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VMware Fusion 4 Review - Virtualization Keeps Getting Better

Fusion 4 Adds Support for OS X Lion

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VMware Fusion 4 Review

Fusion Virtualization Keeps Getting Better

Courtesy of VMWare, Inc

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VMware Fusion 4 brings new features and capabilities to Mac users who want to run Windows, Linux, or even OS X Lion as a virtual machine on their Macs.

Fusion 4 has a handful of new features, including basic redesigns of parts of the GUI that are indeed welcome. The most prominent GUI change is to the Virtual Machine Library, which provides an at-a-glance view of your existing virtual machines, as well as an easy place to create and manage all of your virtual machines.

Installing VMware Fusion 4

The very first change you will notice is that VMware dropped the need for a dedicated installer application. You now simply drag and drop the Fusion app to your Applications folder, or for that matter, any folder you wish to serve as Fusion's home. This added versatility is a nice touch; you can even move Fusion around at a later date, if necessary or desired.

I chose to install Fusion in the typical location, the Applications folder. When I create new VMs (virtual machines), I like to install them on a separate drive partition. Fusion 4 had no problems handling my non-traditional installation, which is something I worry about with new versions of any product.

VMware Fusion 4 - What's New

Version 4 of VMware Fusion has been designed specifically to work with OS X Lion. That doesn't mean you have to run Lion to use Fusion 4, but if you are using OS X Lion, you'll find that Fusion integrates well with many of Lion's capabilities, such as LaunchPad, or viewing your virtual machines within Mission Control. Fusion 4 also supports Lion's full-screen apps mode, and integrates well with Lion's new gestures capabilities.

Fusion also has a new interface for configuring virtual machines, with the look and feel of the Mac's System Preferences. While this doesn't add any new capabilities, it does present the available configuration options in a more usable format.

Fusion is also more compatible with Time Machine; you can now include Fusion snapshots in Time Machine backups. This really cuts down on the huge VM files that can overrun a Time Machine drive. Now, only the specific snapshots you capture are saved in Time Machine.

Snapshots themselves have also become very powerful. With snapshots, you can save the current state of a VM, including any open applications that are running. With a snapshot, you can pop right into a VM with all the applications you need up and running, just waiting for you. You can also use snapshots when you install new versions of an OS or application. For example, you can save the current state of your Windows 7 VM before you apply new updates. Once the updates are done, you can take a second snapshot. Now you have two versions of Windows 7, one from before the updates and one after. You can continue this snapshot creation as needed, and then go back in time to use specific versions of applications or OSes.

Creating Virtual Machines in Fusion 4.x

Fusion 4 supports creating virtual machines for most versions of Windows, going all the way back to Windows 3.1, as well as many of the popular Linux distributions, Novell NetWare, Sun Solaris, VMware's ESX, and various versions of Apple's OS X. You can also create custom OS installs for many operating systems for which VMware doesn't include pre-baked templates.

Fusion's support for virtualizing OS X has a few restrictions. It supports creating VMs of Leopard Server and Snow Leopard Server, as well as Lion client and Lion Server. It does not allow you to run Leopard or Snow Leopard clients, due to restrictions in Apple's licenses. There was a brief moment after VMware released version 4.1 of Fusion when running OS X clients was allowed, but this turned out to be a mistake by VMware in the code. VMware quickly corrected its mistake with a new version of Fusion.

There is one other restriction on the virtualization of OS X Lion. You can only run Lion VMs if the host Mac is running OS X Lion or OS X Lion Server.

Fusion 4 - Hits, Misses, Buying Advice

I installed Fusion 4.1 for this review, and I have to say I really like how well Fusion's updates and integration with Lion perform. Although I haven't run any benchmarks yet, Fusion's performance appears to have improved nicely.

The update was designed to bring Fusion's graphics performance in line with or ahead of its competitors; in this, VMware seems to have succeeded. Fusion 4 was also meant to bring great support for OS X Lion as the host OS. VMware succeeded here as well, but at a cost; some of the changes are just eye candy. Having the VM Library window display thumbnails of the state of a VM isn't especially useful. In fact, one of the first things I do after starting a VM is close the VM Library window, because it takes up space I would rather use for something else. This is not just an issue with Fusion, however; other Mac virtualization products suffer from the same flaw. VM developers should stop creating obstacles to the use of their products.

VMware Fusion 4.x is a nice update, one I would recommend for anyone using an earlier version of Fusion. Not only will you pick up a large gain in graphics performance; you will also be able to virtualize OS X Lion and Lion Server. Fusion 4 is also very stable. Although I have only been using this version for a short time, I haven't encountered any stability issues, which is just what I want to see in a new or updated product.

If you're new to virtualization, VMware Fusion deserves your time and attention. I recommend downloading the fully-functional 30-day demo and taking Fusion 4 for a test drive.

VMware Fusion Requirements

  • Any 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac (Core 2 Duo, Xeon, i3, i5, i7)

  • 2 GB of RAM (4 GB or more recommended)

  • 750 MB free space for installing Fusion, 5 GB or more per VM you create

  • Snow Leopard or Lion running on the host Mac

VMware Fusion 4 Pricing

  • MSRP: $79.99

  • Limited-time electronic download price: $49.99

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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