time I had invested in building several virtual machines. Even with the application’s newfound stability, however, I still cannot bring myself to virtualize my Boot Camp partition... once burned, twice shy! Showing up late to the virtual party, VMware appeared to learn from Parallels early mistakes. The first release of Fusion was well received as a stable and reliable method either for building a new virtual machine or utilizing a Boot Camp partition. With the release of version 2, Fusion has narrowed the speed gap with Parallels while maintaining its earlier reputation for stability. While the virtual machines will work immediately after installation, both Fusion and Parallels Desktop provide their own tool packages to install into the guest OS providing better control over display, mouse and file transfer functions.

The free alternative Software: Sun Microsystems Virtualbox v2.2.0 MSRP: FREE (open-source license) Download: www.virtualbox.org

Users on a tight budget with an occasional need for Windows might want to consider Sun Microsystems Virtualbox, a free alternative for virtualizing an x86 operating system. Virtualbox supports a surprising number of OS variations and as with the others, new virtual machines can be configured to the limits of the host computer. Similar to the competitors, Virtualbox uses an OS installation wizard to create virtual machines but requires a little more tweaking during the OS installation process. Instead of automatically guiding the install through the minutia of Windows settings, Virtualbox requires users to get into the guts of the guest OS and the virtual machine immediately to enable such things as USB connectivity and sound. Unfortunately, Virtualbox does not support the importing of virtual machines from other applications nor does it support making a VM from your Boot Camp partition. Once the irksome process of installing the guest OS in a virtual machine is complete, the Virtualbox VM experience is much the same as Fusion or Parallels, albeit noticeably slower. As for features, the latest revision of Virtualbox supports 64-bit guest OS virtual machines and can address up 16GB of RAM. The application even features a desktop sharing feature similar to Fusion Unity and Parallels Coherence modes. Sun, however

takes a different approach to combining desktops, opting to put all the virtual OS applications on a single layer which can be toggled on or off, with the Mac desktop visible underneath. Virtualbox calls this “seamless mode” – not as elegant as the other VM alternatives, but not bad for the price. The need for speed

For most premedia and prepress users, speed is usually the single primary determining factor when choosing any application, virtualization included. The Internet is rife with numerous benchmarks and exhaustive and lively forum discussions comparing Fusion and Parallels. While each application has its champions and detractors, the consensus seems to lean towards Fusion for stability and Parallels for speed – however, your mileage may vary. As I alluded to earlier, I have been a Parallels user since the first public beta... at first out of curiosity, then out of necessity as my daily life demands I spend a good chunk of time in Windows-land. For me, the speed difference between Fusion and Parallels is noticeable, but only if I am running something more taxing than MS Word or Excel. For more mundane tasks the perceived speed difference between the two applications is negligible. In fact, those brave enough to run a game in a virtual machine will find Fusion significantly faster at 3D rendering and redraw. Were I to start building virtual machines today, I would be inclined to take a more serious look at VMware Fusion.

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BINDERY EQUIPMENT Making it all work

Once you have your Mac running a virtual machine the next question invariably is what should I do with it? Your answer to this question will determine the virtualization application best suited to your needs. Realistically, virtual machine users need to differentiate between what is possible and what is practical. If you need to run a Windows RIP on an Intel Mac, use Boot Camp – you cannot compare native speed to a virtual machine. While capable of running a RIP, virtual machines are best suited for midrange tasks such as opening a Corel Draw file or MS Publisher document to make changes, accessing a Microsoft Exchange server or using a Windows only workflow client. Additionally, we all have our favourite little Windows-only utilities we need to use from time to time. However, you are going to do something more processor intensive than that, running natively in Boot Camp is a better option. For my money, the biggest selling feature of virtualization technology is the ability to keep obsolete or specialized operating systems complete with fonts and software on hand to extend the life of your legacy premedia and prepress files. Additionally, these virtual machines are all nicely contained in a disk image, allowing for easy backup, sharing and transport to other licensed computers. Both VMware and Parallels provide tools to convert nearly any disk image to their own format or migrate an actual PC OS configuration to a virtual machine, enabling harried IT managers to get rid of old hardware and the associated support problems. But, be forewarned: The converted virtual machine may not run as flawlessly as one you build from scratch. In addition, the VMware Website hosts an impressive Virtual Appliance Marketplace with links to TRADE PRINTING

hundreds of ready-made disk images containing fully configured and legal operating systems (vmware.com/appliances). For testing purposes, I downloaded a fully functional Unbuntu 8.1.0 Desktop (Linux) 600MB disk image with applications already installed. The process took about half an hour and worked perfectly. On the other hand, if your VM needs are simple, then Virtualbox might be your best bet. The extra work required to get this application to build your ideal virtual machine is more than compensated for by its price tag. Oracle’s recent acquisition of Sun (instead of IBM), however, might be a game changer. With a R&D cash infusion from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s deep pockets, Virtualbox could easily become a commercial contender. There is no shortage of online support resources provided by VMware, Parallels and Sun including some pretty lively forums. Windows-oriented VM users wanting a less-biased perspective can find tips, tricks, software reviews and recommendations on the self-proclaimed “The website for Macitosh-Windows integration” – macwindows.com. Things have certainly changed for the better since the painful early days of running Windows on a Mac. Boot Camp is included in Mac OS X Leopard, and for straightforward virtualization, you really cannot go wrong with VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop or even Sun’s Virtualbox application. With any of these applications running Windows on a Mac is as painless as Microsoft allows. The irony in all this is that as the Intel Mac hardware and software becomes more capable of running Windows on a Mac, Apple’s growing market share indicates you might not need to for very much longer. Zac Bolan’s blog: blog.softcircus.com

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