VMware and Parallels both announced new versions of their client hypervisors yesterday

The week before VMworld always brings with it a lot of product announcements. On Tuesday, both VMware and Parallels announced new versions of their competing Mac virtualization platforms, along with a new version of VMware Workstation for Windows.

Yesterday, both VMware and Parallels made announcements for their client-side virtualization platforms. It may be a coincidence, but these two companies have been neck and neck, at least on the Mac side, for years, so why not announce new products on the same day?

While there are some unique developments, some of the changes are more or less expected. For example, both platforms added Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and macOS 10.13 High Sierra support (High Sierra is only supported on Mac hardware). They also both added MacBook Pro Touch Bar support, however there are some key differences that we'll get into shortly.

Let's take a look at each product:

Parallels Desktop 13 for Mac

In the latest update to Parallels Desktop, Parallels spent time making things easier to use. You can, for instance, build Windows 10 VMs right from the "Create New VM" dialog. When choosing Windows 10, it will download the bits for you on the spot. You can even purchase it as part of the process, though that's arguably a consumer-oriented feature. If you've ever used Parallels Desktop to set up an Ubuntu VM before, chances are you used a similar approach, and it sure is easy.

Parallels also added support for the Windows 10 People Bar, which will be in the Fall Creators Update. If you're not familiar with it, the People Bar will show you a list of people that you contact the most in the task bar. You can click on them to pull up a contact card that lets you click an icon to call, email, or chat with that person. Parallels spent time isolating the elements of the People Bar, then integrated them into the Mac, both in the task bar and in Spotlight.

On the UI side, they added Picture-in-Picture mode, which is kind of like the way the Parallels Control Center worked, showing smaller thumbnail images of running VMs, except that in this case they are 100% real time and interactive, even in their small state. They also improved image scaling on Retina displays.

Since this is the first version of Parallels Desktop to come out after the last revision of the MacBook Pro, they also added TouchID and Touch Bar support. TouchID is used for authentication to change settings, which would be convenient to me if I had a new MacBook Pro.

The same is true for Touch Bar support. Though I'm kind of "meh" on the concept, I suppose if I had a laptop that had Touch Bar, I would use it. While Parallels could have taken a banal approach to it and just put some Parallels Desktop menu items in there, they instead built in real Touch Bar support that places shortcuts to Windows and Windows application functions in the Touch Bar. At launch, Office 2016 is supported, complete with different Touch Bar sets that appear depending on the context of the application. Browsers like Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Vivaldi are also supported with unique Touch Bar sets.

Perhaps the coolest thing Parallels did with the Touch Bar was to add in a Touch Bar Wizard that allows you to build your own elements. Imagine, for example, that 3270 emulator that still relies on function keys. With Parallels' Touch Bar Wizard, you can add those keys back on to the keyboard. The best part is that when a user switches out of that app to something else, the Touch Bar changes, too.

Other improvements in Parallels Desktop 13 for Mac include increased USB speeds (25% faster file transfer speeds and 40% overall), 100% increase in Thunderbolt SSD throughput, and between 16% and 50% faster snapshot speeds. OpenGL 3 support has been added, so anyone who…I don't know…contributes to an open source pinball framework that relies on OpenGL for earth-shattering graphics…can finally test things in a VM.

On the enterprise side, the main feature they added is a Single Application Mode that's kind of like a locally running published application. An admin would prepare a package that contains the VM, a license, and information on which application is to be run. The user then installs that package (or the admin can push it to the user), which installs everything, including Parallels Desktop. Then when the user clicks the icon, the VM starts up in the background and the application runs seamlessly.

Parallels Toolbox

Parallels also updated their Parallels Toolbox software and included it with the Pro edition of Parallels Desktop. It's also available standalone for both Windows and Mac for $9.99/year. Toolbox allows you to easily do certain tasks that usually require more than one step, and frequently many different apps. Here's a short list of some of the features it has:

  • Duplicate file finder
  • Single click download of YouTube and social media videos
  • Switches in and out of Presentation Mode
  • Disable webcam
  • Tell your system to never go to sleep
  • Turn on/off Do Not Disturb
  • Take screenshots / record screen
  • Hide desktop
  • And more…

I tried it out, and it's actually pretty useful if for no other reason than to reduce the number of icons in the upper right corner of my screen. I have apps for half of those things, so this gives me a way to simplify.

