Winter turns to spring, night to dawn... and the two 800 lb. gorillas of the Mac virtualization market trade updates once again. A fortnight ago it was Parallels 7 hitting with a new release, and today we note the debut of VMware Fusion 4.
The new version of the virtual PC tool from the enterprise experts in virtualization looks to offer better performance, easier virtual disk resizing, a reboot-free drag and drop install, more graceful migration for PC to Mac switchers, and a no-compromises story on Lion compatibility both for the host and the virtual machine.
Since Apple has changed the licensing rules on virtualizing Mac OS X with Lion, any Mac user is permitted to run up to two virtual Macs on their hardware. For developers and IT folk, the ability to test apps and configurations in a snapshot-enabled, break-it-and-revert-it virtual machine is a genuinely beautiful thing. Fusion 4 makes it terribly easy to create Lion VMs by dragging the "Install OS X Lion" Mac App Store app right into a starter virtual machine; there is no step 3.
Lion's Mac-side features get a full workout with Fusion 4, as Windows apps can appear in Mission Control just as Mac apps do. You can launch Windows apps from Launchpad, Spotlight or the Applications folder -- but only the ones you actually want to see and use on a regular basis, so Notepad and Minesweeper don't need to show up. (Well, Notepad, anyway.) Keeping the launcher clutter to a minimum will help you keep your sanity. Lion's full screen app support is respected, too; you can take Windows apps full screen and swipe between individual apps in their own Spaces, just as you do with full screen Mac apps.
The new version includes Virtual Bluetooth technology, allowing your Windows VMs to work with wirelessly tethered mobile phones. A new snapshot manager gives you more control over your virtual machine backups. You can even encrypt your VM storage and require a password to launch a virtual machine.
Fusion works with VMware's migration technology to allow physical or virtual PCs to be cloned into a VM; that means PC users can have a replica of their old friend sitting just a click away. They won't be hurting for performance, either, as the new 64-bit Cocoa build of Fusion will offer faster 3D (2.5x) and everyday app performance versus the previous 3.1 version.
New licenses of Fusion 4 are available at a discounted US$49.99 through the end of 2011, with a normal suggested retail price of $79.99. Those who bought Fusion 3 on/after July 20 are due a free upgrade. You won't need to find a DVD drive to install the app on your MacBook Air, either; it ships on a handy USB drive.
Check out our gallery of virtualization pics, and if you're looking to give it a try, scoot over to VMware's site to download a free trial of Fusion 4.