VMware Fusion review

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Do not adjust your sets; you are indeed reading an Apple software review in PC Pro. VMware Fusion is the VMware virtual machine hosting package for OS X, and it comes out head-to-head with the alternative ways of running VMs on a Mac; namely, Parallels (web ID: 92176), and Apple’s own Boot Camp (web ID: 87378).

VMware Fusion review

Like Parallels, VMware Fusion is at a stage advanced enough that a single window from a PC program can be presented without the surrounding PC desktop paraphernalia; so much so that it appears very much like a Mac program. Unlike Parallels, though, this is done in a usefully uncluttered manner – the former insists on putting the Windows taskbar along the bottom of the Mac screen, which inevitably clashes with the OS X Dock and simply ends up confusing.

A PC virtual machine – which could be running any version of Windows, or even DOS (or any of the 400-plus freeware Linux and BSD derived VMs for download on the VMware site) – is firmly convinced that it has a complete machine to itself, extending influence sufficiently far enough to grab and support USB devices that OS X doesn’t recognise, and even have a pretty good go at supporting older PC games. We did find that one particular old gem, I-War, kept losing its mouse cursor and wouldn’t work in full-screen mode, but the exceptions are few and far between.

And there are some Apple limitations that niggle, too. While Macs have been able to support multiple displays since 1989, VMs can only show up on the primary display (where the menu bar is displayed). The Apple UK format hardware keyboard has “@” in the wrong place from a user’s perspective, yet a PC virtual machine retains standard PC keyboard layouts. And, rather confusingly for the naive user, if you click a URL in a document when in Unity (single-window) mode, it’s the PC browser that opens, not the host Apple web-link handler.

But the important point to note if you’re a long-term Apple fan is that the promise of virtual machinery, which has been hanging around for the thick end of a decade, really has now come true. You could argue that this is a result of diligent development work, you could say that it’s because Apple has embraced Intel processors – but the result is that virtual machines are no longer the poor relation or creaking demos that run only for 20 minutes. This is a grown-up tool.

And that’s the Apple-specific bit done and dusted. What makes this product of such fundamental, earth-shattering importance to PC Pro readers isn’t even part of this specific package: it’s the rest of the VMware product range, and where Fusion fits into that picture. The screenshots on this page were taken by finding our oldest-running PC, and downloading the free P2V utility from the VMware site. P2V means “Physical to Virtual” and after running VMware Converter on a Dell 600MHz machine for 40 minutes, there was a complete VM version of that original machine, written to an area of network-attached storage.

After copying the dozen or so files making up that VM to the Mac and simply double-clicking the VMX file, we were soon presented with a Windows 2000 login prompt; the VM had no idea it had been moved. Admittedly, there was a little phase of device driver discovery inside the VM, handled well by VMware Fusion presenting a virtual CD to install its own add-ons to the guest OS: but none of this disturbed the years of installed software, accumulated cruft, settings, or preferences. This is immensely powerful stuff: you can pick up those files and move that VM from Apple to PC, from workstation to server and back again if needs be; what happens inside the VM stays entirely the same across the board.

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