VMware Fusion 10 and Workstation 14

Part of VMware's announcement was spent explaining the jump in version numbers, with both Fusion and Workstation leveling up and skipping versions 9 and 13, respectively. The reason, if you're curious, is that since this is the tenth anniversary of VMware Fusion and the fourteenth for VMware Workstation, they took the opportunity to align the version number with the number of years the product has been around. At least they didn't try anything corny, like saying, "We added in so many features that we had to bump it up two versions!"

The announcement covers VMware Fusion 10 Standard and Pro, as well as VMware Workstation 14 Player and Pro. For the most part, the additions are the same, so I'll just mention an differences between the Mac and Windows platforms as needed.

Security was a big focus for VMware, adding support for Microsoft's Virtualization-Based Security ahead of regulations that will come into effect in 2018. Microsoft Credential Guard and Device Guard will both work, though I'm told that to get the best experience you'll need modern hardware. They've also added UEFI Secure Boot and virtual Trusted Platform Module to cater to environments that go the extra mile.

Perhaps the most interesting new addition is the introduction of a Network Latency Simulator in the Pro version of each platform that compliments the network speed and packet loss simulators. I hope to get a look at it at VMworld next week rather than having to wait until launch. Still, it's a feature that will be quite useful when simulating user experience and protocol performance over questionable network connections.

For Workstation, VMware added more OVF and OVA support to help developers import packaged applications. They also added some built-in management capabilities to make it easier for developers and admins to build VMs locally and push them to vSphere or vCenter servers (or vice versa), as well as to perform basic power operations on ESXi VMs.

Fusion got a lot of attention, with the standard version receiving 30 new features and the Pro version adding another 20. Some of those include the Microsoft VBS support and Network Latency Simulator, but there are some Mac-specific things, too.

Touch Bar support is foremost, but VMware's implementation is not as comprehensive as Parallels. Certain Windows and Fusion functions are placed in the Touch Bar, but you don't get the application and contextual awareness of Parallels, let alone the Touch Bar Wizard. You can bet on "Enhanced Touch Bar Support" headlining the Fusion 10.5 press release.

VMware upped their game with Mac graphics, though, adding support for Apple's Metal host renderer. Metal is Apple's version of OpenGL, which got started in iOS and has since made its way to macOS. Since Apple is focusing on Metal instead of OpenGL, VMware decided to write a translation layer to translate OpenGL calls from Windows into Metal calls on the Mac. The result is more accurate application behavior (OpenGL support on the Mac was never what you'd call awesome). I haven't seen it in person, but according to VMware they were able to go from around 20fps in a PC game running on Fusion 8.5 to 30fps with the same game running on Fusion 10. Graphics workloads vary, and that evidence is anecdotal, but it sounds like a noticeable improvement that I'll be looking to see at VMworld.

Last, VMware built a REST API for Fusion Pro with the goal of automating deployments and managing VMs programmatically, which will help Fusion Pro integrate into modern DevOps processes.  Admins will also be able to use the API to clone, change configurations, manage power, and inventory Fusion Pro-based VMs.

Pricing and Availability

Parallels Desktop 13 is available now. The Standard edition sells for $79.99 new, or $49.99 for an upgrade. The Pro edition is sold as a $99.99 annual subscription, or $49.99 for existing users. Also included in the Pro edition is Parallels Toolbox, which normally sells for $9.99/year.

VMware Fusion 10 and Workstation 14 will be available in early October. For Fusion, the standard edition of will cost $79, or $49 for an upgrade, and the Pro version will run $159 for a perpetual license (Parallels' Pro version is a yearly subscription), or $119 for an upgrade. VMware Workstation pricing works out to $249.99 perpetual for the Pro version and $149.99 for Player. Upgrades can be obtained for $149.99 and $79.99, respectively. Additionally, any customers that buy Fusion between August 22 and November 1 will get a free upgrade to the latest version when it's released.

It's safe to say that while this are of desktop virtualization isn't the sexiest, there are still enough demands for VMware and Parallels to continue investing in the platforms. It's been a few years since I did a bake-off (after which I settled on Parallels for purely personal, user experience-based reasons). Maybe it's time to do it again?

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Good read Gabe! I gave up on VMware Workstation years ago and kind of wondered how it evolved since.  Client Hyper-V was good enough to get off the constant VMware upgrade gravy train ($). Performance of the VMs seems significantly better also.
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