VMware Fusion Melds Apple OS X with Windows
While Apples OS X enjoys a healthy and broad software ecosystem of its own, theres no avoiding the fact that many vital applications, both commercial and in-house, will run only on Microsoft Windows. Enter VMware Fusion, a new product that enables OS X users to work around the operating system support limitations of the applications they require by hosting virtual instances of Windows and other x86 or x86-64 operating systems on their Apple desktops and notebooks.
VMwares new offering, which joins the companys VMware Workstation and Player products for Windows and Linux, sets itself apart from its sibling products with a completely Mac-native interface and an impressive knack for integrating Windows applications into the OS X desktop as closely as possible. Its this joining of OS X and Windows to which the “Fusion” name refers.
VMware Fusion, which began shipping on Aug. 6 for $79.99, isnt the first virtualization product of its type for OS X. Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac—which also costs $79.99—offers the same basic feature set for OS X users, with small differences in detail.
Click here to take eWEEK Labs tour of VMware Fusions highlights.
I recommend that OS X users looking to run Windows applications head over to www.vmware.com/mac, where Fusion is available for download with a 30-day evaluation license. Fusion is also well worth evaluating by developers and system administrators who run OS X but need to test applications on other operating systems.
VMware Fusion should be able to host any x86 or, with the appropriate hardware, x86-64 operating system. I tested Fusion with Microsofts Windows XP SP2, Sun Microsystems Solaris Express Developer Edition and an rPath Linux-based LAMP software appliance.
Unfortunately, due to Apples restrictions on its operating system, its not possible to run virtual OS X instances on Fusion. Id like to see Apple bend these controls at least enough to enable Apple machines to host virtual OS X instances, as this capability would be a significant boon to developers and administrators who work with Apples OS.
On the host, VMware Fusion requires OS X Version 10.4.9 or higher, and the software must be run on one of Apples Intel-based Macs. I tested Fusion on a Mac Mini with a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM. VMware recommends a minimum of 512MB of RAM, but as with all virtualization applications, the more RAM you have available, the more virtual machines you can host.
While Fusion will host a variety of operating systems, the product sports a handful of features devoted just to Windows, starting with a handy VM creation tool called Windows Easy Install. Rather than click through Microsofts installer program, I was able to supply Fusion with a Windows XP SP2 disk image and a product ID number, hit go, and allow Fusion to do the driving. After about 20 minutes, Fusion had built me a new Windows VM, complete with VMwares set of VM-optimized drivers.
Also on the Windows-friendliness front, Fusion ships with a feature, called Unity, that enabled me to open Windows applications that ran from my Windows XP VM but that appeared on the desktop of my test OS X machine as if they were native Mac applications—save for their telltale XP window decorations. Combined with Fusions support for dragging and dropping files between ones OS X host and Windows guests, and with the products support for copying and pasting items between host and guest, Unity made running Windows applications atop OS X about as seamless as it could be.
Click here to read about Microsofts Virtual PC 2007.
The biggest issue I experienced while using Windows applications in Fusions Unity mode was OS Xs knack for intercepting the middle-button mouse clicks Im accustomed to issuing to open Web pages in new tabs. On Apples OS, these clicks bring forward the systems Dashboard Widgets feature, and I couldnt figure out a way to work around this behavior.
In addition to installing Windows to run from a virtual disk file, Fusion enables users to run Windows from their Boot Camp partition. Apples Boot Camp utility makes it easy to convert ones Mac into an OS X/Windows dual-boot machine. With Fusion, its possible to access the files and applications stored on a Boot Camp installation without having to leave OS X behind.
Page 3: Fusion vs. Workstation
At $79.99, Fusion costs about $100 less than VMwares Windows and Linux-supporting Workstation product, and while Fusion features a few Windows integration pieces that Workstation lacks, there are several very useful Workstation tools that Fusion users must do without. For instance, Im accustomed to taking screen shots and captures of running VMs using Workstation, and Fusion offers neither of these options.
Whats more, while I was able to use Fusion to take snapshots of my VMs and later revert back to those snapshots, Fusion limited me to one snapshot at a time. With Workstation, I can take many different snapshots of VM and create revision branches that allow me to jump back and forth among several different software configurations within a single VM.
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