Review: VMware Fusion 2.0.1
At a Glance
If your interests lie beyond Windows, Fusion offers new easy install options for Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Mandriva Linux variants: Fusion will walk through the install process, and also automatically install VMware Tools during the install. (VMware Tools is a set of add-ons that bring useful features to Windows and Linux virtual machines—with the tools installed, you can resize virtual machine windows via drag and drop, and the mouse no longer need to be captured to be used within the virtual machine.) With Ubuntu and Red Hat (using the Gnome window manager), you can even use Unity mode to integrate your Linux and OS X programs’ windows, and drag and drop is supported between Linux and OS X. I tested the new features with Ubuntu Linux 8.0.4, and found that they worked as well as they do with the Windows-based operating systems; there was even support for multiple monitors. Fusion has also upped the list of supported operating systems; you can now install over 90 different operating systems, including OS X 10.5 Server.
Fusion’s Virtual Machine Library, new in version 2.0, gives you a one-window overview of all your virtual machines. Installed VMs are listed on the left side of the window, with a small screenshot (updated every 10 seconds) of each machine’s screen and its current status. On the right side of the window is a much larger screenshot of the currently-selected VM’s screen, along with the name of the installed operating system and room for some notes. This window makes it very simple to manage multiple virtual machines, as you can see everything you need in one spot. You can even grab a screenshot of a running virtual machine by selecting it in the list, then dragging its large screenshot to your OS X desktop.
Backups and other features
One area of concern in the last version Fusion was its limited support for snapshots—“pictures” of your virtual machine, taken at a given point in time. Snapshots make it simple to roll back the state of a virtual machine; if your VM were ever to be infected by a virus, for example, you could just restore it to a prior snapshot. In Fusion 1.0, each virtual machine supported just one snapshot. Fusion 2.0 allows you to create as many snapshots as you like, and provides a nice interface for managing them. Fusion even uses command-S for the Create Snapshot menu item, making it really easy to create a snapshot whenever you wish.
Fusion also includes AutoProtect, which lets you set up automatic snapshot creation every 30 minutes, every 60 minutes, or once per day. You can also specify how many snapshots you’d like to keep; Fusion then uses these settings to keep a mix of hourly, daily, and weekly snapshots. Once AutoProtect is set, snapshots happen automatically—a dialog appears on your screen during the save, but it only takes a few seconds to create each snapshot.
Other nice additions to Fusion 2.0: Virtual machines can also now support more virtual CPUs—up to four on an eight-core Mac Pro, for example. (Parallels, on the other hand, will support up to eight virtual CPUs on that same eight-core Mac Pro.) There’s a new command-line interface that lets you script interaction with virtual machines—you can automate actions or snapshot creation, for example. A built-in importer tool lets you convert virtual machines created in Boot Camp into standalone VMs; you could (if you wish) remove the Boot Camp partition altogether. There’s also a new disk-resizing tool that can increase the size of your virtual machine’s hard drive. It’ll do so automatically for OS X Server and Windows Vista VMs; Windows XP Pro will still require a disk partitioning app.
One of my chief complaints about Fusion 1.0 was that Unity mode—in which the Windows interface and desktop disappear, and your Windows programs appear to be running directly on your Mac desktop—only worked on one monitor of a multi-monitor Mac. Fusion 2.0 offers much better multi-monitor support. Unity mode now works across all connected monitors; you can drag and drop a Windows application’s window anywhere you like. In addition, you can use full screen mode on just one monitor, or on as many monitors as you have attached (up to eight, according to VMware). Each attached display appears as an additional display within Windows, too, giving you full control over its behavior. In my testing, these features worked perfectly.
Not quite perfect
Technical support, which was an issue with the first release, is still an issue: You get 30 days of technical support (via e-mail) for free when you buy the product, but there’s no phone support available at all. After 30 days, you must either rely on the (admittedly good) online sources, or purchase per-incident support packages. These packages are still e-mail only, and at $25, $70, and $100 (for one-, three-, and five-incident packs), you could quickly spend more on support than you did on the program itself.
Macworld’s buying advice
VMware Fusion 2 brings a host of new features to the table, improves performance across the board while reducing CPU usage, supports more guest operating systems (including OS X Server), and does it all for the same price as the original (and if you’ve already purchased Fusion, it’s free). From handling the Microsoft Office suites to playing many older and current Windows games to making it painless to experiment with other operating systems, VMware Fusion 2 is more than capable of handling nearly any task you may think to throw at it. For a relatively inexpensive $80, you get the current state of the art in OS X virtualization applications.
[Rob Griffiths is a senior editor for Macworld.]