Revisiting Virtualization on the Mac - Fusion vs. Parallels

What's New in Fusion?

What's New in Fusion?

Most users would first notice the improvements made to Fusion's Unity, the integration mode between the guest operating system (OS) and the host Mac OS X. While the guest OS usually means Windows, with Fusion 2.0.2, VMware has added Linux Unity support (works best with Ubuntu apparently), though from what we have read, it is still rather incomplete and buggy at the moment.

Hence, let's see what's new in version 2.0 of Unity. Fusion has quite obviously aimed to further the integration and added more convenient ways of sharing files and information between the guest and host operating systems. To users of Parallels, these new features may seem rather familiar. For instance, now Fusion allows for the sharing of files through its mirrored folders feature, which basically means you can mirror the contents of your desktop, documents, music and picture folders and sync them.

VMware Fusion 2.0 introduces greater sharing of folders between the guest and host OS. It allows the mirroring of important folders like Desktop and Documents hence the duplicates you find here.

Additionally, you can open these shared files in either Mac OS or the guest Windows OS and you can set what are the default applications to open them, choosing from Windows or Mac applications, something that Parallels has had since version 3. The contextual menu in Finder also has the "Open With" choice of your guest OS applications in Unity mode while internet links can be defined to be opened using your choice of Windows or Mac OS browser/email.

In Unity mode, the IE icon on the lower right is integrated with the Dock. Not all icons fare well in this transition. The Windows Explorer looks low-res and blurred compared to the other Mac icons. Other thing to note is that Mac OS X's Activity Monitor showed the relatively low CPU utilization with Fusion running. Only around 15% CPU utilization for the entire system, Fusion and other Mac OS X background services in total. Click to enlarge.

Another nice touch that VMware Fusion has is the behavior of its application toolbar. Even in full screen mode, one can access the Fusion toolbar just by moving the mouse cursor to the top of the screen. Of course, power users will likely know the proper shortcuts by heart in a snap, but it has its uses.

These important additions come on top of the improvements in eye candy, like Windows application icons in the Dock having the same shadows and other Mac OS effects as their Mac counterparts. They may not be as significant as the application handling or file sharing functions, but these are the little details that matter to users for overall user experience.

Another new feature that adds to the integration is what Fusion does with key mappings between Windows and Mac OS. The standard Windows shortcuts are by default mapped to their equivalents on the Mac keyboard so you can continue to use them straightaway. Users can even custom their own key mappings for less common shortcuts found in specific applications.

A new and much needed feature in Fusion 2.0 is how the software deals with key mappings. Besides the common keyboard shortcuts like cut, copy and paste that have been automatically mapped, users can define their own key mappings, useful for those applications that use Window-centric shortcuts with keys that aren't found on a Mac keyboard.

Some of the limitations of Fusion 1.0 have been addressed. Users of multiple monitors would also be pleased to know that up to 10 displays are now supported for virtual machines on Fusion 2.0. VMware calls that 'true' multi-monitor support and Fusion features like Unity and Full Screen mode also work over multiple monitors.

Fusion's Snapshot feature, which helps to backup the virtual machine gets a major upgrade. From the previous version's admittedly limited support for a single snapshot of the virtual machine, you can now do multiple snapshots, so there are more save points should you mess up your VM. And what's a VM if not a big sandbox for users to dabble and experiment with beta software in relative safety?

Again it's something Parallels has had for a while and we expect it to be well received by users. Fusion adds an AutoProtect feature, which is basically a scheduler that takes snapshots of the VM according to a frequency set by the user. Of course one has to manage the snapshots properly since they could end up using lots of drive space if not monitored.

Snapshot has been upgraded on Fusion 2 to allow for multiple copies unlike the single snapshot limitation on version 1. Additionally, you can even set it to automatically grab snapshots on a schedule through the AutoProtect feature.

Fusion has rapidly seized a sizable chunk of the virtualization market for the Mac and no doubt, a significant portion of that has come from former Parallels users. To ensure that there will be more of such switchers, Fusion 2.0 comes with a new import feature that can convert your Parallels VM to Fusion. It's a simple process that requires little input from the user and took around 30 minutes to complete.

Along with the latest version, you can now import existing Parallels VM files over to Fusion. The process is relatively simple and took slightly more than half an hour to complete.

Other technical improvements include support for up to 4 virtual processors and DirectX 9.0 (Shader Model 2) and Fusion is able to address up to 8GB of virtual memory while using up to 16GB memory on the Mac. These would be useful for those thinking of using their new 'Nehalem' Xeon Macs. Mac OS X Leopard server is also supported experimentally as a guest OS, making it more feasible to fully utilize that computing power.

There's also the addition of driveless printing, where one would not need to install the guest OS drivers when simply printing black and white. Fusion 2.0 will handle it automatically as long as the printer is installed in the Mac OS. A recent Apple update however appears to have broken this feature so users may want to check out the temporary workaround listed here.

With such an extensive list of improvements and new features, Fusion 2.0 looks to have narrowed the gap between it and the competition in terms of OS X integration. Throw in the free upgrade for existing users and it looks like a sure winner for VMware. But how about the new Parallels 4.0? Find out on the next page.

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