Until now, if you wanted to run an occasional Windows application on a Mac, you had to install Apple’s very own Boot Camp and select which OS you wanted to boot into after you powered on. But VMware changes all of that with the VMware Fusion, an application that lets you run Windows (or Linux for that matter) within the OS X environment on any Intel-based Mac.
Easy Setup, Lengthy Load Time
Setup was infinitely simple. After loading the VMware Fusion software onto our MacBook (2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM) and answering a handful of questions in the setup wizard, we were prompted to load Windows onto the machine—in this case, Windows Vista Home Premium. After we launched VMware Fusion, we were unable to use the MacBook for nearly 3 minutes as Windows loaded on the virtual machine. Note that VMware recommends using at least 2GB of RAM when running Vista.
Windows on a Mac
Once Windows finished loading, we were able to navigate the operating system at a pretty brisk pace—at least for Vista. In fact, when we were operating in full-screen mode (activated by clicking the Full Screen button in the upper right of the VMware Fusion software window), it was quite easy to forget that we weren’t working on a native Vista machine; only the Mac’s menu bar that appeared when we moused over the top of the screen—and the actual Apple hardware, of course—reminded us that we were actually working on a Mac and not a PC. All of the folders and programs that we would expect in Windows were present and performed their duties superbly.
VMware Fusion gave us full access to our Mac’s ports. When we plugged a USB flash drive into our Mac, Windows instantly recognized it. We dragged an MP3 from our Mac’s iTunes library directly into a SanDisk Sansa Fuze music folder we had open within Vista without a hitch. We decided to experiment a bit by popping the Windows-only video game Day Dream First Home into the optical drive, and we were soon enjoying a smooth gaming session. The magicJack IP telephony device, only compatible with PCs, worked flawlessly in the virtual console. We were also successfully able to use the Mac’s built-in iSight camera for videoconferencing after installing the drivers from our Leopard installation disc.
All in all, using Windows was completely natural and intuitive. While playing games and listening to Duran Duran’s “Notorious” in iTunes, and sending the occasional Meebo message to friends, we noticed a small hint of lag when moving between applications, but nothing that ruined the multitasking experience. Upon exiting Vista, VMware automatically prompted us to “Suspend Virtual Machine,” which saved exactly what we were doing in Windows and allowed us to return to that point when we launched the application at a later time.
Linux on a Mac
We installed the relatively lightweight Ubuntu 8.04 operating system from a burned disc, and VMware Fusion installed it just as simply as Windows, and much more quickly. The OS recognized our USB drive and SanDisk Sansa Fuze that we used with Vista. You can also obtain more than 60 compatible Linux operating systems using VMware Fusion’s installation wizard, which will allow you to download the OS of your choice and boot it into the virtual machine without first burning a CD or DVD.
VMware Fusion lets users create a backup of the virtual machine at any time by clicking the “Take Snapshot” icon, to which they can revert by clicking the “Revert to Snapshot” icon. This will allow users to roll back to a previous point in time should they encounter software issues, such as a crash. We also liked that there are multiple ways to launch applications; you can use the Start button to launch programs as you would on a Windows machine, or access them from the Applications drop-down menu on the Mac’s menu bar, which may feel more familiar to Linux and Mac users.
When we added an external monitor to the MacBook, we were able to have Mac OS X on one screen and drag Vista to the other. When working in this mode we noticed only minimal latency. The best feature of all is that you can quickly switch between operating systems using OS X’ Expose or Spaces feature or minimize the entire virtualized OS to the dock for fast access when needed.
If you need to run Windows (or Linux) applications on a Mac, VMware Fusion is a near perfect solution for your multi-OS needs because, unlike with Boot Camp, you don’t have to select an OS at start-up: you can work within both environments from your desktop. Save for the fact that we couldn’t have Linux or Windows open on both the Mac’s display and an external monitor simultaneously (VMware is working on a fix), it was a near-flawless Windows experience and well worth the $79.99 price tag.