Category Archives: Mac

Windows Experience Index – Parallels vs. Fusion: How Do They Stack Up?

Since the release of Parallels 5 I have been a huge fan.  Previous to that, I really liked VMware Fusion as the product was much more mature and seemed more stable.  I really had no means to measure performance other than to gauge it by my perception over regular use.

Earlier this week, VMware announced their VMware Fusion 3.1 beta, which I had to run out and try.  I like to keep tabs on both of these products and am always curious when either of them releases an update.

That being said, I downloaded the beta ad built up a new Windows 7 virtual machine, installed the machine additions and played around a little bit.

In the past I’ve done things like measure the boot time for the operating system on each product and in most cases Parallels topped Fusion.  Especially after Parallels released version 5, the gap between those numbers seemed to grow especially when it came to the amount of time it takes to come back on a resume.

As part of my test I also built a new Parallels virtual machine with Windows 7 installed.  I thought an equal way to measure the differences would be by running the tests that provide the results of the Windows Experience Index.  The scale of the Windows Experience Index ranges from 1.0 to 5.9. A higher base score generally means that your computer will perform better and faster than a computer with a lower base score, especially when performing more advanced and resource-intensive tasks.

This host hardware was an iMac with a Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz processor and equipped with 4 GB of RAM.  Each virtual machine (although not ran simultaneously) had 1 GB of RAM allocated to it.

So, how did each virtual machine fair?  I was actually very surprised.  As VMware has touted lots of improvements around its graphics driver and performance, it actually seemed slower than the 3.0 release.

Here’s how the numbers stacked up:

VMware Fusion Results:

fusion

Parallels Desktop Results:

fusion

Interestingly enough, it seems that Parallels does a better job in more of the categories than not.  Parallels implementation and support of Aero in Windows 7 seems to be more solid as well.

What has your experience been with these products?  Have you found the optimal virtual machine configuration on your Mac?

Create a Disk Image Installer on the Mac

I was working on a project for my father-in-law where he wanted to distribute his yearly catalog via CD instead of the traditional printed method.

I wanted to design a CD image that would work on both Windows and Mac.  I was able to solve the PC side of it pretty quickly, but needed some guidance on creating a DMG on the Mac.  They can get pretty fancy.

My wife designed the background art for the DMG when it is opened and with some guidance from a few different sites, I was on my way.

Peter Ahe’s Blog was helpful in getting me going on the right direction and understanding what was required to get the disk image installer created.

Some other good resources:

How to Create a Hybrid CD on the Mac
http://www.sonsothunder.com/devres/revolution/tips/disk006.htm

How to Create a Custom DMG Installer
http://www.ploem.be/blog/?page_id=26

VMware Fusion 3 or Parallels 5?

It’s a bitter battle between the two – which provides the best feature set while maintaining optimal performance?  I’ve tried both, been back and forth, and can’t quite decide for myself.  Have you tried either or both?  Which do you prefer and why?

Are The Technology Gaps Ever Filled?

First and foremost, I am a Windows user. I have been forever. I was a “blue badge” so I was very much a “fanboy” of Microsoft from the platform to desktop apps to mobile devices and still pretty much am. I have also opened my eyes to other computing technologies like the Mac and iPhone.

I used to try to make my Microsoft software work the way I wanted in every case. There really wasn’t any other solution. I have moved away from that thought process, and accepted that some other technologies do the job better.

Take Windows Mobile for example. I owned no less than 10 devices in a matter of less than five years because I thought that the issue had to be the device, not the platform. Last year, I finally purchased an iPhone. I absolutely love this device and it will take me a long time to go back to Windows Mobile. Perhaps if Microsoft controlled the hardware platform for Windows Mobile devices, they might share the same success that Apple has had.

