Desktop Virtualization Revisited Part Three: Parallel’s Workstation

Parallels Workstation: Unparalleled coolness or virtual bust?

Parallels Workstation (PWS) is one of Parallels‘ array of virtualization products. The company is perhaps better-known for its Mac product, Parallels Desktop for Mac. The company also provides software for server virtualization: Parallels Server for Mac and Parallels Virtuozzo Containers.

Parallels Workstation is an easy-to-use, desktop-level virtualization product that touts near native performance and a wide range of supported hardware and guest operating systems (OSs). PWS is neither open source nor is it free. It is 64-bit hardware compatible—taking advantage of CPU virtualization enhancements but isn’t compatible with any 64-bit OS. In other words, if you have a 64-bit computer, you must install the 32-bit version of a host OS on it to use Parallels Workstation.

Like other desktop virtualization products, PWS offers you the convenience and power of running multiple, and possibly, foreign operating systems on your favorite standard desktop computer. There is a desktop version for Linux, Windows, and Mac. The Mac version is very popular among Mac users and performance is exceptional. Parallels Workstation also offers perhaps the widest range of support for guest operating systems available from any comparable product.

Parallels Workstation Essentials

I used Parallels Workstation version 2.2.2222 for Windows downloaded directly from the Parallels website. The download is 20MB and is a ready-to-run executable file. This workstation version is a 15-day trial version but is fully functional. Installation of the product is very fast and requires little user interaction.

Officially Supported Guest OSs

  • Windows 3.11-Vista
  • Linux
  • FreeBSD
  • OS/2
  • Solaris
  • MS-DOS
  • Other

Setup a New VM

Once you’ve installed PWS, you’ll want to launch it and build a new VM. As soon as you start PWS, you’re prompted to create a new VM. See Figure 1. The default setting is to Create a typical VM (recommended) but I suggest that you select Create a custom VM configuration so that you have maximum flexibility and control over the creation of your new VM using the New Virtual Machine Wizard. Click Next to go to the Select guest OS screen where you’ll use the dropdown menus to select your guest’s OS type and version (Linux and Debian Linux, for example). Click Next. Specify the amount of memory for this new VM using either the memory field or the slider bar and click Next.

Figure 1: Create a New VM
Figure 1: Create a New VM

Select the type of virtual hard disk you want for the new VM. Select Create a new virtual hard disk and click Next. Specify a virtual hard disk size and type. Use Plain for better performance. Click Next to continue and enter a location for your virtual hard disk. Click Next. Select the type of networking for your new VM. Bridged is preferred if you want your VM to connect to the Internet or other network resources. Click Next to continue to select the network adapter for the VM. Select Connect cable at startup if you want the network connected when the VM is powered on. Click Next to name your VM. Select a location for your VM configuration file (.pvs). Click Finish to create your new VM.

When your new VM finishes the build process, you’re returned to the main PWS screen as shown in Figure 2. Here, you make changes to your VM’s behaviors, connectivity, CD options, sound and USB controllers by selecting one of the hyperlinks or clicking the Edit button.

Figure 2: Main PWS Screen
Figure 2: Main PWS Screen

Install the Operating System

Like the other entries in this series, I chose Debian 5.0 as my guest OS. Unfortunately, the Debian 5.0 ISO image failed to boot and threw an error. As an alternative, I used a Debian 4.0 ISO image that did work and completed the installation. The new guest OS ran fine with no problems—network connectivity to a Debian mirror was there and everything worked as expected. It’s disappointing that Parallels Workstation didn’t like my Debian 5.0 ISO image or the bootable CD created from it. The Debian 5.0 ISO and bootable CD are both good and were used in creating VMs in other products for this series.

Parallels Workstation Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Easy to Install and Use
  • Small Footprint
  • Excellent Guest Performance
  • Supports a Wide Variety of Guest OSs
  • Actively Developed
  • Windows Vista Support
  • Inexpensive Support

Disadvantages:

  • 15-Day Product Evaluation
  • $50 Price Tag*
  • 32-bit Host OS Only
  • Non-Open Source
  • Proprietary VM Files

After using several other desktop virtualization products, my overall opinion is that, instead of paying $50 for PWS, you should use Sun’s xVM or Microsoft’s Virtual PC. Parallels Workstation is a nice product but your money is better spent elsewhere. I was also disappointed that Debian 5.0 wouldn’t work for me although I realize that this could be a unique experience. Your mileage may vary.

It’s greatest limitation is that, while it operates on 64-bit hardware, you have to use a 32-bit OS for the host on that 64-bit hardware. I hope that Parallels releases the workstation product as open source and offers it at no charge. If there’s any community value to the product, this move will help the product become even better by allowing developers worldwide to contribute to its success.

*$49.99 Windows and Linux – Add $19.99 for second copy. $79.99 for Mac OS version.

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