An alternative to going to camp. Previewing VMWare's Fusion
Apple's re-invigorated assault on the home network market has been partly thanks to its migration to Intel processors. With that move complete comes the opportunity to run Microsoft Windows on hardware that’s very close to that of a so-called "Wintel" PC. Following the work of some enterprising hackers, Apple released a beta product that supports dual booted systems called Boot Camp.
There are a number of reasons one might want to run both environments: fans of Apple’s designs who run Windows for a living; those who like the lifestyle applications on a Mac but need to run certain Microsoft applications; or creative types who use Macs, but have previously been forced to have a PC sitting in the corner of the office to talk to certain clients. All might welcome the opportunity to take the best of both worlds and run them side by side.
One alternative to Boot Camp that’s been available for some time is the virtualisation product Parallels, which allows you to run Windows and Mac OSX simultaneously without shutting down and rebooting. There may be some compromises, such as USB 2 support, and it will be somewhat slower because the horsepower is shared between the two environments, but with dual core processors around 2 Gigahertz and 2 gigabytes of RAM there’s speed to spare.
Entering Parallels’ virtualization space, VMware is bringing its considerable experience in virtualization to the desktop market. VMware’s product is called Fusion. Like Parallels, it allows you to run guest operating systems on an Intel-based Mac running OSX, and I was pleased to be given the chance to try the technology for myself.
Fusion is currently in Beta, and is also running with the overhead of debug code, so it’s not possible to get a true measure of the performance of the released product, however it is interesting to contrast it with my home desktop PC. The test machine is a MacBook with a 2 Gigahertz Intel Core Duo processor (as opposed to the latest models that use the Core 2 Duo) with 2GB of 667 DDR2 SDRAM. Fusion allows you to create a number of different virtual machines that can be started up as you need them, setting the processor, hard disk and RAM resources available to each. The VMs are pretty straightforward to set up, all of the UI is designed in Apple’s Cocoa environment with the familiar brushed metal look and feel.
Using the Flip4Mac utility you can then start up your VM on one Mac desktop and use function+left or Right arrow to rotate between a Windows and Mac environment and amaze your friends. It’s not completely seamless, you can’t rotate a full screen windows session, as in that mode the keyboard needs to function completely as a Windows peripheral. Moving between Windows and Mac can get a bit confusing, and the “power off” button for the VM sits in the same place on the screen as the new Office button of Office 2007, so occasionally it's possible to shut down the VM when trying to access the Microsoft menu. The safest approach is to hit the “full screen” button on the Fusion taskbar to work in an entirely Windows environment. The system is smart enough to still let you access the OSX application bar or the top menu bar when you mouseover the very bottom and top of the screen.
Overall performance is good, except for graphics, with support at DirectX 8 and slow execution; this is shown up well using Spider Solitaire, where the dealing of the cards is especially laboured, however because the beta is full of debug code it’s impossible to know what the final release will be like.
As the product is in beta, there are also still a few wrinkles that leave Fusion short of being a consumer-ready product, so one has to take on faith the fact that these will be ironed out before final release. For example, when in full screen Windows mode, I couldn’t get Al+Tab to switch applications. I also had trouble finding the shared directory that allows files to be used in either environment, OSX’s spotlight search facility couldn’t find the file either, but I was able to drag and drop to the Mac's desktop. There were also some home networking quirks, If I connected to a shared computer on the network with the Mac, the Windows session didn’t see it.
I also had a go at installing Vista. This was very easy; simply configure a new VM, tell it you’re installing Vista and whether you’re installing from a CD or an ISO image and off you go. It’s important to point out here that Microsoft has elected to change its EULA to restrict virtualisation installs to Enterprise and Ultimate editions, pushing up the cost of a virtualisation approach. There were a couple of warnings on install, one about hardware acceleration for video when playing spider solitaire. Overall it seemed to work, although the graphics support still needs work—I couldn’t select a resolution that gave me a full screen view, and try as I might I couldn’t work out how to eject the install disk when the Vista VM was running.
Apart from a comparison to the already shipping Parallels product, which would be unfair (but you can read one one here) the alternative approach is Apple’s Boot Camp, which is still in beta but widely rumoured to be shipping in the upcoming Leopard release of OSX. Simply stated, Boot Camp allows you to run XP, and now Vista, at native speed on state of the art Intel hardware, and also to use the cheapest consumer versions of Vista.
