Fusion vs. VMWare

There are three main options for people who wish to run Windows on the Mac. The first is “Boot Camp,” the second is “Fusion” from VMWare, and the last is “Parallels.”

Boot Camp is Apple’s method of partitioning (splitting up) the hard drive so that a separate section of the drive is used to run Windows. Pros? Runs as fast as any other Windows computer with similar hardware. Cons? It requires a total reboot into Windows, and another total restart to get back to your Mac.

Parallels and Fusion instead create a little sandbox that runs in a window while the rest of your Mac is running. This little sandbox pretends that it’s a whole separate computer. Cons? Not as fast as Boot camp, especially if trying to play games. Pros? More than fast enough to run Quickbooks, etc., much easier to switch in and out of (including copying, pasting and file transfers), And you can easily back up your entire virtual windows machine with all your settings intact by copying a disk image.

Which is best? Well, Parallels, from the newer kids on the virtualization block, tends to have the niftiest features first. It tends to run a bit faster. Fusion tends to be slower and more staid. When it catches up features-wise it tends to be implemented smoother and more mac-like. Finally, it tends to be more stable and deal better with any updates that Apple throws around.

I have at least one client actively switching over to Fusion with every computer they buy a copy for or as they update past version 3, because of two issues. One – a time where an Apple update kept them from printing to USB printers out of Paralells for three days. Worse, the fact that two sets of automatic updates have been corrupted and required workarounds to download a valid updater. We discovered the updating issue when trying to get a fix for video display problems within Parallels. I can understand the USB issue – it was in part a matter of timing as Apple had released an almost simultaneous update. The video issue is less forgivable, but also understandable. The problems where two sets of updates failed at different times because the downloaded updater was corrupt is just embarrassing.

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Q: When I get my Mac is do I really need MS Office to survive in PC land or will iWork suffice?

Yep, a friend asked me his question, and after I responded I realized that it made a pretty decent post topic.

I’ll get the first item out of the way right now. If you HAVE to work with an Exchange server directly for shared contacts, calendars, etc, you’re stuck with buying a full version of office 2008 for the Mac, as opposed to the student edition. Otherwise identical, exchange accounts are disabled in the version of Entourage that ships with Mac Office 2008.

If that’s not a problem, here are some alternatives:

  • NeoOffice
  • iWork

As the link notes, don’t bother with OpenOffice – it’s for geeks like me who’ve installed the programming tools that come with OSX, and doesn’t “fit” with the aesthetics.I haven’t heavily used NeoOffice in a while, before they made some major speed improvements and added MS Office 2007 compatibility (Office 2007 uses a new file format), but I can say it’s usually pretty transparent in handling word/excel/etc. files, and unlike Mac Office 2008 and iWork, it has an access-like database. If you need a database, you’ll know. It’s also free – though donations are appreciated.

As I mentioned earlier, Mac Office 2008 Teacher and Student edition won’t let you directly connect to an Exchange server (though IMAP, POP, and other standard methods of connecting will work), but is otherwise solid and complete. Many people are screaming Entourage fanatics but I much prefer the simplicity and integration with addresses and such that the OSX Mail app gives. This has been ameliorated somewhat by allowing entourage to sync calendars and contacts with the iCal and Address book.

iWork? Love it. Don’t write in it much because I usually do my writing in a project/data composition tool called Scrivener that helps you collect related info and snippets, but Pages is great for dumping pretty output, and doesn’t rearrange things in the weird ways that any version (including Windows) of Word does when you add pictures, mess with columns, etc. – especially if doing multicolumn newsletters and such.

Numbers is a killer spreadsheet with some truly nifty features when it comes to creating sums without typing, etc. and organizing and laying out tables. I use this for tracking my current household budget re: expected and forcast expenses and how much I have free for groceries/etc. No, it doesn’t have all the formulas and features, but covers 99% of what most home users will ever need. Like the rest of iWork, it’s lovely to look at.

I don’t use Keynote, but that’s because I haven’t done any presentations lately. I’m not using Powerpoint if I can help it. Having messed with it, it’s at least as easy to use and MUCH prettier.

