VMware, an expert in x86 virtualization, that is the ability to run one or more x86 operating systems as “guests” of a “host” operating system with x86 architecture, has released Fusion 1.0. Like Parallels, Fusion allows you to run so many versions of Windows and other operating systems from Mac OS X, and unlike Boot Camp, you don’t have to first restart your computer to use it.
VMware Fusion supports more than 60 operating systems: Windows compatibility ranges from version 3.1 to beta versions of Windows Server 2008. If Linux is your preferred option, then you will find support for Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE, Mandrake, etc. You can also install Novell Netware, Solaris 9 or 10, FreeBSD, and MS-DOS operating systems. Some 64-bit versions of Windows and some Linux families are also supported, such as Red Hat and SUSE Enterprise Linux.
As a Windows computer
Fusion works quite well with Windows (I have tested with Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000). Fusion also supports Vista, although some features, such as Unity and driver support, are not fully functional with that operating system. It is also not very strange considering that Vista is still a very recent system.
One of the key factors that differentiates Fusion from Parallels is Fusion’s ability to utilize both CPU cores in the virtual machine. Parallels can’t do this, and this makes a noticeable difference in CPU performance with the most demanding tasks. It also seems to offer a faster response in handling Windows.
Fusion includes an easy installation mode for Windows Vista, XP and 2000. I have tested this feature with the XP Pro installation and it worked perfectly. In fact, installing Windows on a virtual machine with the Easy Install option is even easier than on a real PC.
After Windows boots for the first time you will have to install the VMware Tools using the Virtual Machine> Install> VMware Tools menu option. This package improves graphics performance, adds support for shared folders and drag-and-drop, and more. VMware Tools must be installed on both Windows and Linux virtual machines.
Other ways to install Windows
You may already have Windows installed on your Mac via Parallels or Boot Camp, and Fusion will allow you to use either (or both) of them for the installation of Fusion virtual machines. Setting up the Boot Camp partition as a Fusion virtual machine is pretty straightforward, and it worked flawlessly in my tests. It was not necessary for me to reactivate my Windows license, although some users have encountered this problem. To avoid this and other problems, be sure to follow the instructions outlined in the VMware help documents as they are written (Help> VMware Fusion Help, then search for Boot Camp).
The process to convert a Parallels virtual machine is a bit more complicated. You will need to read the instructions in the PDF file “Converting a Parallels Virtual Machine to Run in VMware”, which can be downloaded from the VMware website. I have followed the conversion process (including the ability to add multiple CPU support), and although it took me about an hour for the 10GB Parallels virtual machine I had installed on my machine, it worked as described. The process is not tremendously complicated, although you have to follow the steps to the letter. Once finished, you will have the same Windows installation running under Fusion, along with the files and applications that you had in Parallels.
Performance and usability
I have tried a few standard applications in Fusion, such as Office 2007, Adobe Reader 8.1, Firefox 22.214.171.124, Safari 3.0.3 and QuickTime 7.2, Windows Media player 11, and the Trillian Basic 3.1 messaging program. Office 2007 worked perfectly, being able to open even one of my Office 2004 Excel for Mac spreadsheets with embedded macros (something that I will not be able to do in the next Office 2008 for Mac, since Microsoft will abandon the Macros support in the version Office for Mac.)
Adobe Reader, Firefox, Safari, and Trillian all worked as expected. Fusion’s compatibility with classic Windows applications, such as those tested, is excellent. Programs load fast, are stable, and work just as well as in a native Windows environment.
Video playback in Windows Media Player was smooth, even using HD demo clips. I had some issues with audio lag and skipping on some QuickTime video clips, although they looked pretty good overall too.
I was also able to use the Mac’s DVD recorder to add files to a CD-RW disc, and the iSight camera also works as long as you install the iSight drivers from Apple’s Boot Camp Drivers Disc.
Fusion also supports some 3-D games, although support is limited to older games that make use of DirectX 8.1. The Fusion release notes only show support for a total of 11 games, much older than the approximately 40 listed on the Parallels website. (Fusion 1.1, currently in beta, will add support for DirectX 9.0, which should expand the list of supported games.) You can find and run demos of a few games on the list, and they worked reasonably well. However, if you want to run Windows games on your Mac, then Apple’s Boot Camp solution continues to represent the best performance option.
Fusion includes excellent USB 2.0 support, so you shouldn’t have a problem with most third-party devices; however I was unable to get my Wacom tablet running in the Windows XP virtual machine. A search of the VMware forums revealed that this is a known issue.
Fusion’s Unity mode takes care of fully integrating Windows applications with OS X applications. Any open Windows window becomes a separate window from OS X, and Windows applications have their own icon in the Dock.
Fusion supports Windows XP in Unity mode, as well as experimental support for Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista, which means you may notice some defeats.