updated 08:15 pm EDT, Fri May 9, 2008
Fusion 2 Beta
Since switching over to Intel processors, the Mac is now capable of running practically any operating system. The simplest option is to use Boot Camp to create a dual-boot system that can run Mac OS X or Windows XP/Vista. A more flexible solution is to run Mac OS X and one or more additional operating systems at the same time. To run another operating system within Mac OS X, you'll need a special virtualization program like Fusion. Although the program has been available for over a year, the company has recently released a version 2 beta to give you a glimpse of its upcoming features.
Fusion works by creating virtual machines, which trick another operating system into thinking it has access to a Mac's hardware all to itself. Since most of the time your Mac is idle, waiting for you to do something, a Mac's processor can spend this idle time running multiple operating systems simultaneously.
When running a virtual machine, you'll see the other operating system displayed within a Mac OS X window. If you expand this window, this other operating system fills the entire screen, hiding the Mac OS X desktop underneath. If you resize the window, you'll be able to see your Mac OS X desktop, but at the expense of seeing only a limited portion of the other operating system.
To fix this problem, Fusion supports up to eight displays connected to separate graphics cards. Multiple displays allow you to display the Mac OS X desktop entirely within one monitor and another operating system inside a second monitor. Such an arrangement creates the illusion that each operating system is running independently on separate monitors.
Any operating system that can run on Intel processors can also run on your Mac, including Linux, OpenSolaris, or FreeBSD. Since most people are likely to use Fusion to run Windows, the program supports a variety of Windows versions from Windows 3.1 all the way up to Vista.
To make installing Windows XP or Vista especially easy, the program offers an easy install feature where you can type in your Windows XP/Vista product key at the start of the installation process, and let Fusion install Windows with no further interaction from you. In less than fifteen minutes, you should have a virtual computer ready to run Windows on your Mac.
When running Windows within Fusion, expect a slight performance decrease. Unless you're running a program that performs heavy data processing, you probably won't notice this slight speed difference. However, one type of program that may tax the performance of your Mac are high-end video games that display realistic 3-D animation.
Since games are one area where Windows has a huge advantage of the Mac, Fusion gives Mac users a chance to play the latest Windows games. To run these high-end video games, the latest beta now supports DirectX 9.0, which video games use to create their realistic animation.
To further integrate Windows on your Mac, the program offers drag and drop support between Windows and your Mac. Grab a file off your Mac OS X, drag it over your Windows desktop, and drop it to transfer files seamlessly between the two operating systems. As an alternative to dragging and dropping files, you can also store files in a special shared folder that both Mac OS X and Windows can access.
Another feature specifically designed for Windows is called Unity. Normally if you want to run a Windows program, you must first start Windows and then navigate through the Windows Start menu to run the program you want. To eliminate this step, Unity lets you store a Windows program icon directly on the Mac OS X Dock. Clicking this Windows icon immediately launches your chosen Windows program in its own Mac OS X window so you never have to see the Windows desktop or Start menu at all.
This beta adds further integration for Windows programs in printer support. When you print from within a Windows program, Fusion automatically directs the output to your Mac printer without having to fiddle with printer drivers for Windows.
To further integrate your Mac with Windows, Fusion can redirect video input from a Mac's built-in iSight camera and have it appear within a Windows program. If you have a Bluetooth device, such as a mobile phone, you can transfer data directly to the Mac or Windows through Fusion as well.
If you've used other virtualization programs, such as Parallels or Virtual PC, you may have virtual machines trapped in these other program file formats. Now you can import and convert your old virtualization machine files to run on Fusion. If you've already stored Windows XP/Vista on your Mac through Boot Camp, Fusion can run your copy of Windows within Mac OS X without having to reinstall Windows.
Taking the time to install an operating system isn't difficult, but it's probably not something you'll want to do more than once. To protect your virtual machine, the program can take a snapshot of an operating system's current configuration. Now if Windows crashes or gets infected by spyware, just return your virtual machine to a previous snapshot when everything was working. This snapshot feature gives you the freedom to experiment with another operating system without worrying about losing any data.
Fusion essentially gives your Mac multiple personalities. If you absolutely need to run a Windows program, or another operating system like Linux, just pack your Mac with enough memory (at least 1Gb or more) and you'll have access to both your Mac programs and any programs on your other operating systems.
Whether you need to run an occasional Windows program or need to make sure that a web page appears correctly in different browsers and operating systems, you'll find Fusion an important accessory for your Mac. As a beta, the program exhibited near perfect performance. Buy the current $79.99 version 1.1.2 today and VMWare will let you upgrade to version 2.0 for free when it becomes available later this year. By combining Fusion with a Mac, you'll have the most versatile computer in the world.