As simply as possible. I’m going to show you your options so that you may do the virtualization equivalent of picking the right pair of shoes. At the end of the day, the shoes that fit you best are the right choice.
Let’s start off with the dark horse in thee race: Oracle’s VirtualBox (free under the GNU, $50 for commercial license). Of the three choices, it probably has the least number of features. Whether that means anything to you or not is a question only you can answer. Is there anyone who has used every feature of Microsoft Office?
If you are new to virtualization, hands-down, this would be my first choice. Certainly, it’s free to try. And compared to the other guys you don’t experience ‘lock-in’.
While you are running the wizard and and see Create New Virtual Disk, you have a total of four choices. The first is to create a VDI (Virtual Disk Image). This is the default format for VirtualBox - an XML format.
Your second option is a VMDK, a format popularized by VMware. Very important, if you wish to use the VMplayer at a later date.
Your third choice isVHD, used by Microsoft. Did I mention that Microsoft’s Hyper–V comes free with every installation of Windows 8?
Your fourth and perhaps least favorable option is would be Image Files of Parallels Version 2 (HDD).
One of the reasons for the popularity of virtualization goes beyond maximizing hardware resources, while minimizing electrical use and cooling costs is the time spending building an OS base that looks just so, for testing. VirtualBox does full clone and linked clone.
Chances are you will find it is not quite as speedy in the horse race between its two major competitors. Nor does it have as many whistles and bells. Clearly, it wins on flexibility and price.
Target Audience: novices to virtualization, professionals that need as many backdoors as possible.
VMware Fusion V4 Advantages
VMware Fusion V4 strengths come from the fact that VMware was first. IT professionals are comparable and proficient with the strengths and weaknesses of VMware and the VMDK format. A superior choice for those that need an integration between OS X and Windows, that is as seamless as is currently possible. Competition keeps its pricing at the utility level.
Target Audience: experienced virtualization/IT professionals that are just trying to ‘make it go’ for their customers (end-users within an organization).
Parallels Desktop V7 Advantages
Parallels Desktop V7 had its original incarnation coming from OS X, and originally the speed demon on the Mac. In 2012, in terms of performance and whistles and bells a virtual dead heat with Fusion V4.
It comes down to the experience. Most novices will find Parallels more pleasing to the eyeballs. Both VMware Fusion and Parallels managers may wish they had started with Oracle’s VirtualBox. Because they were not locked down to a particular vendor’s container.
Target Audience: OS X users (Mac) that don’t have experience with virtualization and are scared of trying something not mainstream (VirtualBox).
Other Desktop Virtualization Solutions
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss niche projects. One that is (currently) under the radar and definitely not niche is Hyper-V1. It was a version 1 product in its day it would have been the butt of a WC Fields joke.
Like it or hate it, the 2-ton gorilla known as Microsoft has been quietly working on virtualization for some time.
Certainly some of my Redmond buddies would like to say not quietly. My responses is, be happy version 1 of Hyper-V didn’t get more attention. The product sucked. That was then. Now is 2012.
Becoming a standard feature in Windows 8 is a topic that will be not lost on a number of manufacturers. Particularly in the tablet market. Add to that ARM CPU support, and the next 12 to 24 months are going to be very interesting indeed.