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Fusion’s Unity feature lets you run Windows without a separate window, so Windows windows can sit alongside your Mac windows.
The migration to Intel chips for Apple hardware, begun in 2006, made it much easier to run Windows and other x86 operating systems on a Mac. Three months after the first Intel Macs appeared, Apple released Boot Camp, which partitioned off a chunk
of your hard drive to use for booting Windows. But if you wanted to use Windows, you had to completely shut down Mac OS X and reboot; you couldn’t run them side-by-side.
Today’s Intel chips have provisions at the hardware level for virtualizing other operating systems—in other words, Windows can run on top of Mac OS X. And with Fusion, you can have windows from Windows (or any other supported operating system, such as Ubuntu Linux or Solaris 10) sitting alongside your Mac windows and apps. Performance is much better than old emulated systems, such as Virtual PC, because virtualization apps can access the processor directly.
While this is the first version of Fusion, the software shows remarkable polish. It feels like Mac software, bundling all the files for a virtual machine into a Mac OS X package, rather than leaving config files, hard disk documents, and other files loose on your drive. Fusion feels solid, too. When switching from windowed to full-screen mode, it pauses to let the screen redraw out of sight, so you’re spared the spectacle of Windows desperately trying to switch screen resolutions.
VMware has an enviable pedigree in virtualization, and while this is its first foray into the consumer market, away from its traditional enterprise focus, its experience shows through. Fusion has support for 64-bit operating systems (on 64-bit hardware), and it can virtualize up to two processor cores per virtual machine. While that’s fine for notebook, Mac mini, and iMac customers, those who’ve invested in a quad- or octo-core Mac Pro will be asking why the limit is two. This ability to show the virtual machine two processor cores means applications that can take advantage of multicore systems will run more quickly.
Fusion does need a little bit of work on its integration of the Mac and Windows experience. Sure, it has Unity—a mode similar to, though at present slightly more advanced than, Parallels’ Coherence mode, which cuts the Windows windows out of the Windows Desktop and lays them alongside Mac windows—but it’s not as easy to share files as it is with Parallels. Fusion supports drag and drop, but Parallels has more options, including automatically publishing the virtual hard disk as a share, using the Explorer utility to browse its contents even if the machine isn’t running, and the innovative SmartSelect option. This enables you to right-click a document in the host or guest and open it in an application on either. While both offer the ability to snapshot your system for later roll-back, Fusion is limited to one state.
The bottom line. Fusion is a great product, and if it weren’t for the fact that we’d seen so many of its exciting features in Parallels—Unity, easy Windows installation with just a serial number, using the Boot Camp partition—we’d be more excited. As it stands, Parallels still has the edge on ease of use and features, but Fusion is a credible challenger.
PRICE: $79.99, $399.99 for five licenses, $699.99 for 10 licenses
REQUIREMENTS: Intel Core 2 Duo or later, Mac OS 10.4.9 or later, 512MB RAM
Feels like Mac software. Virtualize two cores per virtual machine. 64-bit OS support.
Limited to a single snapshot.