Head to Head: Parallels Desktop 6 vs VMware Fusion 3

We pit the two leading Mac virtualisation programs against each other to see which is best for running Windows on your shiny Apple computer.


Fusion's Unity mode lets you use Windows programs alongside your Mac applications without the Windows desktop getting in the way. Like Parallel's equivalent Coherence mode, we had no trouble using it with dual monitors and MacOS windows management features, such as Expose and Spaces. One can switch between running Windows in a window, full-screen or in Unity mode using either a keyboard shortcut or a mini Mac toolbar that shows up in Windows, even in full-screen mode.

Unity and Start menu

In Unity mode, the Windows Start menu is replicated in the Mac menu bar, instead of appearing in the Dock as with Parallels' Coherence mode. It can be activated by a Mac keyboard shortcut of your choice, which is handy if you're using a Mac keyboard with no dedicated Windows key. Disappointingly, it's only possible to copy text, and not images, between Mac and Windows programs, although at least formatting is preserved.

Windows keyboard shortcuts can be mapped to their equivalent Mac keyboard shortcuts. It's also possible to set URLs to open in either Mac or Windows programs. Another useful pairing option is the ability to match the MacOS's Home folders, such as Movies and Documents, to their Windows equivalents which makes sharing files much easier.

When a USB device is connected to your Mac, Fusion offers to mount it in either MacOS or Windows. The dialogue box isn't as cleverly illustrated as the equivalent in Parallels Desktop, but it's no less effective. Like Parallels, Fusion's Windows VM is automatically set to share the host Mac's network connection, so no configuration is necessary to access the local network and the internet. The program also automatically passes print jobs from Windows programs to any printers already configured in the MacOS, so no configuration is necessary here either.

Winner: Parallels, but only just. Both programs integrate Windows quite tightly with the MacOS, from the user interface to networking to data sharing. However, Parallels Desktop has the edge over Fusion thanks to its clever graphical USB peripheral connection dialogue box and its ability mount a VM as a disk on the Mac desktop.

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