Competition supposedly helps make good products great, and certainly it was nice to have both Connectix Virtual PC and Insignia’s SoftWindows years ago when you needed to run Windows on your Mac. But those programs were, at best, painful to run and you only used them in a pinch.
When Apple switched to Intel-inside, though, it was a whole new ballgame. Everything came in a rush. First, independent hackers found a way to install windows on a MacIntel, next came Apple’s Boot Camp, followed by Parallels Desktop, a virtual machine application, and CrossOver Mac. The latter let you use a Windows program, well of few of them anyway, without having to actually install Windows.
It took a few months before one of the largest players in the virtualization game, VMWare, decided to enter the fray. But being late to the party doesn’t mean that VMWare Fusion is bereft of features. In fact, it’s clear that Fusion is going hombre a hombre with Parallels Desktop, and we’ll all benefit from better and better solutions to run Windows and other operating systems on your Mac.
With a promised release date in late August, VMWare Fusion 1.0 RC1 is fairly complete, but still a ways from being worthy of final release status. But I’ll play down the problems for the most part, because they won’t be important unless they show up in the Golden Master.
However, a sharp look at this release candidate shows that VMWare and Parallels are watching each other very carefully, as the many of the features of the former mirror the ones in the latter. This is apt to generate lots of leapfrogging, and that’s just great.
The familiarity begins with Fusion’s installation process, which uses Apple’s Installer application and takes just a few minutes to wrap. Installing Windows Vista itself also compares favorably with the Parallels process. You specify the operating system in the setup screen, enter your login information and your Microsoft license key and insert the installer CD. After a couple of clicks, the installation proceeds all by itself without interruption.
I didn’t monitor the Vista setup all that carefully, but the Windows login screen was present and accounted for in roughly 45 minutes, which is about normal for the process.
Although a 1.0 version, VMWare Fusion has lots of powerful features, and I won’t continue the comparisons with Parallels unless there’s something drastically different to talk about. There’s experimental support, for example, for accelerated graphics, which uses Apple’s OpenGL technology to support DirectX 8.1. Alas, many of the newest PC games, and, in fact, Windows Vista, require later versions of DirectX, so you’ll have to wait for updates, which are likely forthcoming at some point or another, to provide full support.
Fusion’s Unity feature merges Windows applications with your Mac’s desktop, in the form of the Classic Mac OS. The PC apps even appear in the Dock, and you can keep them there for quick launching. This frees you of having to put up with two operating system interfaces, more or less.
One area where Fusion trumps Parallels is its support for two or more processor cores, which is configured as a virtual machine preference. The present version 3 variants of Parallels confine support for one processor core, although they are apparently considering a change in a future version.
Indeed, that extra multiprocessor support makes Fusion feel somewhat faster and more fluid than Parallels. What’s more, Fusion launches Windows in less time and it appears that PC software gets up and running in a snappier fashion as well. I also noticed that application installations were noticeably quicker. This is a somewhat subjective observation, though, and I await the final version to run a real comparison.
For a prerelease product, Fusion is pretty stable. I did notice some display artifacts when resizing a Windows application window in Unity mode, and I ran into a brief crisis, when the virtual machine stalled while restoring itself from the Suspend mode. To fix the latter, I actually had to go into the virtual machine file, using the Finder’s Show Package Contents feature, and surgically remove a pair of files that store the Suspend data. After that, things worked just fine, and I would assume this issue will be fixed in the final release.
The prerelease of Fusion will apparently be available for download until the final release is available from VMWare’s Mac site, and they have an active online community where you can learn troubleshooting tips and tricks, and just share your own experiences.
While I’m not about to say that Fusion is better than Parallels, VMWare has delivered a powerful contender for their first Mac product. They’ve clearly done their homework, and it shows. May the best application win — or, even better, may they both live long and prosper and continue to advance the state of the art.
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