Desktop vitualization is one of those technologies that confound the experts. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, along comes some interloping development to upset the apple cart. Most recently, that role has fallen to Sun’s VirtualBox, the plucky open source VM solution that’s quickly gobbling up the general-purpose desktop virtualization space left vacant by Microsoft and VMware. Users from the three major platforms — Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux — are flocking to VirtualBox for its scalability, robust networking, and bargain price point (it’s free).
Meanwhile, VMware continues to steer its flagship Workstation offering away from the general-purpose space and toward its lucrative niches in the software development, help desk operations, and server virtualization and VDI support markets. At the same time, Parallels has finally seen fit to deliver a version of Parallels Desktop for Windows that’s on par with its Mac product, complete with USB device integration, bridged networking, and guest OS SMP support. And up in Redmond, the sinewy remains of the once proud Virtual PC continue to wither away as Microsoft completes the product’s transformation from versatile VMware challenger to brain-dead host for Windows 7’s Windows XP Mode compatibility layer.
Taken together, these developments represent the biggest shake-up for desktop virtualization in years. There’s some genuine innovation going on, especially in the areas of hardware support and application compatibility. VMware Workstation, Parallels Desktop, and VirtualBox all support 32- and 64-bit Windows and Linux hosts and guests, and all have added compelling new VM management capabilities, ranging from automated snapshots to live VM migration. Read on to see which products hit their marks, which overachieve, and which seem to miss the boat entirely.