Of course if you want to jump between applications you have to shut down one operating system and its open applications and start up the other, which is clearly not practical for someone who wants to mix environments, unless their work and home lives are so partitioned that they can guarantee that they’ll only be working in one or the other. An upcoming feature for the next release of Parallels is the use of a Boot Camp XP/Vista install for the virtual machine (subject to the license restrictions noted above), which obviously offers the potential of using either system: Boot Camp where unfettered performance and peripheral support is required, and virtualisation for moving back and forward.
So, overall it’s good to see that there’s some vigorous competition building in the Mac virtualisztion space. Support for Microsoft XP and Vista and the wider choice of applications will be a real boost for diehard Mac users and fashion victims, as well as helping Apple retain core customers in the creative industries and look for new ones in selected markets that were historically locked into the PC, but are prepared to look at alternatives.
Fusion now in Beta 3 (option disable debugging code)
Had this preview been released after the weekend, the author would have taken advantage of the new Beta release.
New features and feature improvements
* Greatly improved performance — By popular demand, you can now disable debugging code to experience the full power and performance that VMware Fusion offers for running your favorite PC applications.
* Support for Boot Camp — VMware Fusion automatically detects your Boot Camp partition, so you can now run a Windows XP virtual machine from your existing Boot Camp partition. You no longer have to choose Windows or Mac: you can now run Windows side-by-side with your favorite Mac applications. Note: For this Beta 3 release, Windows Vista is not supported; only Windows XP is supported.
* Windows Easy Install — You want to run Windows applications, but you don't want to become a guru just to install Windows. VMware Fusion has you covered; just answer a few simple questions, insert your Windows CD and let VMware Fusion take care of the rest and automatically create the optimal Windows virtual machine for your Mac, including the installation of VMware Tools.
* Virtual machine packages — Virtual machines are now encapsulated in a single, easy-to-manage package. Move your virtual machines to another hard drive or Mac simply by copying a file.
* Enhanced virtual machine creation — The entire virtual machine creation process has been streamlined, and the new Windows Easy Install feature makes creating a virtual machine even easier than before. The New Virtual Machine Assistant remembers the location you choose for future virtual machine creation.
* Enhanced virtual machine library — Managing multiple virtual machines is even easier with the Virtual Machine Library. Add new virtual machines by just dragging them into the Library, reorder virtual machines with drag and drop, and use the delete key on the Keyboard to remove virtual machines from the library. Open a Virtual Machine without powering it on, using the new Settings button, which opens a virtual machine directly to the Hardware Editor.
* Host-Only Networking — Host-Only networking creates a network that is completely contained within your Mac, with a network connection between the virtual machine and your Mac. Use host-only networking to set up an isolated virtual network.
* Improved suspend/shutdown state — When a virtual machine is suspended, VMware Fusion shows a screenshot of the last known state of the virtual machine and a friendly play button so you can get up and running again quickly.
* Improved hardware editor — Settings for virtual hardware are now complete: you can remove virtual hardware from the hardware editor when virtual machines are powered off.
* Improved international support — European and Japanese Apple keyboards now work properly in virtual machines.
Bugs Fixed in Beta 3
This Beta 3 release of VMware Fusion for Mac includes the following improvements and bug fixes:
* Improved networking performance — In some cases, networking in earlier beta versions was slow with single-processor virtual machines. VMware Fusion Beta 3 solves this problem and greatly improves performance in this case.
* Virtual networking no longer fills system logs — VMware Fusion Beta 2 wireless networking added many entries to the system log. This Beta 3 release resolves this issue.
In addition to the improvements listed above, this Beta 3 release fixes numerous bugs to greatly improve the stability and performance of VMware Fusion.
64bit support in Fusion
Fusion is my choice over Parallels for these reasons:
- 64 bit support for:
Solaris - 64bit, allowing me to run Oracle 64 bit for Solaris.
WinXP 64 bit, which is Much Cheaper then Vista.
( Remember to Disable Networking before running windows,
giving you that much greater protection from being hacked. )
( Also: Run behind an Airport Firewall. )
> Parallels already has USB 2.0, Vista, drag'n'drop dynamic desktop resizing, full screen mode, coherence (i.e. mac window mode), copy-paste, drag'n'drop.
