Installing Fusion and creating Windows virtual machine
For this article series, VMware Fusion was used as the virtualization software for Mac. So, before any virtual machines (Windows, Ubuntu / Linux) were created, Fusion software was installed on the Mac. Please refer to the following article for notes on installing Fusion on the Mac:
Installing Fusion on Mac OS X
Then a Windows Vista Ultimate virtual machine was created on the Mac with Fusion software. For notes on creating a Vista virtual machine on Mac, please refer to the following article:
Installing Windows on a Mac with Fusion
Windows Vista Ultimate virtual machine under VMware Fusion can be run in three view modes:
- Single Window
- Full Screen
These modes are available as icons on the Fusion Window or from the view menu of the Fusion software. Or you can use the following keyboard shortcuts to go from one view mode to the next:
- Single Window: Use the short cut for the mode below
- Full Screen: Control - Command - Enter
- Unity: Control - Command - U
If you press Control - Command - U, you will go to Unity mode. Once in Unity mode, if you press that again, you will get back to Single Window mode. Similarly, if you press Control - Command - Enter, you will go to Full Screen mode. And, if you press that again, you will get back to the Single Window.
Single Window Mode
In this case, the entire Windows Vista (all the currently open Vista applications) run inside a Mac window.
Figure 1. Windows Vista running inside a Mac window. Here, Notepad, Calculator, Solitaire and Windows Explorer are currently open. They all do their things, just as they would on a physical machine.
A great thing about Fusion is that, as you resize the window (the outer/containing Mac window), Vista display inside gets adjusted automatically. You can give as much or as little space (visual / screen real estate) as you want to the Vista programs as whole. This window can be minimized just like other Mac windows; when minimized, all the Vista windows inside will also go down with that window.
Imagine doing that type of screen adjustment with a physical machine. Typically, you would settle down with one size (entire screen) and one resolution (you would typically pick the highest resolution where you can still read the text comfortably).
Full Screen Mode
By using the Full Screen button on the Fusion window or using the “Enter Full Screen” menu item from the View menu, you can get into the Full Screen mode.
Figure 2. Windows Vista in Full Screen mode on Mac OS X using Fusion. Entire screen of the Mac is now occupied by Vista virtual machine. Mac OS X apps are behind this.
While Vista here is in full screen mode, the Mac OS X stuff still available. By using command-tab, you can switch to other Mac applications. When you use other Mac OS X applications, the Windows Vista will still be in the full screen mode in the background. You can switch back and forth between Vista and Mac OS X applications.
Even in the full-screen mode, if you move the mouse to the top of the screen, the VMware Fusion menu bar will be displayed at the top. Using this, you can go to different modes of Vista in Fusion (in addition to the Full Screen mode that it’s currently in, you can go to Single Window and Unity modes).
This is the most impressive mode provided by Fusion for Windows Vista on Mac. In this mode, all the individual Vista programs that are currently open are displayed as if they were part of Mac OS X. But these applications retain their look from Vista.
Figure 3. Windows Vista in Unity mode. Here, the Vista applications are displayed in their own separate windows alongside the Mac OS X applications. Here, Safari is shown alongside other windows applications. The Mac OS X dock is on the left and Windows Start bar is on the bottom.
In the Unity mode, icons for the Windows applications are displayed right on the dock of Mac OS X. Typically you might have the Mac OS X dock at the bottom of the screen. In the above figure, this dock is moved to the left. The Start bar from Windows Vista Ultimate is at the bottom of the screen.
You can use two operating systems and their applications simultaneously on the same screen. Now that’s power and ease of use!
Using online video from the virtual machine
I wanted to see how Hulu works from the Vista virtual machine. Here I will be testing for three different things from the virtual machine simultaneously: the video, sound, and the Internet connectivity.
By default, of course, there is no Flash Player in the Internet Explorer.
Figure 4. Getting Flash Player to watch hulu. This is a good test for sound, video, and Internet from inside the Vista virtual machine.
The Adobe Flash Player installs just fine (and pretty quickly) for the Internet Explorer. When I go back to hulu, the video works just fine, but there is no sound. Just to make sure I restarted the Mac. When I came back to the VM, the sound, image, and Internet connection all work just fine.
