I want to run Windows on my new Intel Mac, and I know I can either dual boot Windows with Boot Camp, or run Windows on my desktop with virtualization software like VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop. Which is the best method?
Can't Let Go of Windows
Dear Can't Let Go,
You're absolutely correct—you can dual boot Windows with Boot Camp, virtualise Windows, or have your cake and eat it too and virtualise your Boot Camp partition. If you use Boot Camp, to start Windows you have to restart your Mac and choose the Windows partition to boot. If you use virtualization software, you can start and stop Windows right from the Mac desktop. But before you decide which way is best for you, consider four factors: cost, performance, hard drive space, and file access.
Cost: In addition to purchasing a copy of Windows to run on your Mac, if you decide to go the virtual machine route you'll have to pay for another software licence. Both Fusion and Parallels cost about $US80 for a single user licence. (Both also offer free trials, if you want to give them a spin before you buy.) Boot Camp comes with Leopard, and it's free, so it's the cheaper (albeit less convenient) way to go.
Performance: In Boot Camp you're running Windows directly from your hard drive, instead of on top of another operating system, like you are in a virtual machine. So Boot Camp definitely provides a snappier Windows experience.
Hard drive space: The problem with Boot Camp is that you must partition your Mac's hard drive first. This means that to install Windows, you've got to set aside a chunk of your disk to house it. Later on you can't resize this partition—if Windows needs more space or you want to give more space to the Mac side, you're out of luck. You literally have to delete the partition, re-create it, and reinstall Windows to resize it. This limitation really stinks, especially on Macs with smaller hard drives (like notebooks). If you're running Windows in a virtual machine, however, you can change the size of the disk and even only use as much space as Windows takes up as you work.
File access: When you dual boot Windows with Boot Camp, you cannot read or write the files on your Mac's OS X partition. When you're booted into OS X, you can only read and write to your Windows partition if you've set up software that can write to NTFS drives. On the other hand, when you're running Windows in a virtual machine, you can copy files back and forth between your Mac and Windows, and even mount Mac directories as Windows drives. Also, you can run Windows applications side-by-side with your Mac apps on the Dock using VMware's Unity feature (in Parallels, it's called Coherence).
Overall, the cost of virtualisation software buys you convenience and Mac integration you don't get with Boot Camp—easy Windows starting and stopping, side-by-side application access, and easy file-swapping between the two. Not to mention that you can virtualise several different operating systemson your Mac (like Vista, XP, and Ubuntu), whereas with Boot Camp, you're limited to one.
Then again if you've got a huge hard drive and a pinched wallet and you're willing to run the two operating systems as if they were two separate computers, Boot Camp gets the job done.
Hope that helps you make your decision!