A note on exporting/importing: Word documents go in and out pretty smoothly . You will see some things you need to clean up because nothing is PERFECTLY compatible (this is true to a much lesser extent with NeoOffice, and even a bit between windows and Mac versions of office due to fonts, etc.) , but is pretty solid. Your biggest headaches are going to be with Excel spreadsheets. With complicated spreadsheets, things can get rearranged and demand some cleanup time, while the completely different layout paradigm of Numbers can make for some strange spreadsheets when exporting. Powerpoint and Keynote actually get along very well but at times there are obviously going to be issues there as well….

UPDATE: Instead of NeoOffice, I’d go with the current version of Libre Office these days.

.Mac, most hardly knew thee.

With a recent announcement by Google, you can almost hear the air getting sucked out of .mac’s sails.

Say what?

OK. .mac is Apple’s much touted, and honestly, underdeveloped mail hosting service/sync service/online disk space/remote access service that was recently rebranded as mobileme/.me. Frankly, it’s a bastard stepchild. While I’ve had legitimate uses for it and it’s premium pricing (just wait, I’ll explain), most users have never needed most of what it offers, or could easily get it for free. The biggest thing going for it lately was .mac-based syncing for the iPhone, that offered a compelling reason to shell out the bucks.

Well, Google is now offering exchange-server based syncing called Mobile Sync that works with a number of smart phones – including the iPhone. With it, you can keep your gmail-based contacts and Google calendars wirelessly synchronized with your iPhone. And it’s free.

OK. It’s hardly the end of the world. There are still a number of advantages that .mac has, but Google sync just made it a lot less compelling.

Pro’s for Google Mobile Sync:

  • Easy to share calendars with other people and fairly easy to see other people’s shared calendars as long as they’re on Google. Google calendars has it all over iCal here.
  • Reliable. You don’t have to deal with the vagaries of Apple’s built-in syncing services. Google has the server, Google keeps the calendar. Any changes you make to it after using the calDav tools like Calaboration to give you direct access to your Google calendar in iCal will be reflected within minutes no matter where else you look at your calendar. The calendar and contacts are synchronized over the relatively tried and tested (yes, I’m grinding my teeth saying it, but credit where due) Exchange activesync services. Since the current Apple Address Book app in Leopard natively syncs to any specified Google Mail account, this gives you a completely different channel to keep your mail and contacts and calendars synchronized on your phone and desktop. It also makes them available via the web, while letting you use the interface (web or local) that best suits your way of working.


  • Privacy. Well – there are some who worry about Google and privacy. I understand these concerns, but don’t worry enough to not use them where they’re the best tool for the job.
  • Five Calendars synchronized. You can have more than five calendars, but only five of them can be synchronized to your smartphone. I solved this by grouping what used to be separate calendars together.
  • Ease of setup. If you have a new computer and iPhone – great. No problem. However, if, like me, you have a bunch of contact and calendar information already, then .mac is still the clear winner here. Between consolidating calendars, backing up data on the phone and the computers, exporting out individual calendars to import into Google cal, importing them, etc… it’s hardly a painless synchronization or one-click export. If, on the other hand, you already use Google and never used iCal anyway, then you still have the option of viewing the calendars in iCal. This is useful because a lot of programs in OSX are aware of the address book and the iCal calendars.
  • .mac plays better with mail programs than GMAIL. Especially the built in Apple Mail.app. Go figure. That said, this is true because Google does a few non-standard things to make tags work within the folder paradigm that most mail programs use.
  • Doesn’t replace the “Back to My Mac” functionality. – though as I recall LogMeIn now has a free mac program that allows you to get some of that (remotely controlling your computer) for free.

So… getting all this to work can be a little harder than .mac, and you still don’t get to synch bookmarks, but it’s free, and it works. For people like me who’ve had a .mac address for years, well, we’re not giving it up. At this point though, I can’t really point to mobileme sync as a compelling reason to push .mac/.me/mobileme.