VMware Fusion 1.0

Rob Griffiths
30 November, 2007
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You may need (or want) to run Windows, or other operating systems, alongside Mac OS X, and Parallels Desktop is the best-known of several programs on the market for that purpose. VMware, an expert in x86 virtualisation has released Fusion 1.0, its first OS X offering. Like Parallels, Fusion allows you to run many versions of Windows and other operating systems from within OS X. And unlike Boot Camp, you don’t have to log out and restart in order to use it.

VMware Fusion supports more than 60 operating systems: Windows coverage extends from version 3.1 to betas of Windows Server 2008. If Linux is your cup of tea, you’ll find support for Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE, Mandrake, and more. You can also install Novell Netware, Solaris 9 or 10, FreeBSD, and MS-DOS systems. Even 64-bit releases of Windows and some families of Linux are supported.

As a Windows machine. Fusion runs Windows quite well — I tested it with Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000. Fusion also supports Vista, although some features (such as Unity and driver support) aren’t fully functional with that OS. Given that Vista is brand new, this isn’t surprising.

One of the key factors that differentiates Fusion from Parallels is Fusion’s ability to use two CPU cores within a virtual machine; Parallels can’t, and this makes a big difference in the performance of CPU-intensive tasks. It also seems to pay off by giving you a generally more responsive Windows experience.

Fusion has an Easy Install mode for Windows Vista, XP, and 2000. I tested this with a fresh XP Pro installation, and it worked perfectly — installing Windows in a virtual machine via Easy Install is actually easier than installing Windows on a real PC.

Other paths to Windows. You may already have Windows installed on your Mac via either Parallels or Boot Camp, and Fusion will let you use either (or both) of those installations as Fusion virtual machines. Setting up your Boot Camp partition as a Fusion virtual machine is quite simple, and it worked perfectly in my tests.

The process of converting a Parallels virtual machine is more complicated. You’ll need to read the instructions in the Converting a Parallels Virtual Machine to Run in VMware Fusion PDF file, which you can download from the VMware site. I worked through the conversion process (including adding multiple CPU support), and while it took about an hour to process my 10GB Parallels virtual machine on my Mac Pro, it did work as described.

Performance and usability. I tested a number of standard applications in Fusion. Office 2007 ran just fine, and I was even able to open and run one of my Mac Office 2004 Excel spreadsheets with embedded macros — something that I won’t be able to do in the upcoming Mac Office 2008, as Microsoft will drop macro support from the Mac version of Office.

Adobe Reader, Firefox, Safari, and Trillian all ran as expected — compatibility in Fusion with typical Windows applications such as these is excellent. The programs load quickly, are stable, and work as well as they do in a native Windows environment.

Video playback in Windows Media Player, even using high-definition demo clips from Microsoft, was smooth. I had a bit of trouble with audio lag and skipping in a few of the QuickTime video clips, but they were generally still easy to watch.

I was also able to use the DVD burner on the Mac Pro to add files to a CD-RW disc, and the iSight camera works, so long as you install the iSight drivers from Apple’s Boot Camp Windows drivers disc.

Fusion also supports some 3D games, though the support is limited to older DirectX 8.1 games. Fusion’s release notes list only 11 supported games, all much older than the 40 or so listed on Parallels’ site. (Fusion 1.1, now in beta, will add support for DirectX 9.0, which should expand the list of supported games.) I was able to find and run demos for a few of the games on the list, and they worked reasonably well — my steering wheel worked in the driving games, for instance, though the force feedback did not. If you really want to play games on your Windows Mac, though, Apple’s Boot Camp provides the best performance.

Fusion includes excellent USB 2.0 support, so you shouldn’t have any trouble with most third party devices — not even products such as GPS receivers and Windows Mobile phones. I wasn’t able to get my Wacom tablet working in the Windows XP virtual machine; a search of the VMware forums revealed that this is a known issue.

Other features. Fusion’s Unity mode intermingles and fully integrates your Windows applications alongside your OS X applications. Any open Windows window becomes an independent, fully drop-shadowed OS X window — and running Windows applications have their own dock icons.

There’s no Start menu like the one you get with Parallels’ analogous Coherence mode; instead, you use a floating Launch Applications window, and the Applications menu mimics most, but not all, of the Start menu’s features.

Fusion also lets you create snapshots of your virtual machines, which makes it simple to undo changes. Take a snapshot before you install a program, for instance, and you can then revert to that snapshot via the menu if you decide you don’t want that program installed. Unlike Parallels, which accommodates multiple snapshots per virtual machine (allowing you more flexibility to work in stages), Fusion permits just one.

Fusion supports VMware’s Virtual Appliances — ready-to-run virtual machines, many of which can be downloaded and installed free of charge from a library of nearly 600 different choices.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. I found Fusion easy, fast, stable, and very well thought out. Its game support doesn’t match that of Parallels, but if you’re serious about gaming in Windows, you’re not going to be using either of these programs anyway.

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