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Parallels, VMware, VirtualBox or Boot Camp: Best virtualisation tool for Mac

Cliff Joseph | Oct. 13, 2015
Apple's Boot Camp allows you to install Windows on your Mac so that you can switch between the Mac's own OS X operating system and Windows whenever you want.

Apple's Boot Camp allows you to install Windows on your Mac so that you can switch between the Mac's own OS X operating system and Windows whenever you want. Boot Camp is great for running Windows games and some heavy-duty graphics apps that aren't available for the Mac, but it does force you to shut down your Mac in order to restart and switch between the two operating systems. This also means that you can't run Mac and Windows apps side-by-side - it's either Windows or Mac, but not both at the same time. So when I'm playing Dragon Age 3 using Boot Camp I have to shut down my Mac and switch back into OS X if I want to quickly check my messages in Apple Mail. Then I have to shut down again and switch back to Windows to sort out those pesky dragons.

However, there is another option - called 'virtualisation' - that allows you to run Mac and Windows apps together at the same time. There are two main virtualization programs available for the Mac - Parallels Desktop 11 and VMWare Fusion 8 - both of which have just received major updates to support the new El Capitan version of OS X, as well as the recently-released Windows 10.

VMWare has a background in corporate computing, and didn't seem terribly interested in talking to us when we contacted them for this feature, but Fusion is still a fine product so we managed to get hold of the latest version of Fusion in order to see how it matches up to its number one rival from Parallels.

Create a virtual machine with Parallels Desktop, VMWare Fusion and VirtualBox

Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion both work in the same way. They allow you to create a 'virtual machine' (or VM) on your Mac, which duplicates the workings of an actual Windows PC. You can then install a copy of Windows - or even other operating systems, such as Linux - onto this virtual machine along with any other Windows apps that you might want to use.

Your Windows virtual machine can run on the Mac desktop just like any other Mac program, allowing you to run Windows software right alongside all your normal Mac apps. This is really useful for running Windows apps that aren't available on the Mac - such as the Access database, which is included in the Windows version of Microsoft Office, but which has never been available on the Mac.

Both programs cost about £65 for a single-user license, although both Parallels and Fusion also offer 'Pro' versions with additional features and multi-user licenses for business users.

 

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