I also have a MacBook Pro, which runs virtualization software so I can run Windows. Since most enterprise companies still use Windows as a primary platform, I too still use Windows for 95% of my work-related business. I have had few issues with the Windows platform for the most part; I was even a fan of Vista. I didn’t see all of the same issues that caused droves of people to jump on the anti-Vista bandwagon. I still prefer Vista to Windows XP, a sentiment that isn’t shared by many. But at the end of the day, I run it on my MacBook. I do most of my blogging from a Mac now, I get all of my newsfeeds on the Mac, and Twitter too! Bottom line, a lot of Mac apps offer better stability and robustness compared to their Windows counterparts. Whether this is related to the platform or just bad coding, that’s a topic for a different day. Microsoft wins at a lot of battles – I favor Visual Studio and Office 2007. Those have been solid, just as a lot of the server apps like Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint.

Since I have had my Mac I have looked for ways to synchronize files and folders. Between my Macs would be fine, but across platforms would be even better. Apple’s MobileMe is a nice solution, although I don’t believe $99/year is worth what it gives me. Yesterday I was searching around for file sync tools on the Mac again and came across Microsoft Live Sync. I’ve used Live Sync for file storage on the PC side, but I was surprised to find that a Mac client was available. I installed it on both of my Macs, as well as my Vista laptop and work laptop too. I started syncing folders and they appeared across the platforms. Amazing! (and free too).

Looking further, I started digging into Microsoft Live Mesh which bridges the gap for connected devices allowing them to sync files and access their desktops all over the Internet. This provides the ability to access applications on one system that might not be available on another. Better yet, Mesh incorporates mobile devices and Macs. File synchronization is great across platform, but I wish I had the ability to remote control my Mac from one of my Live Mesh PCs. Since the remote control uses an ActiveX control in the browser, this is not possible on the Mac, but bringing a Java applet into the mix might take away this barrier.

I would say that in the last 2-3 months, Microsoft has introduced some very interesting technologies like Bing and Live Mesh (beta). Bing is closing in on it’s Google competition, and I have even started using it as my primary search engine. We’ll see how the landscape changes when Google finishes their open source OS.

So, with all this being said, it’s really not about being an Apple Fanboy or a Microsoft Fanboy, but more-so about who delivers the best solution for the problems at hand.


MacFUSE and NTFS-3G

I was looking for a creative way to be able to share my USB hard drive that I had formatted for the Mac with my PC.  HFS Explorer, worked fine, but required me to extract files instead of being able to expose the volume as a drive letter.  I decided I would search for something that would allow my Mac to not only read (which OS X does by default), but also write to an NTFS partition.  I was going to reformat my USB hard drive as NTFS since I now primarily use it with my PCs.

My search turned up an app called MacFUSE.  MacFUSE, as the website indicated, “implements a mechanism that makes it possible to implement a fully functional file system in a user-space program on Mac OS X (10.4 and above). It provides multiple APIs, one of which is a superset of the FUSE (File-system in USEr space) API that originated on Linux. Therefore, many existing FUSE file systems become readily usable on Mac OS X.”

Next, my search turned up NTFS-3G, a driver that sits on top of MacFUSE and enables full read and write capabilities of NTFS under the Mac OS.  I installed MacFUSE, and then NTFS-3G.  After a reboot, I was on my way to copying files from the Mac to a USB hard drive, now formatted as NTFS.  Well, kinda.

What I figured out is that the NTFS-3G driver seemed to cause a lot of problems with my Mac OS.  Any time file access was taking place, whether it be on an HFS or NTFS file system, things seemed to “konk” out after a while.  For example, I was copying a few ISOs over, and half way through the copy would error out, but it seem to hang the entire operating system.  I tried several different files, large and smaller, with the same result.

I quickly removed MacFUSE and NTFS-3G and my problems relating to file system operations seemed to go away.  Not sure what was happening there.  For now I have decided to copy files through my virtual machine to the external drive.  It adds a layer of abstraction, and seems to hinder the performance somewhat, but the copy operations do finish successfully.

Have you used MacFUSE or NTFS-3G and had a different experience?

