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Summary:

There’s something a little messed up when the most anticipated and intriguing application I’ve used on my new Intel-based MacBook Pro is one that lets me run Microsoft Windows, but it’s an absolute fact. 24 hours into my VMWare Fusion experience, I can easily say I’ve […]

There’s something a little messed up when the most anticipated and intriguing application I’ve used on my new Intel-based MacBook Pro is one that lets me run Microsoft Windows, but it’s an absolute fact. 24 hours into my VMWare Fusion experience, I can easily say I’ve never been so excited to use Windows, to send e-mail from Outlook, to run Internet Explorer, or even rack up a new high score on Minesweeper. While I had already expected big things from Fusion, its ease of installation, display quality and application speed have me vowing to never be burdened with a non-Apple laptop again.

With Apple’s move to Intel, the company’s new CPU platform has opened the door for software solutions bridging the worlds of Windows, Linux and Macintosh, years after Connectix kicked off the movement with Virtual PC. While Apple’s Boot Camp met the base criteria, third party programs like Parallels and Fusion made it so customers wouldn’t have to reboot their computer simply to change operating systems. And while I can’t speak as a Parallels expert, my experience with Fusion has been top notch in just about every respect.

Getting Started:

VMWare Fusion prices at $79, and is available both in retail stores, including the Apple Store, and for download from the company’s Web site. I opted for the download route. 160 Megabytes and roughly 5 minutes later, I had a disk image ready for install on my desktop.

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Running the VMWare installer program was as simple as any other Mac app. Double click, select the target destination, and click OK. The installation required 274 megabytes of space. Not too long ago, that might have seemed like a big chunk, but the 200 gigabyte hard drive on my new MacBook Pro took on the task with ease.

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Installing a New OS:

The VMWare Fusion product is basically a virtualization engine. Merely having the software won’t get you Windows or Linux. Instead, you need to provide the OS installation disk, or you can download an image from the Internet. In fact, from your Virtual Machine Library, there is a “Download…” button, taking you to the company’s virtual appliance marketplace, where you can give a wide variety of tools a spin. If it’s Linux distributions you’re after, choose Operating Systems and you can have your hands on Ubuntu or Fedora in minutes.

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Upon download and install, the virtual machine displays in your library. Selecting a machine and hitting “Run” gets you started. You’ll see I have the option to boot Fedora and Windows XP Professional. In fact, if I wanted, I could be running Mac OS X, Windows XP and Linux all at the same time!

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Running Windows, Virtually:

After installing Windows and Microsoft Office from a ghost image, I rebooted Windows XP from inside VMWare Fusion, and it was as if I had a brand new computer within a computer. Rather than the sluggishness I had expected from a virtual machine, working within Windows on my Mac was just as fast as it ever was on my Dell. Outlook connected with the company network and recognized my login credentials. Internet Explorer and Firefox, utilizing the Internet connection on my Mac, connected to the Web. I could even maximize the Windows OS to full screen (1440 x 900 on my laptop). While seeing a Windows desktop on my Mac was undeniably weird, I knew I had the world’s best Windows laptop on the planet.

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Now, instead of lugging around two laptops on business trips, or determining whether I have to bring the Dell to a meeting instead of my Mac, the question is already answered. On one laptop, I have the world’s best operating system (Mac OS X), the world’s most common operating system (Windows XP) and the world’s alternative operating system (Linux), all available in one speedy device. And VMWare has made it amazingly fail-safe. You can take snapshots to capture a moment in time, before your PC goes haywire. If you quit in the middle of a task, VMWare will “Suspend” the virtual machine and keep it saved for you when you return. Even when VMWare Fusion unexpectedly quit on me two or three times this evening, I simply opened it right back up and Windows XP was there as if nothing had happened. Try doing that on your Dell.

On second thought, you probably shouldn’t…

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  1. This sounds like a paid review to me. Why not mention other alternatives and pros/cons of each?

  2. I concur. Having used both Parallels and Fusion, I opted to buy Fusion. Buy.com has been running a special, I got Fusion last week for $61.00 less the $20 rebate Smith-Micro are offering (till the end of the year).

  3. Hmmm – I’ve heard good things about Fusion, but no one has really been able to point out significant features that would move me away from parallels. I’d love to see a side by side review.

  4. @Matt: There’s a side by side here.

  5. @Paul: I mentioned the alternatives (Boot Camp and Parallels) and admitted to not being a Parallels expert. What I know is that Fusion is a great product, and I’m glad it’s here. Preferring Parallels is good too – as it’s always a great idea to have multiple companies developing for the Mac.

  6. I haven’t tried Parallels, either, because I went straight for VMWare when I got my Intel-based Mac. That was because of the strong history they have with virtualization and the incredibly comprehensive library of ready-to-run virtual machines available for download. I’ve heard good things about Parallels, and I’m not posting to in any way suggest that it’s not just as good, I just don’t have any experience with Parallels.

    So, that said, my experience with VMWare Fusion has been wonderful, so I think your post is right-on! I’m amazed at what I can do on my laptop now. It really has taken over for three different machines for me. Just being able to seamlessly drag-and-drop files from Mac to Windows and back again is great. And the level of hardware support–I mean, it blows me away to plug a USB device into my MAC and have the Windows “Found Hardware” wizard pop up in my Windows window. Very cool piece of software, easily the best thing on my Mac.

  7. How does VMware deal with Windows Networks and log-ons. I’m trying to wean my wife off of her PC need, but two things I’m worried about are the specialized vet software that she uses at work, and then logging on the Windows network they have set up in her office. I was thinking about going the bootcamp route, because I KNOW that should work.

  8. I log on to the Windows network with no issues using Fusion. In the screen capture above, you can see a “Company” network drive – which is exactly that.

  9. I currently use Parallels, but it tends to bring my system to a crawl at times, especially when starting Windows (2.0 ghz iMac, 2 gigs RAM). Frankly I have to hit the start button and walk away for 5-10 minutes as my Mac apps are worthless during the process. I tried the Fusion 1.1 beta and had no such problem – my Mac is still snappy while Fusion does its thing. So I ordered a copy of Fusion from Amazon. I assume much of this has to do with Fusion’s ability to utilize both processor cores, where Parallels cannot?

    I still respect you, Parallels team, and VMWare was embarrassingly late to the party, but I need to move on now…

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