VMware Fusion 2 Beta Raises The Virtualization Bar

VMware announced the latest beta of their flagship Mac virtualization tool on Tuesday and I’ve managed to put it through a number of paces with mostly positive results. All tests were performed on a 2.4GHz MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM running OS X 10.5.2. The VM was my Windows XP SP2 Boot Camp partition.

Video Gone Wild!

When I read that Fusion 2 would have full support for multiple monitors in both Unity and Full Screen modes I was skeptical at best. After installing Fusion 2 beta, I’m wondering how I lived without the functionality. In Unity mode (where Windows applications appear to be running side-by-side with Mac applications), you can drag PC application windows across all active Mac screens. It just works. This makes it much easier to bring windows where you need to for quicker operations.

Similarly, you have the option for Fusion 2 beta to use all active screens in Full Screen mode. The PC VMware virtual adapters automatically adjust to the appropriate resolution and configure Windows to extend your desktop across all screens. I only have one additional monitor, but it worked as described, including seamless integration with Spaces. I was able to Control-cursor across different Spaces with no ill effects. It’s hard to describe what it’s like having all that screen real estate back without rebooting.

I do not do much in Windows that requires intensive graphics, but I managed to use the enhanced DirectX 9.0 3D acceleration to play EVE Online (without premium graphics), which is something that I was not able to do before, but I also did not engage in any heavy battles or head into highly populated areas. I’ll try that with a trial account and report back if the functionality does not meet expectations.

Killing Trees, One VM At A Time

Prior to this round of testing, I never printed to anything but PDF from my Boot Camp partition. I actually try to not print much at all, but it is a necessity at times and VMware has made it that much easier to kill trees with their auto-printer setup in Fusion 2 beta. Once you enable this feature, VMware Tools (a program that is installed on your guests) ensures that your printers are kept in sync between host and guest and works as advertised – I printed to both my network laser printer and USB-attached inkjet without having to pass control of the inkjet to the VM. Disabling this feature was also very straightforward (no need to eat memory and CPU if you won’t be using the feature).

One Virtualization Tool To Rule Them All

Both VMware and Parallels do a fairly good job providing tools to convert machines from one product to another. VMware Fursion 2 made it very easy – though it took a while – to convert my Boot Camp partition to a virtual machine (which I’m treating like a backup and have squirreled it away on my NAS box). It also successfully converted an older Parallels XP VM (I exclusively use VMware).

VMware also feels more like a real Mac and real virtualization application now, with an updated Library window:

and a much improved Settings windows (which takes some cues from System Preferences):

Beta At Your Own Risk

Fusion 2 is available at VMware’s beta site and you can believe what you see in the YouTube videos. The features work as advertised. However, this is beta software and – unless you’re crazy like me – you really don’t want to risk it all just to play with some features that will be in production pretty quickly. Apart from some mouse quirks in multiple-monitor full screen mode, VMware Fusion 2 beta performed extremely well for me, even the VMware Tools Update (which has always been something of an annoyance in the past). I should also mention that, while the major new functionality is Windows-centric, Fusion 2 beta still runs non-Windows virtual machines quite well.

One glaring omission is that there is no support to virtualize Leopard Server in this release. Even after reading Apple’s legalese, I’m not certain they restrict this in a product like Fusion (to compare, only Parallels Server has the ability to do Leopard Server virtualization). Make sure to note this deficiency to VMware (if you’re trying Fusion 2 beta) as you submit feedback, file bug reports and kick around the forums.

If you do try or are using VMware Fusion 2 beta, drop a note in the comments with your configuration(s), virtualized environment(s) and experiences.

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