The battle for Mac hearts and minds is taking an unusual twist, with Windows emerging as the new field of warfare.

Two major players in the virtualisation space have made significant announcements in recent hours.

VMWare will ship its virtualisation software for Macs, VMWare Fusion next week, while the Parallels team has released a new free beta of its Parallels Desktop software for Mac.

VMWare Fusion ships next week

VMWare Fusion (available 6 August) enables Mac users to run Mac OS X, Windows, Solaris and 57 other operating systems side-by-side on an Intel Mac. The software runs both 32- and 64-bit systems, can fully exploit dual processors and supports many USB 2.0 devices.

The software also supports DirectX for games and Boot Camp-based installations (Windows XP) on Intel Macs. It will will cost $80 when it ships, though is available at just $40 until 5 August. UK pricing hasn't yet been announced.

New Parallels revealed

Meanwhile, the Parallels team has confirmed the latest test version is available for free to anyone with a permanent or trial Parallels Desktop 3.0 registration.

Parallels Desktop (£39.99 at Amazon UK) lets Mac users run Microsoft Windows XP or Vista beside Mac OS X.

The new version supports Microsoft application windows inside Expose, so Windows application windows look like Mac apps when seen in Expose view.

The free Explorer utility in this version lets Mac users browse and work with the hard drive of virtual machines (such as the Windows system on a Mac) even when the virtual machine is off.

In an interesting twist, the new release also lets iPhone users sync their device in the Windows environment on a Mac.