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VMWare Fusion 4 takes on Parallels 7

Parallels and VMWare are locked in an arms-race. Both vendors make software that enables you to run Windows on your Mac. They’ve been stuck in a tit-for-tat release cycle for years now: Every twelve months or so, one of them releases a new version of its software with a bunch of whizzy new features. Some days or weeks afterwards, the other one releases its own new version—usually with many of the same new features.

It’s just happened again. Parallels recently released Parallels 7. And now VMWare has released Fusion 4. We’ll be taking in-depth looks at both apps soon. But at first glance the differences between the two seem to be wafer thin.

Like Parallels, VMWare is is heavily touting its new edition’s Lion-friendliness. For example, both programs have long allowed Windows apps to run in windows of their own, just like regular Mac apps. VMWare Fusion 4—like the new version of Parallels—updates this feature so Windows apps can appear individually in Mission Control and Launchpad; those apps can also be run full-screen. Both of the programs now allow you to run Lion itself as a virtual machine.

The similarities go on from there: VMWare, like Parallels, claims to have made it easier to install new virtual machines. Like Parallels 7, Fusion 4 comes with tools for migrating an existing Windows installation from a PC to a Mac. Both companies cite benchmarking numbers that prove their app is the fastest, and both say their interfaces are Apple-ier than the other’s. Both programs let you password-protect your virtual machines. And on and on it goes. The two updates even tout the same number of new features. (“More than 90,” claim both vendors.)

With two products that are so similar, price is bound to be a point of contention. VMWare Fusion 4 is coming out with a special introductory price of $50, good until the end of 2011; after that, it’ll go up to $80. Not to be outdone, Parallels has just announced its own special: While Parallels 7 too normally sells for $80, current VMWare Fusion customers can buy it for $30 (upon submission of a valid license key).

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