Note: Fusion has all these.
Remember to Install VMWare Tools.
Problems with Fusion?
- One Button Mouse support Still not there.
( i.e. In Windows or Solaris mode, would be nice to be able to press: Ctrl-Alt Mouse button to == Right Mouse click,
like Microsoft's Virtual PC for the Mac did.
- Would be nice to be able to window flip easily between Fusion and applications on the Mac like Word or FileMaker. But, this first requires a Mouse Click into the Mac OS to get out of Fusion.
- Character Set conversion:
This is a small issue but, writing SQL on a MAC Quotes are saved as "Left-Quote" and "Right-Quote" in some applications like FileMaker Pro. But, pasting this into SqlDeveloper, this sql won't work until you replace the quotes with Ansii-Quote char. But, that's more a SqlDeveloper issue.
Not unline VMWare Workstation 5.x
Just read your article. May I ask if you have used VMWare Workstation on Windows? You made a couple of comments that I have found to be exactly true to this product as well... one which has been in use for a couple of years now: The Direct X performance is not great and the CD Eject does not work from the Host OS when the VM is running.
The CD issue is understandable to some degree... the guest OS is potentially using the CD so the HOST OS is stopped from ejecting it. It should be easy enough to simply eject from the Guest OS... or detatch it from host OS (in VMWare Workstation, that is a single right-click and select disconnect.)
The thing you mentioned about "shared folders". If Fusion is like Workstattion (which it does seem to be), you have to create these shares manually, and would not seem to be an issue with the app, but maybe "as designed"?
Why Intel doesn't really enable VT Vanderpool hardware virtualization?
The VT Vanderpool hardware virtualization extensions that Intel started integrated in its CPUs since a couple of years ago and then AMD followed route... why is still practically not really used ?
All these software virtualization programs don't really work as true front ends/UIs for the hardware virtualization, otherwise there would be no real limits sharing resources since it's engineered at the hardware level to let the hardware work on multiple OSes at the same time... And if this VMWare Fusion application is making use of hardware virtualization then it's not in its native form.
It was supposed that Intel would have put some sort of OS (maybe realtime) running from the EFI Bios to let users make use of hardware virtualization.. years passed and still nothing, just VMware,Xen,VirtualPC,Parallels software virtualization products that claim to make use of hardware virtualization and yet obviously they have some hypervisors that let the users create VirtualMachines yes but with pretty limited features and/or quite slow performance because it's still a software based approach...
So right now the claimed to be hardware virtualization support to let a user switch between running OSes in realtime with the hardware doing the job it's just a promise and only software controlled hypervisors with VirtualMachines that have limitations (like DX8 only support and very slow emulation.. where is hardware there?) is available in various forms. Why is this ? Why Intel didn't put enough resources to have true hardware virtualization fully working in motherboard BIOSes ? The iMacs are using EFI BIOS already.. that's not the case for PC motherboards (desktop ones at least), yet .. and anyway none is including any sort of OS in the BIOS to let the user use hardware virtualization..
Does anyone know if and when is it going to change ? Will it finally change with the upcoming Intel Nehalem and point-to-point CSI bus on new Intel based motherboard later next year ? Or will true hardware virtualization keep remaining just a dream and/or marketing hype to let vendors of software virtualization programs keep selling their products ?
Parallels and Bootcamp
I haven't tried Fusion yet, but I can say that the latest available full release of Parallels (build 3188 released March 07) has superb support for running your bootcamp partition as a VM.
I use it on a daily basis (on my MBP Core 2 Duo) for running MS Visio and Project and happily switch between Bootcamp native and Parallels. The only issue I've seen is that sometimes windows needs two attempts to start under bootcamp. As far as I'm concerned, the ability to choose to run my XP SP2 image or natively or vm'd is a killer differentiator.
It's going to be interesting to see what Fusion brings to the table because Parallels already has USB 2.0, Vista, drag'n'drop dynamic desktop resizing, full screen mode, coherence (i.e. mac window mode), copy-paste, drag'n'drop, shared foldering, etc. Parallels also happily imports VMWare Virtual Machines so for individual usage I don't see see a motivator to change. If I was regularly moving VM's to non-parallels platforms that might matter but I don't.
[Disclaimer: I am in no way paid by or related to Parallels]