How AppleCare Can Save the Day (or ruin it)

My MacBook Pro

My MacBook Pro

I use my MacBook Pro for both business and personal. At home, I try to use the Mac side as much as possible while still running a Windows Vista virtual machine at the same time for development stuff. When I’m at work, all I run is Vista from my virtual machine on the MacBook and then iTunes in the background from the Mac side.I was getting ready for a conference call last Thursday. I closed my MacBook and with that in tow, I headed for one of the conference rooms. When I got to the room, I opened my lid and to my surprise my screen didn’t come right back on like it usually does. I power cycled it … still no screen. After my call I went back to my desk and plugged into my external LCD display … nothing.

Granted my Time Machine backup was current, so that wasn’t a concern, but what is wrong and how am I going to fix it?

My buddy Jim at work, who is a Mac guru tried all the secret keyboard handshakes as I watched in disbelief, still trying to figure out how this was going to get fixed. Whatever Jim did, the screen came back and worked for the rest of the day.

But then came Friday morning.

I hit the power button as I arrived at work. Again, no display. I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out my Dell laptop, what I consider to be my reserve… The “break glass in case of emergency” laptop. This and webmail would have to get me through the day.

I did some quick searching and discovered a tech article from Apple on display distortion and video card problems relating to a malfunctioning NVIDIA video card.

The real problem here was my MacBook was 14 months old. Essentially past the one year warranty period. Others who had video problems mentioned a $310 minimum charge.

I went to the Apple Store at Southdale. They put it through a few tests and figured out it was related to the graphics card and that had to be replaced. The good news … It was covered under their “Quality Service” program. Even though I was out of the warranty period, I was still going to get my repair at no charge. They told me it would take 1-2 days. No big deal. It was the weekend. I’d have it before today.

At 5 PM Friday, the Apple Store called me and said it was fixed and ready to be picked up. What service. I can honestly say that my experiences with Apple have been nothing but positive.

The moral of the story? AppleCare, Apple’s warranty program covers a product for a total of 3 years (1 year included with the product, AppleCare extends that an additional 2 years). It costs you about $300 for that warranty on the MacBook Pro and has to be purchased before the end of the first year. I didn’t do that.

The guy at the Apple Store told me that same repair when not under warranty is $310. If you have it done in-store, it is closer to $600. Ouch.

$300 seems like a lot up front, but this case alone has convinced me that next time I will purchase the AppleCare. You may never need it, but it takes one repair like this to make it all worthwhile.

Virtualized Performance Part 2: Parallels

A couple of weeks ago I posted a story about virtualized performance where I did a comparison between VMware Fusion and Sun’s VirtualBox.

I wanted to update that story to include some details on Windows performance when Parallels is added to the mix.

Interestingly enough, Parallels really isn’t that much further behind Fusion in terms of average boot time. To be precise, the difference is about .8 seconds between the two. Probably not that noticeable to the average user.

It comes down to features in that case. I also think there is a lot to be said about the stability of Fusion given VMware’s years of experience and product maturity.

This will be a very important year in the Parallels development cycle. We’ll see what they have up their sleeves.

Virtualized Performance: Fusion vs. VirtualBox

Been playing around a little bit with VMware’s Fusion 2.0 and Sun’s VirtualBox 2.1.2, two virtualization platforms that are available for Mac users.

I will eventually expand this brief test to include Parallels 4.0, since it seems that Parallels and Fusion are the frontrunners when it comes to virtualization on the Mac platform.

For this initial test, I wanted to understand the differences in which the virtual disks were accessed and how that impacted performance.

Sun’s VirtualBox, although a nice little application for being free, doesn’t allow for the configuration of multiple processors, the network interface binding is a little strange, and merely doesn’t seem to have the flexibility. Fusion (and Parallels for that fact) provides the capabilities to support multiple virtual processors, works great with multiple Ethernet interfaces, and provides better integration into the platform being virtualized.

