Windows

VMware Fusion improvements close gap on Boot Camp for dual-boot Macs

Erik Eckel concedes that the recent VMware Fusion release is coming close to replacing his favorite dual Mac-Windows boot solution, Boot Camp. He highlights its best features.

Erik Eckel concedes that the recent VMware Fusion release is coming close to replacing his favorite dual Mac-Windows boot solution, Boot Camp. He highlights its best features.

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Let me start by stating, I'm a Boot Camp user. My office mates are true-blue Fusion fans, with Parallels Desktop seeming to have fallen from front-running favorite to third-choice within a few short years. But every day I go to work running Windows 7 Professional on a MacBook Pro using Boot Camp.

The ensuing best Mac dual-boot debate ranks among the more impassioned discussions we have in the office. But I make no apologies. When everyone upgraded to Snow Leopard, the Fusion users quickly discovered trouble. I had no issues. When performance was at stake, as a Boot Camp user, I benefited from Windows' ability to leverage both CPU cores.

Change is afoot, however. VMware, easily the virtualization leader, introduced new advances in the Fusion 3 product released in late October. Four improvements, in particular, have me rethinking my Boot Camp strategy.

Improved CPU performance

VMware engineers have tuned Fusion 3 to improve multiple core performance. With full support for four way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) and improved multi-core awareness, Windows sessions that run inside Fusion 3-powered virtual machines better leverage CPU capacity.

New 64-bit technology also better enables maximizing performance from the 64-bit Intel chips Apple uses in its Macs. New native 64-bit core engines help virtual machines perform faster than in the past, while retaining support for 32-bit kernel operations.

Better graphics support

Fusion 3 now supports Windows Aero, as well as 3D gaming. Compatibility with DirectX 9.0c and OpenGL 2.1 means Mac users can now access Windows' more advanced graphics capabilities within virtual machine sessions.

Multiple display compatibility

VMware Fusion 3 enables Mac users to use multiple monitors when running Windows. Multiple monitor performance is also improved, particularly for large monitors displaying resolutions exceeding 4096 pixels on most Macs. This is an important consideration for professionals maintaining a separate monitor for email and presenters, who frequently deliver slide shows to clients, organizations, and different business groups.

Open Outlook attachments on the Mac

With Fusion 3, Mac users can open Outlook attachments from Windows sessions using Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office applications installed within the Mac OS. Users only need to drag the files from Outlook to the corresponding application icon on the Mac's Dock.

Still booting Boot Camp

All these improvements aside, I'm still a Boot Camp user. My office is heavily dependent upon QuickBooks Enterprise, which requires a reliable Windows session. I also notice that Boot Camp enables me to avoid many of the common USB and print configuration issues that plague many virtual machine users.

Since my office's other killer platform is an Exchange server, which hosts email, shared calendaring, critical tasks, and contacts information, I've become a heavy Outlook user. However, I've noticed Snow Leopard's new Exchange support enables me to access and edit calendar, email, task, and contacts information without requiring Microsoft Outlook (or Entourage). So I'm considering deploying a Fusion 3 trial. Fusion will even locate my existing Boot Camp partition and create a virtual machine using the existing Windows installation.

What do you use?

If you dual-boot Windows on a Mac, what's your preference, and why? I'd enjoy hearing how other corporate users configure Macs and Windows in their enterprises.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

9 comments
Sysadmin/Babysitter
Sysadmin/Babysitter

I use the Dual Boot (OSX & XP) WITH Crossover support on the OSX for flexibility! I also use MacDrive to store ALL my data for BOTH OS's in a "Data" directory on the larger OSX partition. "Crossover" allows me to install a working version of MS-Office on my OSX partition so that my Exchange server connection is ALWAYS available in BOTH OS's.(although I am slightly annoyed that web links are NOT active withing my OSX version of MS-Office/Exchange mail).

greg.harry
greg.harry

I primarily use Fusion, because my Windows requirements are infrequent (for now). Be careful before you decide to convert your Bootcamp partition vs. creating a new Fusion VM. Once you do, the Windows partition can't be automatically selected for booting, but can be chosen during boot by holding the Option key down. In addition, a Bootcamp partition used within Fusion can't take advantage of some of the Fusion features, like snapshots.

brokenspokes
brokenspokes

With VMware Fusion, I now have to patch and update three different software stacks: OS X, Windows and Fusion itself! Fusion also doesn't allow me to share my Firewire sound device reliably. As someone who dabbles in music production, I often have to plug strange devices in my machine. The only way to share those devices is with Bootcamp. Why take the chance that something isn't going to work right with Fusion after I have spent a great deal of time getting everything to work right? One of the advantages to Fusion is the snapshot feature. To replicate that feature (somewhat) with Bootcamp, I use Winclone to create images before I do anything stupid. Another advantage is the ability to shrink virtual machines. Winclone can also shrink and expand--it's just more work. The third advantage that I can think of is the ability to create as many virtual machines as I have disk space for; no such luck with Bootcamp, due to limited number of partitions. One advantage for Bootcamp is the hardware flexibility. It's also easier to diagnose problems since you only have to go through two layers. Another advantage is I can create virtual machine images for any virtual machine from a physical partition. Converting virtual machine images is still a pain. If I had to choose one, I would have to go with Bootcamp. Bootcamp wins because I don't have to maintain another software stack and I flexibility with hardware. Plus, I can always create virtual machines later if I need to test a piece of software and then delete them when I don't need them.

Jarib
Jarib

I wish I could run Mac on my PC. Is there a way?

bryant
bryant

I have 2 Macs, 1 with bootcamp and the other VM. Bootcamp out performs VMware Fusion over the network. I do a lot of compiling using VFP and the difference in speed is very noticeable.

Indiana Jon
Indiana Jon

I was just blessed with a MacBook Pro by my employer. As much as I love the Mac, I cannot avoid the use of Windows. I use Crystal Reports quite often and sometimes I am in it for days. Not to mention the Oracle client need to connect to a remote data server. I must decide between Boot Camp and a virtual environment. Sounds as if I want to run native, to get the speed I need, Boot Camp is the only solution? Also, when is Windows 7 support coming to Boot Camp?

Sysadmin/Babysitter
Sysadmin/Babysitter

Exerting the power (of the 64 bit processor) to influence (the performance of the virtual Operating system).

Ariel Liebman
Ariel Liebman

Hi, Thanks for your assessment of VMware. I also love vmware fusion but I too am just using bootcamp and windows 7. Creating a virtual machine out of the bootcamp partition just seems to run way too slow to be pleasant. I am runnning it on a macbook 2.26ghz dual core. Perhaps it is because I am using a beta of windows 7 and its a 32 bit one (Build 7100). I am not sure if this is the best we can get or perhaps VMW Fusion 3.0.1 is just not optimised enough :( Cheers, Ariel

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