Improved performance, interface enhancements and new OS support make this a worthwhile upgrade.
The latest release of VMware Fusion breaks enough
ground that one has to wonder what's left for future releases. Fusion 4 is a
solid virtualization environment that adds support for the latest client and
server operating systems, including Apple's OS X Lion, and release 6 of CentOS
and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I'm even using it to run instances of the Windows
8 Developer Preview, with no problems to speak of.
Perhaps the most obvious enhancement in Fusion 4 is
the way it takes advantage of the new user interface features of OS X Lion.
Windows applications can be run from the Launchpad, a simple wipe gesture on
the trackpad when in Mission Control can switch between Windows and Mac, and
virtual machines can run the basic client version of Lion as well as Lion
From a security perspective, Fusion 4 is a great
improvement over earlier releases. Virtual machines can reside on encrypted
disk instances that run independently of the installed OS, and Macs with Intel
processors from the Sandy Bridgefamily
offer hardware-accelerated whole-disk encryption for better performance. Virtual
machines can also be password-secured. They need not be shut down to change
encryption status from off to on or back.
A number of little improvements are included as well
in Fusion 4; the cumulative effect provides a superlative user experience for
both Mac and Windows virtual machines. Sound is now supported for virtual
machines running OS X Lion; the Remote Disc feature-which allows Macs without
optical drives to use one shared from another computer on the network-is now
available; and downloads from the Web can be shared between Mac and Windows
virtual machines without manual copying. The video and audio quality of virtual
systems have been enhanced to the point where video conferencing through a VM
is not only possible, it's almost enjoyable.
Overall, 3D graphics performance has improved for
Windows virtual machines. Although I didn't benchmark the graphics performance
under Fusion, I have noticed smoother execution in Fusion 4 virtual machines
Bluetooth support in virtualized instances of
Windows now allows users to sync smartphones through the virtual system while
continuing to use Bluetooth input devices such as keyboards and trackpads on
Customers purchasing a physical package will get a
DVD and a USB key. It's a sensible move on the part of VMware, given the lack
of optical drives in Apple's Mac Book Air and the latest redesign of the Mac
For fresh deployments of Fusion, the install is
drag-and-drop. My upgrades to existing installations of Windows Server and XP
ran smoothly, although I neglected to fully shut down a couple of running
virtual systems. After the upgrade, I simply shut them down properly and then
booted them, allowing them to be updated for Fusion 4's features.
I can't completely buy into the company's claims of
a "zero footprint" for the application's non-executing state, but they actually
hold up well in most respects. After my upgrade, I generally saw the Start Menu
and Helper processes taking around 35 or 40MB of real memory and 75 to 80MB of
virtual memory. On recent Macs, the basic configuration of 4GB of physical
memory puts Fusion's non-executing memory use close enough to zero that I think
it almost counts. That said, changing the behavior of the Fusion icon in the OS
X menu bar to display "only when Fusion is running" allowed me to eliminate
this relatively minor memory use and reach a true zero-footprint state.
Although I don't remember ever complaining that
earlier versions of Fusion didn't feel enough like a Mac application, Fusion 4
does offer a more Mac-like look and feel. This is especially true in three
areas: the virtual machine library, which takes on aspects of the Finder; the
snapshot viewer, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Time Machine backup
system; and Fusion's Preferences panel, which picks up the interface of the
System Preferences in Mac OS X.
Disk management is one of those things that I don't
get around to doing until it's almost too late, but Fusion 4 makes it simple to
resize virtual disks and to reclaim space. This will obviously be more of a
boon when one has numerous system images in the library, but I'm happy to get
back every gigabyte I can.
requires a 64-bit-capable Intel processor-which excludes the first generations
of Intel Macs-a Core 2 Duo or later CPU, along with 2GB of physical memory and,
preferably, 4GB, according to VMware. I tested Fusion 4.0.1-the first public release of
Fusion 4-on Macs running both Snow Leopard and Lion. Understandably, the
company recommends the latter. Windows Aero support requires graphics
processors equal to or better than the ATI 2600 or the Nvidia 8600M.
But, ultimately, what sold me on Fusion 4 isn't the
user-interface enhancements, the encryption features or the look and feel.
Instead, it has noticeably reduced the time it takes to suspend and restart
virtual machines, which used to be a "now I'll check my email" moment. This is
now a matter of a few seconds, which keeps me moving and productive.
In short, although Fusion could presumably be
better, I'm left wondering how exactly that might be accomplished.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.