VMware Fusion 3 review

Virtualisation programs, such as VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop, are a godsend for anyone who needs to work with both Macs and PCs. It’s their ability to run Mac and Windows software at the same time (unlike Apple’s Boot Camp, which requires a restart in order to switch between the Mac and Windows operating systems) that makes virtualisation technology so useful.

This is one of the key areas that VMware has focused on for Fusion 3.0. The program’s interface has been redesigned so that Windows and Mac programs can co-exist even more closely – almost to the point where Fusion 3.0 starts to blur the lines between the two operating systems.

Improved performance
First, it’s worth mentioning a number of ‘under the bonnet’ improvements that have been made to Fusion 3.0 to enhance the performance of Windows virtual machines. The program has been updated to support the 64-bit technology used by the latest Intel processors and Snow Leopard. It also works better with multi-core processors. If you have a Mac Pro equipped with one or more quad-core Xeon processors you can assign multiple processor cores to your virtual machines to improve performance (although this will depend on which version of Windows you’re using).

We tested Fusion on a relatively humble dual-core iMac running at 2.4GHz, but we still noticed that it seemed a little smoother and more responsive even when running the bloated Windows Vista. The program has also been updated to ensure that it can run the new Windows 7 as a virtual machine too.

Virtual control
It’s Fusion’s redesigned interface that you’ll notice most – you’ll notice it even when the program’s not running as there’s a new Applications menu that sits in the menu bar running across the top of your Mac screen. This new menu functions rather like the ‘Start’ menu in Windows. It lists all the main applications available within each virtual machine and enables you to open other items, such as the ‘My Documents’ folder or the Windows Control Panel. Selecting an application or folder from this menu will automatically launch Fusion and open up the required item in your virtual machine.

The Applications menu also has additional options for controlling your virtual machines, such as the ability to switch them into full-screen mode or ‘Unity’ mode (where the Windows desktop disappears and Windows programs and folders appear on the Mac desktop). And, when you run programs in Unity mode, items that would normally appear in the Windows taskbar now appear in the Mac’s menu bar, alongside the Applications menu. This means you can use the Applications menu to quickly open Windows programs and files without ever seeing Windows itself on your Mac desktop.

If you launch Fusion the old-fashioned way, by double-clicking it or selecting it from the Dock, you’ll see a redesigned ‘Home’ screen that now lists a number of different options for creating virtual machines. The program automatically detects a Boot Camp partition on your Mac and lets you use that as a virtual machine. There’s also a handy option to create a duplicate of the Boot Camp partition that can be stored as a separate virtual machine file, allowing you to experiment without damaging the original Boot Camp partition itself.

To help PC users make the switch to a Mac there’s a new ‘migration’ option that allows you to copy the Windows installation from an existing PC and create an identical virtual machine on your Mac. You can even download trial virtual machines from the VMware website and experiment with these free of charge for a limited period. And, of course, you can create a virtual machine simply by installing a boxed copy of Windows straight from disc.

OUR VERDICT

Fusion 3.0 is an impressive upgrade that will appeal to anyone who needs to run Windows software on their Mac, or to ‘switchers’ who need a little help moving from a PC to the Mac. It’s not perfect – the 3D graphics support is still rather erratic – but the slick interface and improved performance ensure that it now feels even more natural running Mac and Windows programs alongside each other.

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