VMware is best known for its enterprise tools, so Fusion stands out as a bit of an oddity: a consumer-oriented virtual host that’s designed, just like Parallels Desktop, to run Windows applications in a virtualised environment on the OS X desktop.
Yet Fusion still feels like a serious tool. While Parallels hides its snapshot controls and hardware settings away in menus and dialogues that the casual user will probably never encounter, Fusion presents prominent snapshot and roll-back buttons at the top of the default window, with a strip of ten icons at the bottom right for direct access to hardware settings. There’s nothing here that can’t be done with Parallels, but the way it’s all exposed caters for the more technical user.
It’s still easy to use, though. There's none of the complex administration that’s involved in more hardcore VMware systems (though virtual machines created in Fusion can be migrated to other VMware hosts). You can start an existing Boot Camp setup in a virtual machine, or create a new virtual disk and install a range of Windows and Linux operating systems with just a few clicks.
A thoughtful touch is the ability to choose at the outset between a traditional “Isolated” virtual machine in its own window, and “Seamless” settings, with Windows applications appearing on the OS X desktop and document folders automatically shared between the two operating systems.
You can also virtualise an existing PC, but this is nowhere near as simple or fast as Parallels makes it. The process can only be performed across a LAN, and if you don’t have a Windows password you’ll have to create one, as well as disabling UAC.
And the process can be very slow: half an hour into transferring a 90GB Windows installation, the tool was estimating “14 hours remaining”, at which point we gave up. It would make a lot of sense to support transfer via an external drive, like Parallels Desktop does.
And when it comes to performance Fusion again trails slightly behind Parallels. On a 20in iMac with 2GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo T7300 processor, our virtual Windows machine (running in full-screen mode from a Boot Camp partition) achieved an overall 2D benchmark score of 0.61, while Parallels Desktop 6 managed 0.68 with identical resources.
If you’re looking for the slickest and easiest Windows-on-Mac experience, VMware Fusion isn't the obvious choice. But the performance gap isn’t huge, and tinkerers may appreciate Fusion’s functional interface — not to mention the ability to share VMs with an existing VMware setup.
For more technical users it’s an eminently viable option.