Watching this in full screen is another matter - it doesn’t seem to work (had to restart the VM). In any case, one should expect problems with programs that try to access the raw hardware directly.
Figure 5. Watching Family Guy on hulu from Adobe Flash plug-in for Internet Explorer inside a Windows Vista virtual machine created with VMware Fusion on a Mac. So many possibilities, so little time.
Pros of using Fusion
Following section describe the pros and cons of using Fusion on Mac. The following only describes a few high-level advantages. Here not all the individual features of Fusion are described.
Multiple operating systems on the same machine
The biggest advantage of Fusion, of course, is the ability to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on the same Mac. You don’t need to switch of the computer and restart when you want to start and use a different operating system.
This is, of course, the standard expectation of any powerful virtualization software.
Opening and closing operating systems without Start and Shutdown
When you don’t want to use a particular operating system (Windows Vista, in this case), just close the window (Suspend Guest); and then when you open that virtual machine again, you will see the OS and the applications exactly where you left them off.
Figure 6. The Windows Vista virtual machine coming back to life from suspend mode. You can see the gray image of Vista before it comes out of the Suspend mode. This is the screenshot of Vista when it was placed in Suspend mode.
You also have options to Shutdown and Restart -- which are exactly the same as in a physical machine with Windows Vista. In case of a real physical machine, that machine physically gets shutdown and restarted. In this virtual world, the Mac does not get shutdown or restarted - only the virtual machine (visually inside the VMware Fusion window) gets shutdown or restarted. So, restarting a Vista virtual machine is much faster than restarting the actual physical machine.
Multiple Applications on the same machine
This is a repetition of the benefit of running multiple operating systems. You will be able to run the applications on Mac that are not available on OS X. There are many many applications that are only available on Windows or the Windows versions are far superior. For example, there is much more to the MS Office on Windows over Mac. And, of course, tools like Visual Studio are not available on Mac OS.
Different View Modes
As discussed above, Windows can be run in three different modes -- window, unity, and full screen. All these different modes provide different advantages. The Unity mode makes the Windows applications feel just like the other applications in OS X (with different user interface - of course).
With Full Screen mode, you can focus on the applications inside that virtual machine (in this case, Vista). In the Single Window mode, all the applications are inside that one window in a compact way. You can minimize the window, if you want to, and all the apps that are currently open in Vista are out of sight.
Sharing and Data exchange between different operating systems
Here the first ability is to share the Mac OS X folders from the Windows Vista virtual machine. The documents can simply be copied from the Mac OS X (say, from the Desktop or Documents folders) to the Vista virtual machine, by simply using the Windows Explorer.
Figure 7. The OS X (host) folders can be shared and be seen from the Windows Vista virtual machine. Here the home folder on OS X is shared and now can be seen from Windows Explorer.
Several permutations of these features are available: opening files (from Windows or OS X) from the applications on the other operating system. Data can be copy-pasted from one application to the other.
This is not a Fusion benefit, per se; but, Windows Update can be turned on from the Windows Vista operating system (meaning, Fusion won’t mess with this auto update). With this, you don’t have to to manually update Vista.
Figure 8. Fusion won’t take out the ability of Windows Vista to install updates automatically. Vista virtual machine uses the same Internet connection used by the host OS X.
Figure 9. After the initial installation of Windows Vista Ultimate using Fusion and turning on the auto update feature, a whole bunch of updates are being downloaded and installed on this virtual machine.
Cons of using Fusion
A bit slow Applications
For all practical purposes, the regular applications feel fine from the performance perspective. Windows (of Windows) move without much jerkiness. But if you look very closely though, you can see the refresh at the edges when you resize a window. Content of the windows seem to get updated fast enough most of the times. Sometimes you see that extra second for the window to refresh.
However, after playing with the applications from Windows Vista, I can feel that some applications are a bit slow occasionally. Sometimes, a picture on the local drive doesn’t open up fast enough. Obviously, this is not a gigantic surprise (there is an extra layer in between). Also, I have given the Vista virtual machine just 1GB of RAM.
Figure 10. The iMac where the Vista Ultimate virtual machine / Fusion is installed is reasonably powerful -- 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB RAM.
While the applications are just a bit slower, they are most definitely NOT un-usable. Giving a bit more RAM might help things, but I don’t want the OS X apps to suffer. Also, on slower/older Macs with less RAM to spare, the slowness might be an issue with demanding applications.
