Saturday, September 20, 2008

VMWare Fusion 2.0 Reviewed

Well, I am pretty excited about the new Fusion 2.0 ( release. Fusion was one of the enabling technologies that facilitated me making the switch from PC to Mac (a move I am very happy with). It is the safety net that allows me to run the odd Windows app that I cannot find an equivalent for on the Mac.

I have used Fusion from when it was in beta, and am a VMWare virtualization user for work as well (Windows Platforms), so let's take a look at Fusion 2.0

Installation: The installation was extremely clean and uneventful. One interesting item was that Fusion comes bundled with MacFuse 1.5.1. I have been contemplating installing MacFuse to be able to utilize my Gmail account as an online storage system ... looks like I have something to try once I am done with Fusion :-).

Starting and Upgrading Virtual Machines: The Virtual Machine Library and Settings received a face lift. It appears mostly "eye candy", all the same features are there, and they have added a live thumbnail of the virtual machine so you can see what the VM is doing.

When I started my XP VM, I was prompted to upgrade the machine. Since I wanted to take a look at the new features, I happily initiated an upgrade. The VM upgraded and started, but once started, the VM was unable to load a driver for "Base System Device". This concerned me a bit. However, issue was easily resolved by upgrading VMWare Tools and a VM Reboot.

All in all, the upgrade was clean, but there was a moment of panic that could have been reconciled with a dialog box warning that the Upgraded VM will require the Upgraded Tools.

New Features

Driverless Printing: This feature allows you to print from within your VM to a printer installed on your Mac. To enable this feature, the VM must be powered off. Choose Printers from the VM Settings. The Printer preference pane will open and you have a few choices. I chose the defaults, which seemed reasonable to me.

Driverless printing worked as advertised. I was able to print graphics and text to my HP 7250 Multifunction printer with no problems. One caveat, I did not have the ability to use any special features (such as scanning) since I didn't have the full driver installed, but with only a click back to my Mac's desktop, I had all those features available.

Drag and Drop Files between Windows VM and Mac Host: This feature allows you to transfer files by dragging the file between your Mac and Windows VM. In previous versions of Fusion, you needed to use Shared Folders, which add an extra step.

At first, sounds simple, but getting it to work took another Uninstall of VMWare Tools, a reboot, and then installation of VMWare Tools, another Reboot and voila, Drag and Drop was running. This feature makes moving files a breeze and is a welcomed addition to the product.

Mirrored Folders: This new feature allows you to mirror key folders between your Mac and the windows VM. These folders include the Desktop, Documents and Music. This setting is enabled in the Shared Folders settings and works great, allowing you to open your Mac equivalent folders from within the VM, so selecting the "My Documents" folder in windows opens your Documents folder in your home directory.

Multiple Display Support: Unfortunately, I was unable to test this feature, since I don't have multiple displays on my Mac.

Multiple Snapshots and AutoProtect: In general, I don't much use snap shots, it impacts disk performance, however, the if you are making some significant changes to your virtual machine and want a path of "bread crumbs" to get you back through the forest if something goes wrong, the multiple snapshots are a handy feature.

Fusion allows for some pretty simple management of the snapshots ... of course, you need to know to click on the Rollback button to access the management tool for the snap shots, not exactly intuitive.

Application Sharing: With the new version of Fusion, it is possible to open files on your Mac with applications on your VM and open files from your VM with applications on your Mac.

For example, I don't have Adobe reader installed in my VM so to open a PDF, now I can right click on the PDF file and select open with... You now have a new choice in the menu to open the file with the Default Host Application. If you choose that, the PDF file will open up in Preview on you Mac. If you check the box to always open the file with the Default Host Application, anytime you double click a PDF File in the VM, it will open in Preview.

This also work in the reverse. So you can open a file on your Mac in a VM. For example, say you have a visio file on your Mac. Rather than copy the file to the VM, you can right click on the file and select open with. You will have a choice of the applications installed on your various VMs along with the name of the VM that will launch when you open the file. This also works for .EXE files

This is a great new feature, that as you start to use it saves you alot of time by eliminating the copying of files between your VM and your Mac just to use the correct application.

Mounting VMWare Disks from Mac OS X: Once you install Fusion 2.0 (and make sure that you reboot), you will be able to right click on either the virtual disk (.vmdk file) or the Virtual Machine package (.vmwarevm file) and select Open with VMDKMounter. This will mount your virtual disk directly onto your desktop. Depending on how your disk is formatted, you will be able to read or read/write (Mac OS X only read support for NTFS formatted disks).

This is an extremely useful feature for those times when you need a file from your virtual machine, but do not want to take the extra time to start up the machine. This feature only works if the VM is powered off.

Resizing Disks: Although the release notes state that you can resize the virtual disks, it is more accurate to say that you can expand the size (increase only) of the virtual disks. This is a nice feature, since it allows you to create smaller disks with little risk of running out of room.

Note: another nice feature for Virtual Disk management is the ability to shrink the virtual disks from the Hard Disk Settings pane by selecting the "Clean Up Disk" button.

Overall Impressions:
When it is all said and done, VMWare Fusion 2.0 is a nice upgrade for Fusion users, and the fact that it was released for free is greatly appreciated. Fusion has proven over the last year to be an invaluable tool, and this release adds some new features that improve the ease of use and solidifies Fusion as the leading virtualization platform, on the Mac or any other OS.

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