VMWare Fusion – A Necessity for Converts to Mac

I am of the opinion that Apple’s switch to Intel processors was one of the smartest moves they ever made. There are a variety of reasons for this at the hardware level, but at the software level, it provides the ability to run Windows natively. It also provides much better operation when running Windows inside of a virtual machine. Before Intel, virtualization had to work as an emulator, a kind of translation between the instruction sets of completely different processors. With Intel, Apple machines now run the same processors as most of the PC world. VMware software can execute much of the software code natively on the host processor. This speeds up performance in a big way.

Apple does make Boot Camp available with Leopard OS X. Boot Camp is used to create a dual boot setup. This will work as it will allow you to run Windows completely natively on your Intel-based Mac. The drawback is that you will need to reboot the machine in order to switch operating systems. If you are like me, where some software is better on the Mac and some is better in Windows, being forced to reboot to switch over is incredibly annoying. Running Windows inside of a virtual machine inside of OS X, though, means that you can run Windows just like any other application installed on your computer. No reboot required.

The two big contenders for the Mac are Parallels and VMWare Fusion. At this point, I have not tried Parallels. Quite frankly, this is because I heard VMWare Fusion is better. So, what do I think of VMware Fusion at this point? Well, the title of this post probably gave it away.

Using Vmware Fusion

I installed VMWare Fusion on my Mac Pro. It was the trial version which will give you full functionality for 30 days. After you install it, it will walk you through the process of setting up your first virtual machine. You will select the operating system ahead of time. Since Windows is the most popular option, VMware has provided the most thorough support for that operating system. You can run other systems (such as Ubuntu) with VMWare Fusion with no problems, however some of the conveniences you get with Windows will not be available (more on that in a bit). When installing Windows, VMware will ask you for your product key. It does this because it can automate the Windows installation for you from beginning to end.

If you already have Windows installed on a Boot Camp partition, VMware will detect it and allow you to use the Boot Camp installation as a virtual machine inside of OS X. No need to re-install.

Vmware Fusion listing my XP and Vista VMs as well as my second hard drive (with Vista installed) as a Boot Camp partition.

Once installed, you can start up your virtual machine very easily. Just like a normal computer, it will boot up and go into Windows. The only difference is that the whole thing takes place inside of a window in OS X. It is actually liberating to be able to reboot the Windows machine without rebooting the entire computer.

Inside Windows, VMware will install VMWare Tools. This is the counterpart which operates inside of Windows which gives a more seemless experience between it and OS X. For example, I can move my mouse easily in and out of the virtual machine. Without this, once I click inside of Windows, the mouse is stuck in there until I hit a special key combination that surrenders my mouse cursor back to OS X. Vmware Tools also provides access to the OS X file system to Windows as a network drive at Z. It also provides support for Unity mode…

Viewing Modes

There are three ways of viewing the VM: unity mode, window mode, and full screen. Window mode will show Windows inside of a window (ironic, I know), fully movable and resizable inside of OS X. Full screen displays Windows full screen. In full screen mode, it is very hard to tell that you are not operating a native Windows box. In my case (using multiple screens in OS X), I can have Windows operating full screen on one of my monitors while the remaining screens all show OS X. And I can easily move back and forth. This provides the most seemless way of running two operating systems I have ever had the privilege of using.

 Windows Inside a window in OS X – Using VMWare Fusion

 Running Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Explorer In OS X Using Unity Mode

Unity mode allows you to run Windows applications inside of OS X, apparently free from the Windows interface. This means that you can add Windows applications to the Dock, select it in Expose, and otherwise treat the Windows app as if it were an OS X app. It does work, however it is not a bug free experience. I had VMware crash a few times trying to do things inside of Unity mode. Sometimes moving the Windows application around would show shadows of the Windows desktop behind it. In other words, Unity mode is very cool, but it does not provide a seemless way of running a Windows application in OS X. It is still buggy enough where you are aware the entire time that you are operating inside a virtual machine that is hidden beneath it.

Usage Notes and Issues

The performance of VMware is very good. You must keep in mind that, inside of the virtual machine, Windows is still Windows. For example, I ran Vista inside of the VM. It did work, but it was slow because Vista is a bloated operating system. If it is bloated outside of a VM, it’ll be bloated in the VM as well. Vmware Fusion does seem to run Windows XP much better than Vista. After I added additional memory to my Mac Pro, I increased the amount of memory to the virtual machine up to 1 gigabyte. Since Windows XP works very well on 1 gigabyte of memory, it runs at essentially native speed inside of the virtual machine. Every now and then it takes some time for the screen to redraw inside of the VM, but all in all it is working very well. If you are going to use Vmware Fusion on your Mac, I definitely recommend XP over Vista.

I also tried running Ubuntu Linux inside of VMware Fusion. It also runs well, although the support is not as strong as for Windows. The main thing is that installing the VMware Tools for Windows is completely automatic and easy. With Ubuntu, Vmware just sticks a DVD image onto the Ubuntu desktop and leaves it up to you. That is not very helpful for most people. A true Linux nerd who is king of the command line could probably handle it easily, but my Linux skills aren’t up to par for that. So, Ubuntu runs fine in VMware Fusion, but unless you manage to install VMware Tools it is going to operate in a little virtual island with little integration with the rest of your Mac.

Vmware Fusion is a big application and is not crash proof. I have managed to bring it down two or three times now. One crash forced me to “Force Quit” it inside of OS X. It still remained in the Dock even after that and I eventually rebooted the entire machine to start with a blank slate. Without having tried Parallels, I would imagine it does the same thing sometimes. I also went through a period where Vmware seemed to cause a kernel panic on OS X. It happened about three times in a row and not since.

Multi monitor support is weak. Perhaps I should say non-existent. In window mode, I can drag the VM window around – no problem. However, in Unity mode, the Windows apps are all confined to a single screen. Trying to drag the application to another monitor results in the window not being redrawn. It simply will not go. Unity view is limited to the screen that the virtual machine itself is running on.

Hardware support is good inside of the virtual machine. Obviously, some of the hardware is virtualized, but support for printers, USB devices, access to the CD-ROM, all work without any issues. In essence, this is just like running Windows natively with few exceptions. The stability is good, too, since I was able to do things like use my scanner and scan straight into the virtual machine.


All in all, Vmware Fusion is some seriously good software that I would never run my Mac without. It isn’t perfect, but I expect Vmware will continue to improve it. Vmware is the juggernaut of virtualization in the industry, so you have a trusted name behind the software. So, lastly, the pros and cons:


  • Runs other operating systems on your Mac without reboot
  • Provides near seemless use of Windows under OS X.
  • Great performance
  • Easy to Use


  • Does Not Support Multi-Screen Setups
  • Does crash sometimes
  • Unity mode is not perfect

Reposted; Courtesy of pcmech


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