It’s been two years since the release of Fusion 3, and its arch-rival Parallels Desktop has managed two fairly big upgrades in that time, so it was starting to look as though Fusion might be losing out. However, this timely update gives the virtualisation program a major overhaul that keeps it right in line with Parallels and makes it an excellent option for anyone who needs to run Windows software on their Mac.
You’ll notice the changes as soon as you open the box, as Fusion 4 is now supplied on both DVD and a USB memory stick for models such as the MacBook Air and Mac mini that don’t have a built-in optical drive. The installer program now provides an automatic upgrade option for existing Fusion users, as well as a Learning Centre to help new users get started.
Once you’ve installed Fusion you’ll see the redesigned Library window that lists your virtual machines. A new toolbar in the Library window allows you to quickly adjust settings for each virtual machine, and you can now encrypt virtual machines and assign a password to keep important data safe from prying eyes. They’ve also updated the option for managing ‘snapshots’ – saved versions of each virtual machine – with a new interface that mimics Apple’s Time Machine and allows you to quickly step back through a series of snapshots.
Of course, there are some updates for Lion. The Library window can be zoomed up to full-screen mode and, as with the new Parallels 7, you can display Windows applications in Launchpad, locate them in Spotlight, or use Mission Control to quickly switch between the Mac and Windows workspaces.
Gaming performance is definitely improved – it’s not a truly viable alternative to Boot Camp for serious gaming sessions, but that tipping point now looks tantalisingly close
Leaner and cleaner
VMware has also recognised that most Mac users are now using laptops with relatively small screens, so it has tidied up the ‘single-window’ mode that displays the entire Windows desktop in its own window on the Mac desktop. The status bar from Fusion 3 has been removed from the bottom of the virtual machine window to save screen space and most of its controls and settings have been put into the main toolbar at the top of the window.
All these enhancements ensure that the program’s interface is much cleaner and tidier, but, of course, it’s the performance of your Windows applications that matters most. Thankfully, VMware doesn’t make too many wildly inflated claims about performance for this upgrade – in fact, it showed us a series of benchmark tests that actually acknowledged that Parallels 7 is a little faster for some 3D graphics tests. Of course, it claims that Fusion is faster than Parallels in other tests, but the performance differences are fairly small and in ordinary day-to-day use you’d be hard pushed to say that one program feels significantly faster than the other.
Fusion 4 does feel faster and smoother than version 3, though. Pausing and resuming a virtual machine takes barely 5 seconds, and VMware has fine-tuned the program so that it doesn’t use your Mac’s processor when you’re not actually using Windows programs, so you can smoothly switch between Mac and Windows programs without slowing down your Mac.
Gaming performance is definitely improved, and testing a few of our favourite Windows games confirmed that Fusion and Parallels are running neck and neck on this score now. Neither program has quite reached the point where it’s a truly viable alternative to using Boot Camp for serious gaming sessions, but that tipping point now looks tantalisingly close.
VMWare has also improved performance and compatibility with 3D design software such as AutoCAD and SolidWorks. Programs like these don’t require the high-speed frame rates of 3D games, so Fusion may be a practical alternative to Boot Camp for users of those program.
The long wait between upgrades has been worrying for Fusion users. However, the cleaner interface and improved performance in Fusion 4 make this a must-have upgrade for existing users, who might have been tempted to switch over to Parallels in recent months.