VMWare Fusion - Windows detox

While I've made great progress in getting native Mac applications to replace my Windows apps, the one area that I have not been able to make the move is in development environments.

I'm doing all of my core development using Microsoft Visual Studio and that's a Windows only proposition. What I really wanted was something that would allow me to fire up a Windows XP session and run Visual Studio in it, while still being able to load my Mac applications at the same time. 

That requirement pretty much eliminated Bootcamp from contention. I love free software and since Bootcamp comes with Mac I don't have to pay to get it, however I can't handle rebooting throughout the day for this. Not worth it for the way I need to use it.

In looking around two products popped up all the time: Parallels and VMWare Fusion. I've used VMWare products on PCs for a long time. As a software developer there's no better way to test your software on every version of Windows than just setting up Virtual Machines and running them when you need them.

Though I've heard good things about Parallels, I've been happy in the past with VMWare on the PC side so I figured I'd install the trial and check out Fusion.

Installation was a snap - really simple. I had a full version of Windows XP that I installed within my Mac; no setting up a special partition, the entire virtual machines exists as a single file within the Mac OS. Nice and clean - I like it.

You still need to activate Windows much like you would on a new machine installation. Again, no problems there. VMWare Fusion recognizes that you are installing Windows and actually helps you along with the process. You just need to define how much disk space the VM will need. I gave mine 20GB since the Visual Studio environment can be quite large.

Running Windows XP in a window on Mac is pretty cool. You can either run it in it's own window (as a window or full screen), or you can flip it into Unity mode. With Unity mode you just start up any Windows application and it runs in a window right next to your Mac applications. While Unity mode is pretty cool, it's a little sluggish on the window painting / rendering compared to just hosting Windows in it's own window. Not a lot mind you, but it is noticeable.

VMWare claims that you can run DirectX games in this environment however since I'm running a MacBook without a dedicated graphics card I'm not even going to bother trying.

When running Windows XP in a full window though it is incredibly fast. I'm glad I got the extra memory in the MacBook because it is handy when running something like Fusion.

I'll write more about this soon but so far VMWare Fusion looks like a keeper. Within the next week I'll try setting up my development environment in that Windows VM to see how well it will actually work.


Anonymous said…
Just a couple of things that I find useful.

Go ahead and set up Boot Camp before you set up Fusion. Fusion is able to read and write to a Boot Camp partition. This way when doing normal development, website testing, etc. you start Fusion. But if you need to do something that requires all of your machine just load up XP. (I know you have another box for development, but just incase).
Unknown said…
How much RAM do you have? Since I upgraded my Macbook Pro from 2GB to 4GB, I've noticed my VMWare Fusion performance has gotten a heck of a lot faster. Just a thought.
Unknown said…

I enjoy your blog - keep your experiences coming!

I see you are looking into finding some nice web development tools on the mac platform. I don't know what kind of stuff you need, but I have some hints that you might consider.

- For PHP development you should try and download eclipse and install the plugin for it called phpeclipse. It works quite nice and I find that developing php with it is quite nice. At least on the php side of things.

- For pure html, css and javascript you should give Idea from jetbrains a spin. It is really nice. It costs some $, but I think it is really worth it. It is primarily a Java editor, but for web development I find that it rocks :)

pierselliott said…
Hi there, just a thought,- I use parallels on my mac but using the bootcamp partition for it, so when I want native speed I can boot into it from the startup menu, but if I want to work in both operating systems at the same time I can simply run parallels. It installs parallels tools as well, so you can copy and paste between operating systems with ease. Hope that helps!
Mike Brisk said…
This is a new dev tool for the mac that has multiple features. Its called Komodo edit. Create great applications using dynamic languages and open technologies with Komodo IDE's award-winning multi-language editor. Code client-side and browser-side apps simply and naturally with advanced support for Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Tcl, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, XML, and more.

lograh said…
Perhaps you've already taken care of this but just incase, be sure your Time Machine is not backing up the virtual disk file. Maybe VMware automatically sets its data directories to the Time Machine exclusion list (Parallels doesn't do it automatically), but it's wise to check this just to be sure. Thing is, if you change one little .txt file in your VM, the entire virtual disk file registers as changed, and then Time Machine will backup the whole thing again. Huge waste of your backup drive space and since you will normally keep your data on the Mac side, all you risk loosing is the time to re-install the apps in Windows.

(found you from digg, reading through your archives)
pmsg said…
Using VMware Fusion will become even more seamless when you assign the Fusion application to run in a separate "Space" using the "Exposé & Spaces" settings in the "System Preferences" dialog.

I use Parallels, but I am sure it will work the same with Fusion. I have my PC emulator running full-screen in a "space" located right below my main one. To switch between the Mac and the PC is just a "Control + down-arrow or up-arrow" away. Really makes it easy. Like having 2 machines on a KVM that you can control with a keystroke!

Plus it really impresses onlookers and naysayers!
Primey said…
Fusion is definitely the better choice. Parallels only uses one core. Fusion actually gives you the option to use one or both.
William Davis said…

If you want to test games, give a try to Crossover Games:


I've used it on a MacBook with 4 gigs to run several games and it works surprisingly well. Since I've never gotten a game to work with VMWare, this is the best option for playing games on a Mac
Anonymous said…
VMWare claims that you can run DirectX games in this environment however since I'm running a MacBook without a dedicated graphics card I'm not even going to bother trying.

Unknown said…
I'm a recent mac convert from being almost exclusively Windows orientated both at home and work where I'm in IT too. One of the best bits of software you can buy for the Mac has got to be VMWare Fusion IMO. if it was only capable of running VM machines in a box screen then it'd be so-so. However with using full screen it's better but Unity ... I'm in love!

Some of the software I use is only available on Windows so I've added it to the dock out of Unity and now it's just a little slower than before but no need to open Fusion, launch the right machine, load the software etc. A great bit of kit!

Now I just need a larger HDD to host all these VM machines I'm building! :-) lol
David Alison said…
@Tim: You can have even more fun it you use multiple monitors and Spaces. It makes using VMware on Mac a fantastic experience.

Check out this post for more details.
Chris Howard said…
I tried VMWare for the first time yesterday and was shocked by how much more user friendly Parallels is.

The whole feel of VMWare was clunky.

Little things like no "Shutdown" button on the toolbar. I later found you can add it, but a newbie to VMWare doesn't want to do that. It's likely they'll need it much more as a newb than once they've got their virtual machine working. So I hunted around the menus and found a shutdown option there. Also, when you close a virtual machine using the red button (i.e. in the top left of OS X windows), it only gives you the option to suspend.

All this is just not user-friendly. It makes the gross assumption your virtual OS is going to work just fine from the first time.

And now, after I'd closed it down it didn't take me back to my list of virtual machines. And do you think I could call that from the File menu, the most logical spot for it? No. It's under Windows. How hard would it be to include it in the first place people would look, i.e. the File menu?

VMWare feels like a Windows program with a Mac paint job.

I was disappointed, because I'd heard good things about VMWare and that it was on par with Parallels (which I still use). Maybe in functionality, but certainly not in usability.

I've been much happier with VirtualBox, actually, and its free.
Unknown said…
David: I may be tying together two threads here.... Does your MS Ergonomic keyboard numberpad work well when using VM Fusion? I can't get mine to work correctly, and unsure where to turn!


David Alison said…
@Bill: My MS Natural keyboard does work, though the num lock light does not turn on. Make sure you are using the correct driver within your Windows VM (Standard 101/102-Key or Microsoft Natural...) and that you have the Mac keyboard driver from Microsoft installed on the Mac side.

Hope this helps...

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