Not so long ago, it seemed like every time I looked at my computer screen, either Parallels or VMware had released yet another version of their respective virtualization programs for running Windows on an Intel-based Mac. Over the last several months, though, those rapid-fire releases have slowed way down. Parallels has focused its recent attention mainly on Parallels Server (see "Parallels Server Brings Virtualization to Leopard Server," 2008-01-10) and minor updates to Parallels Desktop, while VMware has spent the last four months beta testing VMware Fusion 2.0 (see "VMware Fusion 2 Beta 2 Adds Significant Features" by Adam Engst, 2008-07-31). Version 2.0 is now shipping, and it's a doozy.
If you've followed our periodic updates on Fusion 2.0's public beta testing, most of the new features will come as no surprise. But to review, VMware Fusion has changed tremendously; the most significant differences from version 1.1 (from among its "over 100 new features and enhancements") include the following:
- Unity View improvements. Unity View is a mode in which the Fusion window itself, and along with it the Windows desktop, disappear so that windows from Windows applications appear right alongside - or even interleaved with - windows from Mac applications. Unity now plays better with Spaces, Expose, and the Dock; in addition, if you close a virtual machine while it's in Unity View, it remembers that state when you reopen it. (By the way, Fusion now uses the term "Unity" to cover not only Unity View, but a whole list of features that simplify and enhance the interaction between Windows applications and Mac OS X, including the next four items on the list.)
- Mirrored folders. With a few clicks, you can now set up Fusion to map your Mac's Desktop, Documents, Music, and Pictures folders to their Windows counterparts so that both operating systems share one common set of user data.
- Application sharing. Fusion 2.0 lets you map particular Mac file extensions so they open automatically in Windows applications, and vice versa.
- Multiple display support. Now your Windows virtual machine can use all the displays (up to 10) connected to your Mac.
- Driverless printing. Instead of having to install a Windows driver for each printer you use, you can now access all your existing Mac printers from within Windows.
- Multiple snapshots. Previously, Fusion could save your entire Windows configuration in a single "known good" state so that you could return to it later if you encountered problems. Now you can save more than one of these snapshots, optionally using an Autoprotect feature to save them on a recurring schedule.
- Anti-virus software. Fusion 2.0 includes a free 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus.
- Enhanced graphics support. You can now play 1080p movies in Windows with hardware acceleration, and run software (games in particular) that requires DirectX 9.0c or Shader Model 2.
- Easier importing. If you already have Windows installed on your Mac using Parallels Desktop, Virtual PC, or Boot Camp, Fusion now includes a built-in import capability. (In addition, it can still run Windows directly from your Boot Camp installation.)
- Mac OS X Server support. You can now run Leopard Server (but not the standard version of Leopard) as a guest operating system. This is hugely significant, because previously, the only way to do this was to buy Parallels Server (for $1,248.75) - Parallels Desktop doesn't support Leopard Server. Moreover, Fusion lets you run Leopard Server on any Intel-based Mac, not just an "Intel-powered Mac server or desktop computer," as Parallels Server requires.
- Greater Mac OS X integration. Fusion now supports Cover Flow, Quick Look, and Apple Help, among other things.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg; for the full list of new features, see the extensive Fusion 2.0 release notes.
You may have noticed that more than a few of the new features strongly resemble features already available in Parallels Desktop. That was, of course, intentional. Although the two programs have always been close competitors, my overall advice in the past had been that if you wanted the best user experience and tight integration with Mac OS X, Parallels had the edge; whereas if you wanted the best performance in CPU-intensive tasks or the lowest impact on your Mac's resources, Fusion was, for the most part, the better choice. Assuming roughly comparable performance between the old version and the new, that equation has now changed; in terms of integration, Fusion is now just as good as - and in some cases better than - Parallels Desktop. Indeed, Fusion 2.0 now raises the bar with features like driverless printing and support for Leopard Server in a sub-$100 product, making it a compelling choice for the time being.