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  • First Look: VMWare Fusion 1.0 RC1 for the Mac

    July 17th, 2007

    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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    6 Responses to “First Look: VMWare Fusion 1.0 RC1 for the Mac”

    1. jbligh says:

      This is great as long as Microsoft doesn’t buy them up. While it was always slower than the real thing, Virtual PC used to run at a somewhat acceptable speed. When Microsoft bought them, they somehow messed up the app to the point where it ran so sluggishly it was unusable. I guess fixing things that aren’t broken is the MS way, after all…

      I plan to upgrade to a new MacBookPro after Leopard gets released and I look forward to choosing the best virtualization software, be it Parallels or VM Ware, to run the one or two Windows apps I need for work.

      And should it ever be released, I think that a reliable app that allows users to run Windows Apps without Windows will win the day over either of those two. Most Mac users would rather not have to be bothered with Gates’ evil virus masquerading as an OS.

    2. damian says:

      VMWare won’t be bought by MS since its owned by another large multi-billion dollar company, EMC.

    3. This is great as long as Microsoft doesn’t buy them up. While it was always slower than the real thing, Virtual PC used to run at a somewhat acceptable speed. When Microsoft bought them, they somehow messed up the app to the point where it ran so sluggishly it was unusable. I guess fixing things that aren’t broken is the MS way, after all…

      I plan to upgrade to a new MacBookPro after Leopard gets released and I look forward to choosing the best virtualization software, be it Parallels or VM Ware, to run the one or two Windows apps I need for work.

      And should it ever be released, I think that a reliable app that allows users to run Windows Apps without Windows will win the day over either of those two. Most Mac users would rather not have to be bothered with Gates’ evil virus masquerading as an OS.

      I agree that VMWare isn’t going to be purchased by Microsoft anytime soon. Intel, by the way, is investing over $200 million in the company.

      As to Virtual PC, I don’t recall it getting slower under Microsoft’s ownership, but it never got any faster. I always thought SoftWindows was snappier, however.

      And one mor thing: CrossOver Mac allows you to run some Windows applications without Windows, but I don’t know how well it is doing compared to the virtual machine programs.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Why is Intel investing?

    5. Why is Intel investing?

      Technology, profits, etc., etc.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Mike says:

      I don’t get understand why so many people think VMWare works well. I tried the trial version of Parallels and VMware and found VMWare unusable. Aside from having more problems setting up networking and sound in VMWare, the main problem was that it ran too slowly.

      Most of the benchmarks/comparisons I have seen for VMWare and Parallels have involved benchmarking immediately after the virtual machine is switched on. At this point, yes, VMWare and Paralllels seem equal.

      However, it seems to me that after VMWare has been running for 10-15 minutes, and there are several applications open (I normally have two resource hogs: Firefox and Visual Studio), then there are significant and frequent glitches and slowdowns.

      For example, I have seen the start menu take over 30 seconds to display, I have seen screen redraw problems (and yes I have VMware tools installed).

      However the real show stopper for me is the time Visual Studio takes to compile under VMWare. With Parallels and VMWare fusion running on my MacBook Pro 2.6 GHz with 4 GB Ram (1GB for each machine), Vis studio on Parallels finished a 20 minute compile of our 8 big DLLs in less time than Vis Studio on VMWare took to compile the first source file of the first DLL!! Thats 20 minutes to compile one source file! It seems to me that having 2 processors is no use if this is the speed VMWare runs.

      Checking the guest task manager I see that the CPUs on VMWare are both running at about 60% – 80% while compiling, but IO is not significant. In Parallels the CPU is running about 100% during the compile, and IO is also heavy. There are no viruses on either system, or other resource intensive processes running during the compile.

      The worst thing was that my boss got annoyed about the amount of time I wasted getting VMWare set up, just to get this dual core support (a whole day, since it didn’t detect the dual cores initially, I had to do a windows 2003 server repair install).

      One suspicion I have is that the way memory is given to the machines may be different. Parallels get its gigabyte of memory pre-allocated (wired – so it can take control of the virtual memory). VMWare seem to get its memory wired, but in piecemeal fashion, there is no option to pre-allocate memory. Or maybe the performance deficit is more to do with the disk IO?

      Has anyone else seen these kinds of slowdowns? Is there anything I might be doing wrong?

      I just don’t get how so many people think VMWare is better. Mostly they seem to be assuming it is better based on just the benchmarks and the fact that VMWare provides 2 virtual CPUs.

      Using VMs day in, day out is a different story.

      Versions: VMWare Fusion 1.1.1, Parallels Desktop 3.0 build 5584.0, Windows Server 2003 Small Business Edition (SP2)

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