VMware Fusion 3 - Mac review

4.5 out of 5
£54

For

Allows you to share files between the systems, can run multiple OSes, easy to set-up and install

Against

You'll need plenty of memory, it's not as fast as a dedicated machine, you won't be able to play games unless you've got plenty of power

So you've got a Mac, but then you realise that you need to do something on a PC, and therein lies the rub. What do you do? For the most part you have two options, one is to ignore your need, or you find a friend. Of course there is a third option and that's to install a virtual machine and run the OS you need within Snow Leopard.

Handy then, because that's what the latest version of VMware Fusion offers. With more and more people "switching" from PC to Mac there's never been a better time to have your cake and eat it.

The software, which is incredibly easy to install, allows you to install any Operating System on to your Mac and then run it at the same time allowing you to jump between the two. Of course you need an original copy of that OS - i.e., Windows 7 - but if you've got it, then you're on your way to a dual lifestyle.

For this test we installed both the Chromium version of the new Google Chrome OS, and for a more traditional use of the application, Microsoft's Windows 7.

Your computer's core performance will govern how the virtual OS runs. It's fair to say that the more memory you have and can assign over to the virtual machine the better. This in itself can be a fine balance. Give too much and we found our test machine - a 13-inch 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo powered MacBook Pro with 4GB of memory - slowed to a halt. Don't give enough and the virtual experience will be a dog. That said on our Windows 7 machine we had good, if not perfect performance, with 1 processor and 1GB of RAM memory. Our Chrome OS "virtual" machine flew regardless, but it is just a browser-based OS.

Installing the operating systems of your choice is like installing the software - incredibly easy.

There are two options from the outset. The first is a clean install, the second is for Windows users, to convert an existing windows computer to run as a virtual machine. As you can imagine that will appeal to those switchers as you've already got the OS, and all your files, and you don't need to spend an evening messing about transferring all the files manually between your old computer and your new shiny one.

For the clean install and for Windows 7, that meant popping in the DVD, giving Fusion 3 our product key, deciding how isolated you want the virtual machine to be and then going off to make a coffee. Fusion 3 supports both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

The software works out what it needs to do, so you just have to worry about grabbing that coffee. By the time we came back the install had run its course and we were ready to power up some Microsoft love on our Apple machine. Sure, for many, hell would have to freeze over before that happened, but don't forget VMware Fusion 3 is good for any OS not just Windows. the software actually supports up to 140 different OSes.

Once you've got your operating system up and running you can switch between the two (i.e., Snow Leopard and Windows 7) as easy as dragging your mouse around, and you can even run multiple virtual machines at the same time. The drawback is that you won't necessarily be able to use the hardware devices across all of them, and you'll take a hit on performance across whatever you are running.

For all intents and purposes this is like any other app window that you are running, the only difference is that it's an operating system.

Although Windows 7 isn't yet officially supported by Apple and its Boot Camp program, that didn't stop any of our technologies (ie iSight, DVD drive, soundcard, etc.) from working. That means you have created a machine within a machine that works just like it was a standalone machine. Huzzah.

The ultimate benefit here however is that you can opt to share documents, files and anything else you can think of between the two operating systems. In our install we opted for a seamless experience that means just that (there is an isolated option as well). A quick drag and drop of a file or folder takes it from Snow Leopard to Windows 7, handy if you need to open a certain file and aren't able to.

So what's the point? Well it's so you can use programs that you can't get on the Mac or for designers to test what their websites will look like in IE8 as the Mac doesn't support it. If your machine is powerful enough you could even go as far as play games.

We downloaded both Left 4 Dead 2 and Batman Arkham Asylum and were disappointed. The games loaded but were so unresponsive that we gave up trying to play them, even after we kept on giving VMware Fusion 3 more memory and more processors. It is possible but our MacBook Pro just wasn't up to the task at hand. 

Other applications we tested were Internet Explorer 8, Windows Media Center and Skype, as well as using the OS as we regularly would. Skype proved interesting because it allowed us to test the iSight support (it works) as well as see how video performance was. Although slow, we were able to conduct the call. Why you would is beside the point - video came through clear and without delay, however the caller's experience wasn't as great, with choppy video and sound from our end hampering the enjoyment. More memory and processor power may fix this.

 

Verdict

With certain products, like HTC handsets or the Zune HD to name a few, requiring you to have access to a PC, this is certainly one way around it.

No, it's not going to outperform a PC running Windows 7, but then it's not designed to do that. It's for people that need to use another OS occasionally. After all if you needed to run the OS all the time then you would get a dedicated machine.

For those that do need access to another OS, or are switching from a PC and don't want to completely ditch it totally, this offering makes the whole process incredibly easy - as long as you aren't expecting to play games.