The VMWare machine for Mac OS, Fusion, has released a new version, v4.
Since VirtualBox for Mac sucks (sorry, VirtualBox, it's true), I forked over $80 for VMWare's machine, Fusion. Unfortunately when I bought v3 I went the $20 cheaper route and bought the single version license. To upgrade to the new version I've now got to drop $50, or if I wait beyond their introduction another $80! So my $20 savings is costing me $30. I was warned...alas, I'm also cheap sometimes.
I downloaded the free trial, which gives a 30-day license. I thought to first install v4 beside v3, but sliding the Fusion icon to the Applications shortcut in the DMG Finder view gave me a warning that it was going to overwrite the existing one, asking if I was sure. I was sure I didn't want to do that, so I clicked the cancel button. Mounting the DMG also gave a "double-click to upgrade v3" option. I know I'll drop the $50 and get the update license, so I double-tapped the icon.
I misunderstood the message that followed, which seemed to say the installer couldn't run from the DMG and would need to copy some files to the HDD and install from there, and asked me to pick the folder where I wanted them. I selected my home directory, thinking to delete the expanded installer if necessary. Instead it installed Fusion in an application folder in my home directory. Thankfully, OSX is pretty good about handling moving those folders, so later when I put it back in Applications, it still worked.
The upgrade took just a few minutes, and I was rewarded with a new Fusion Library. My old VMs were there. I poked about the settings a little. The settings panel now matches the look of the Mac System Preferences panel, but otherwise it looks like the options are pretty much the same, both in organization and available settings.
I had just been chatting with a pal about some advanced network settings, specifically setting DHCP pools for NAT or host-only networking, and those options still aren't available in the settings panel. It'd be nice, for example, to be able to affect the DHCP network IP range, pool size, and options directly from the settings UI. I assume that Fusion supports adjusting these through some command-line manager, as the other VMWare products and VirtualBox both do. I've not had occasion to need to try, other than dorking around trying to understand the way VirtualBox did this.
I chose to start an existing VM image. Fusion recognized it was in an old format and offered to upgrade to Fusion v4 format, warning that it couldn't be shared again with an older version, unless downgraded; that seemed fair, so I let it go. It's unlikely that beyond moving the VM during an upgrade I'd be running into an older version anyway, and if I need to, I can always export/import the VM.
The image started up, noted new hardware, and ran as expected. One of the promises of the upgrade is 2.5 times more speed than v3 offered. Fair enough, that's 2.5 times 3D graphics speed, but there is a promise of better performance in the propaganda. Observing from the chair, I couldn't tell any phenomenal speed differences. I updated the VM tools, and still couldn't tell any difference. Well, there was one; the fan kicked in while the VM was idle, waiting for me to log-in. I waited a bit to see if the fan would settle, thinking perhaps the excessive CPU was due to the guest OS starting. The fan didn't seem to settle until I stopped the VM. It's not scientific by any means, but it seems that the CPU amps up when the VM starts.
I ran through some simple tasks, like hitting the OS updater, and allowing the OS to update. The more I played with it, the more I thought that it was about as fast as I'd expect the OS to run native. It's what I thought I'd expect before, but again, I didn't think to try to test before and after.
For another experiment I downloaded and installed the new Developer's Preview of Microsoft Windows 8. Apparently someone else on this network had also downloaded the preview, because the 4GB file downloaded in less than a minute, presumably from the network's cache. Adding a new VM was pretty much the same as it was in v3. Windows 8 isn't an option, so I selected Windows 7. For some reason it wanted to allocate 1020MB, instead of 1024MB of RAM, so I changed that (actually to 2048MB...I've got 8GB, so why not?).
The installer ran without a hitch, and as far as I could tell the VM was running at as near native speed as I could get. The new UI in Windows 8 is a lot different than previous Windows versions, but that's a whole other topic. I did have to install the VMWare tools before resizing the guest window would affect the desktop resolution; prior to doing this, changing the size of the window just scaled the contents, which was a little frustrating because the desktop was pretty small (I think defaulting to 800x600, but I didn't double-check that). This was probably a blend of Fusion display settings as well as Windows defaults; I'm not sure who set the size, muchless what it was--adding the tools fixed the problem, and the pixels are now pixel-sized, and the resolutino changes with window edge-dragging.
Looking at the new features in Fusion, on their website, it looks to be heavily geared toward the Unity integration, where the VM apps run in windows that appear right on the Mac desktop. I've tinkered with this a little bit, and I can see its appeal. I usually use the VMs only for testing, usually web apps in browsers, so I don't quite need the full-on desktop integration.
I did also pop the VM guest into full-screen, which hid everything Mac on the desktop, adding just a slight toolbar at the top, giving access to the Fusion menu items. This is not unlike hitting full-screen in other remote-desktop applications. I couldn't recall if full-screen worked this way in v3, but I liked it nonetheless.
Other features that are listed include integrating the apps with OSX Lion's "Mission Control." This is the Mac multiple app/desktop management tool. Hot-key or multi-touch signal (four-finger drag up) reveals all of the desktops and apps and allows rearranging or jumping to them. When running the VM in a window, it appears as just a window, but evidently when running with the unity integration the apps appear individually. As I didn't run this way normally, I'm not sure what that was like in v3, but again, I can see the appeal.
In all, it's a fine improvement. I'm sure there's a lot more "new for Lion" hooks that I'll run into as time goes on. I'm a little miffed at myself for skipping the $20 extra upgrade, which it seems would have made this free. I'm OK with that, though, as I don't mind paying a reasonable amount for software that works, and at $50 this fits that bill. I'm not as sure about another $80, so I'll get my updated license pretty soon.
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