With that being said, boot time was of particular interest to me. In this scenario, I measured with a stopwatch the time from when I hit the power button on the virtual machine to the time that the GUI was up and the login screen was loaded.

I’m a Windows guy by trade, so naturally I included those numbers, but in the spirit of trying something new, I also loaded Ubuntu 8.10 desktop to see how they compared.

All of the virtual machines were configured for IDE disk access (VirtualBox does offer a SATA option) for the boot time tests. Each virtual machine had the virtualization guest extensions or additions running. Boot time was measured five times each per platform, per virtualization product and then averaged.

When comparing Windows Vista running on Fusion versus Windows Vista running on VirtualBox, Fusion loads Vista 22% (almost 9 seconds) faster than VirtualBox.

Looking at a platform other than Windows, I chose to test Ubuntu, a Linux platform available online for free. In this test, Fusion won again. This time, Ubuntu loaded almost 9% (almost 3 seconds) faster than VirtualBox.

Another interesting point is that VirtualBox supports a virtualized SATA controller. This differs from the standard IDE controller as more of the work (processing) is done by the CPU instead of the controller. I thought it would be interesting to show load times between IDE and SATA.

CM Capture 4Using Ubuntu running on VirtualBox as an example, I found that the SATA configuration actually booted slower than that of a virtual hard disk configured to use IDE. There was almost a 3 second difference between the two.

In one of my next posts I can to cover disk file write performance on the these virtualized platforms. Also look for the addition of Parallels to the mix.

Fixing the MacBook Pro Sleep Problem

One of the things that my MacBook Pro has been plagued with for about the past month is it’s inability to go to sleep and wake back up successfully.  Whenever I would open the lid to wake up the system, the screen would be completely blank, even though you hear the system come back on.

I’ve been searching around looking for the solution and haven’t been successfully.  Editing the sleep settings didn’t seem to cure anything.  I was trying to correlate what updates had been installed around the time that the problem started.

It seems that the problem started shortly after the Leopard 10.5.2 update.  This update also contained a second update for the graphics driver. 

I came across a thread today on the Mac support forum where someone built a rollback package for the graphics driver would took the driver back to the previous version before the graphics update.

I have put my Mac to sleep several times today and have awaken the system as well with success every time.  I am thrilled to say that this problem is resolved.

At this time, it is confirmed that Apple is aware of the issue and it is a confirmed bug.  There is no timeframe for when an official package to address the issue will be available.

In the time-being, you can check out the thread and if you’re up to it, try the rollback package that is available on the thread.  Use this at your own risk.  It has been known to cause problems on some systems.

Update – April 7,2008

Things are still running great after the graphic driver rollback.  I even have gone as far as leaving my VMware Fusion machines running and closing the lid to initiate sleep.  When I return and open the lid, the machine awakens almost immediately. 

I haven’t seen any new information on the graphic driver update and the problems it creates, but it is definitely something that Apple needs to be looking at.

MacBook Pro: First Impressions

I’ve had the MacBook Pro for one day now.  I got it up and running last night, installed VMware Fusion on it which allows me to run Vista inside the Mac OS. 

I have to say that between Boot Camp, which is part of Leopard, and VMware’s Fusion, I’m pretty impressed.  Boot Camp was very easy to setup and in a matter of about 30-45 minutes I had Vista running.  Now with Boot Camp, you either boot into the Mac OS or Windows Vista.

What does Fusion do?

Fusion can actually read your Boot Camp partition and can use that as a virtual machine.  So, you can run Vista inside a window while booted into the Mac OS, or you can run it through Boot Camp where Vista runs natively.

Another great feature of Fusion allows you to run any of the Windows applications installed in the virtual instance outside of the virtual machine window so it looks like it is actually running on the Mac OS desktop.  Very cool!

Resume after being asleep is very fast, and the system responds immediately including the machine machine that was running when the system went to sleep.

A lot of need things and many more to cover.  I’m very satisfied with my initial experience.