VMWare Fusion Inverness

In the 16 months it's been on the market, Parallels Desktop has enjoyed a monopoly position, already becoming the top-selling Mac system utility of 2007 by outselling the next 10 utilities combined.

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VMWare Fusion

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In the 16 months it's been on the market, Parallels Desktop has enjoyed a monopoly position, already becoming the top-selling Mac system utility of 2007 by outselling the next 10 utilities combined. Now it has its first serious competitor: Fusion. It works in much the same way as Parallels, punching a hole in Mac OS X to directly access the Mac's Intel-based hardware to run Windows or any alternative at close to native speed.

Unfortunately, that's not always break-neck on a mid-range MacBook with 1GB of Ram. Recovering from suspend took over a minute, and booting Windows from scratch would sometimes take up to four minutes although the blame for this can be laid at Windows' door. When up and running, though, it was perfectly serviceable using business applications, and although we were able to see Windows Vista's much-vaunted Aqua interface (even some dedicated PCs are too puny for that), some of the best features, such as window cycling, were out of reach of our integrated graphics. We couldn't use Windows' DVD Maker utility for the same reason, and although it was happy enough with Windows Media Player, Media Centre threw up a warning that our integrated graphics might mangle live TV.

You can run your guest operating system, including existing Boot Camp partitions, in a self-contained window, full-screen, or with each application split off on its own inside the Windows environment. This latter mode, called Unity, is one of those 'wow' features that will impress any first-time user. It drops Windows' Start menu onto your desktop, to the left of the Dock, and lets you store Windows applications in the Dock itself. Clicking one restarts any suspended virtual machine and invokes the chosen application. Each one then acts like a regular Mac OS X app, sweeping down to the Dock when minimised.

Unity is Fusion's take on Parallels' Coherence mode, and it lets you copy and paste between the two operating systems, and run rival applications side-by-side.

However, we noticed some screen re-draw 'issues' on our test MacBook when using Windows Vista. Unity support is complete for XP, but 'experimental' for Vista, and it showed. When moving application windows around they often seemed to stall, leaving behind a ghost of themselves until we dropped them in their new location. The same thing happened when we hit Expose: the windows would rearrange so that we could switch to a new one by clicking with the mouse, but wherever one window was overlaid by another, the lower window would carry with it the imprint of the one above.

Fusion also relies on using Apple's Boot Camp drivers to interface with the MacBook's built-in iSight and sound, which is a shame, as continued free availability of Boot Camp is by no means guaranteed. This is merely a redraw issue, though, and one we can happily overlook, as it in no way impacted our use of Microsoft's latest operating system.

So why would you want to run Windows this way? For one thing it's cheaper than buying a new PC if you need to check whether your Mac-originated work is cross-platform (although you'll have to buy the more expensive Business or Ultimate editions of Vista as Microsoft forbids use of the Home and Basic variants under virtualisation). For another it includes a range of safety features not even found in the most expensive edition of Windows on a PC. For example, you can set your Mac's Home folder to be read-only to Windows so that it can't be violated by Windows virii, and produce snapshots of working systems to which you can roll back should you damage your setup through inexperienced fiddling.

There are still some rough edges, and even VMWare describes its DirectX 8.1 support as 'experimental', but this is already an excellent route into Windows for Mac users, and we find it hard to believe that the issues we've raised here won't be ironed out with a couple of service releases. It's quick to install, simple to use, and built with non-PC owning Mac users in mind. It's also ridiculously inexpensive and as such comes highly recommended.

Author: Nik Rawlinson

MacUser Online