Graphics and Games; no Aero
The biggest problems seem to be in the area of graphics and games. Games are playable, but, definitely the experience is not the same as it would be on a system where Vista has the control of the hardware (and the hardware is powerful).
Figure 11. This iMac comes with NVIDIA GeoForce 8800GS, yet Windows Vista on Fusion 2.01 gives 1.9 for Aero graphics and 1.0 for gaming graphics.
As you can see, the processor, memory, and hard disk are given very high scores in Vista’s Windows Experience Index. Fusion does not mess with the processor score of 4.6, memory score of 4.5, and hard disk score of 5.9. These are the high-end scores for the components available at this point (2009).
However, Graphics score for Aero is only 1.9 -- in order to run Aero, you would need a score of about 3. Here with Fusion, the gaming graphics score is only 1.0. The net effect of this is that the user interface will be in the Vista Basic mode. This mode is not bad -- you just don’t have that glassy (see through) look on the windows. To be fair, with Aero you get other cool stuff live thumbnails on the taskbar, 3D Flip (when you press Window+TAB) where you see stacked windows flipping through, etc.
Aero on Windows is not supported by Fusion (at version 2.0).
Figure 12. Playing games on Windows Vista Ultimate virtual machine created with Fusion on an iMac. Here Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Chess Titans are shown.
Games are definitely playable, as can be seen in the figure above. You can see that I am playing Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Chess simultaneously (all games open; playing one after the other) inside a Windows Vista virtual machine window with Fusion.
However, some of the crispness is not there; and some of the animations are slower. On this machine, when I click on the deck of cards, the cards do open up, but not with that graceful animation. So, if you are a super gamer, this set up (running two operating systems simultaneously) won’t provide the best possible experience. However, this is not a bad experience, considering you don’t have to buy an entirely separate machine.
Some Applications won’t work as you think
Some applications don’t cross the boundaries of the operating systems, as you wrongly hope. For example, SnapIt is utility in Windows Vista that can be used to take take screen shots. This won’t extend beyond the boundaries of Vista, even if you run Vista in the Utility mode. Meaning, you can’t take the screenshots of OS X applications with SnapIt. I don’t think VMware can do anything about it.
Dealing with Bugs in three different pieces
This could turn out to be an occasional problem, if you are interested in using Vista virtual machines for serious purposes. By ‘bugs in three different pieces’, I mean, bugs in Vista, OS X, and Fusion. Occasionally you might run into headaches by the bugs in any one of these. Bugs (the driver issues) in Vista are well-known. Every time OS X releases a new update (e.g. 10.5.5, 10.5.6, etc.), there is potential for something breaking with the virtual machine (perhaps some sharing issues, etc.). And finally, whatever the bugs that might be there in Fusion itself.
I never saw Vista crash (old style blue screen of death) on a dedicated machine (not talking about driver problems / application failures / etc). On Fusion, I saw Vista itself crash. This seemed to happen when the Mac folders are accessed (I could not recreate it).
If Vista is installed on its own hardware, you’d only have to deal with the bugs in Vista, not the other two. Needless to say, this does not outweigh all the benefits.
Overall Pros and Cons
All things considered, I like Fusion very much. Except for the small limitations on graphics (which I don’t mind at all), things work fine. I like the Unity mode, where you can use the Windows apps side by side with OS X apps.
Sharing files between operating systems is cool. You can actually close the Vista virtual machine and come back to exactly where you left off (this is actually not possible with Vista installed on its own machine - if you put Vista to sleep, obviously, you just can’t use the machine for anything else).
I can install additional operating systems. Windows auto update works fine. I can open browsers (Internet Explorer, etc.) from the Vista virtual machine and do what needs to be done on the Internet. I can use the applications that are just available or more powerful on Windows side by side with OS X apps. All this, without buying additional hardware and with enormous convenience of using the same machine.
More Fusion Articles
This article series on Fusion goes through a couple of virtual machines created with Windows Vista and Ubuntu operating systems. These articles also go through using popular applications like Microsoft Office, SQL Server, and Visual Studio on these virtual machines created with Fusion. They also discuss the pros and cons of virtual machines, graphics, sound, video, and Internet connections in them.
Article Series: Fusion on a Mac