7 Best Desktop Virtualization Software for Mac and Windows in 2023

Desktop virtualization technology allows you to run multiple operating systems on a single physical computer. This provides flexibility, security, cost-savings, and efficiency benefits whether you want to virtually access work resources or simply try out different computing environments. In this guide, we review the top options for personal and business use on both Mac and Windows platforms.

An Introduction to Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization refers to solutions where your desktop environment like the OS, apps, and files operate in a virtual machine (VM) hosted on a physical device or remote server. This abstracts the desktop from the hardware, allowing for portability across devices and locations.

There are two main approaches to desktop virtualization:

Local Virtualization: The VM runs locally on your device. All processing happens on local hardware. This doesn‘t require a continuous internet connection.

Remote Virtualization: Your desktop is hosted on a remote server. You access it over the internet from any device. This allows for central management and shared hardware resources.

Key Advantages of Desktop Virtualization

There are many benefits to leveraging desktop virtualization solutions:

  • Access Work Resources Remotely: Securely access your office desktop and apps from any internet-connected device.

  • Improved Security: Centralized control and isolation of work desktops limits malware/data theft risks.

  • More Efficient Hardware Use: Share computing power across multiple VMs instead of dedicating devices per user.

  • Run Multiple Operating Systems: Test out new OS versions or run specialty software without dual booting.

  • Work from Anywhere: Employees can be productive remotely while IT maintains control.

  • Disaster Recovery: Desktop images are stored securely in the data center or cloud.

Now let‘s look at some of the top software options available for both Windows and Mac.

1. Parallels Desktop – Seamless Windows-Mac Integration

Parallels Desktop is an excellent choice if you want to seamlessly run Windows applications or entire environments on your Mac devices without rebooting. It uses local virtualization technology for native-like performance.

Key Features:

  • Simple wizard-based setup for new Windows VMs
  • Drag-and-drop integration between Mac and Windows apps
  • Tools to adjust resource allocation between systems
  • Over 30+ utilities to automate common tasks
  • Models range from home use to IT pro editions

Parallels Desktop strikes an ideal balance between usability, flexibility, and power. It‘s a great pick if you need to occasionally access a Windows-only app or if you prefer certain workflows in each OS.

Parallels desktop runs Windows side-by-side on Mac

Parallels Desktop provides seamless Windows-Mac integration. (Image Credit: PCMag)

2. VMware Fusion – Feature-packed Virtualization

VMware Fusion is a popular commercial virtual machine platform for Mac users. It competes directly with Parallels Desktop but focuses more on absolute performance and a wide array of professional configuration options.

Key features include:

  • Supports hundreds of OS combinations
  • Advanced customization of virtual hardware
  • Snapshots, cloning, encryption, and more
  • Unity view to run Windows apps like native Mac ones
  • Up to 10-way vGPU configurations supported
  • Integrates with other VMware infrastructure

If you need to run demanding workloads like CAD software or require deep customization for software development/testing, VMware Fusion is a top choice. The Pro edition also adds in remote connection capabilities.

3. VirtualBox – Free and Open Source Desktop Virtualization

VirtualBox is a free, cross-platform, open-source solution perfect for personal use. It‘s less performant than commercial competitors but makes an excellent starting point to evaluate desktop virtualization at no cost.

Capabilities of VirtualBox include:

  • Run VMs locally on Windows, Linux, MacOS, and Solaris
  • Support for a wide range of guest OSes
  • Snapshots, remote machine display, shared folders
  • Virtual networking and hard drive support
  • Extension pack for added features like USB 2.0

If you just want to experiment with other operating systems or run simple apps for personal use, VirtualBox is a great way to get started before investing in paid software.

4. Citrix Desktop as a Service (DaaS)

Citrix DaaS (formerly Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops service) is a secure cloud platform optimized for remote delivery of desktops and applications to any device. It‘s a top choice for businesses implementing virtual workspaces.

Benefits of Citrix DaaS include:

  • Simple virtual app and desktop delivery
  • Unified management across on-prem and cloud
  • Predictive autoscaling based on usage
  • Sophisticated access and data security
  • Integration with Microsoft Endpoint Manager
  • Reliable performance even over poor connections

With robust security capabilities and optimized integration with other business productivity platforms, Citrix DaaS is an enterprise-focused solution enabling the modern virtual workforce.

5. Xen Project – Secure Server Virtualization

The Xen Project is an open source type-1 (bare-metal) hypervisor providing a foundational virtualization platform for public clouds, private clouds, desktop virtualization, and more.

Xen delivers:

  • Excellent performance across devices
  • Advanced security isolation
  • Live migration of VMs
  • Linux and Windows support
  • Scales from IoT and embedded to enterprise workloads
  • Backs major cloud providers like AWS and Oracle Cloud

While end users typically won‘t interact with Xen itself, it underpins many consumer and commercial remote virtualization products and public cloud infrastructure.

6. QEMU ??? Flexible Machine Emulator

QEMU is an open-source emulator and generic virtualizer allowing hardware virtualization for a huge array of guest architectures on x86 host machines.

QEMU can be used for:

  • User-mode emulation to run foreign binaries locally
  • KVM hardware virtualization with near native performance
  • Automated creation of virtual machines
  • A hypervisor when using the Xen backend
  • Developing and testing apps across platforms
  • Virtual CPUs, networking, storage, and devices

QEMU provides extreme flexibility for power users wanting performant virtual machines with tailored architectures. It forms a core component within desktop virtualization stacks.

7. Hyper-V – Built-in Virtualization for Windows

Microsoft‘s Hyper-V is a native hypervisor in supported Windows editions providing local desktop virtualization capabilities.

You can leverage Hyper-V to:

  • Safely test patches, apps, and builds of Windows
  • Isolate and run workloads securely
  • Build home labs to learn new IT skills
  • Emulate non-prod environments to users
  • Switch between OSes without rebooting
  • Replicate exotic hardware virtually

For developers and IT professionals on Windows workstations, having virtualization available out the box makes Hyper-V a convenient choice despite a more limited feature set than commercial solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does desktop virtualization matter for personal use?

It enables single computer owners to access multiple operating systems for compatibility with specific applications, platforms, and use cases without having to reboot or swap hardware.

What are the main barriers to adoption?

The learning curve of managing virtual infrastructures and reduced performance compared to native hardware can restrict uptake. Virtualization also generally requires robust endpoint resources and internet connectivity.

Are free options like VirtualBox good enough?

They definitely can be for basic personal usage! Paid solutions like Parallels and VMware offer premium features, speed, and reliability however.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There is a wide selection of capable desktop virtualization software available for both Mac and Windows today delivering flexibility, security, and productivity benefits.

Here are some closing recommendations based on common use cases:

  • For integrating Windows apps into Mac workflows, Parallels Desktop strikes the best balance of usability and performance.
  • On Windows machines, leverage the built-in Hyper-V hypervisor for straightforward personal virtualization.
  • For professional software development and testing needs, VMware Fusion leads for Mac while Hyper-V remains a top choice for Windows.
  • If you just need simple virtual OS testing with no costs, check out VirtualBox.
  • For secure and manageable enterprise virtual desktop infrastructure, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops is the premier offering.

Desktop virtualization unlocks new potential from existing computers – ultimately saving money, improving security, and enabling work from anywhere. Evaluate the best software for your specific needs today.