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Free “Take Control of VMware Fusion 3” Simplifies Running Windows on a Mac

Thanks to sponsorship from VMware, we are pleased to provide Joe Kissell’s new Take Control of VMware Fusion 3 for free. In Fusion 3, VMware added 64-bit optimization for Snow Leopard users, Windows 7 support, a simplified process for porting a physical Windows installation to a virtual Mac installation, and better support for graphically intense applications. Joe covers all this, plus walks readers step-by-step through many possibilities for installing Windows on a Mac, the best ways to configure Fusion, techniques for working effectively in Windows with Mac hardware, and much more.

To help readers further explore the Take Control series, Take Control of VMware Fusion 3 also comes with a coupon code worth 50% off one ebook order.

Print copies of Take Control of VMware Fusion 3 are also available for $12.99.

If you’d like an idea of what’s involved in running Windows on your Mac with Fusion (or generally), here’s a slightly edited excerpt that explains the topic.

What Is Virtualization Software?

Virtualization software, such as Fusion, provides a way for one operating system to work within another, while directly accessing the same CPU (central processing unit) most of the time. (By contrast, emulation software simulates a different type of CPU, resulting in much slower performance because of the constant need to translate instructions.) When such software is running, the environment it creates for another operating system (OS) is called a “virtual machine,” and an operating system that runs inside that virtual machine is called a “guest operating system,” in order to distinguish it from the main OS that the computer is running, called the “host operating system.”

Virtual Machines

Even though Intel-based Macs have the same type of CPU as PCs, you still need a virtual machine to run Windows within Mac OS X. One reason is that apart from the CPU, there are other hardware differences between Macs and PCs and thus other hardware components that must be emulated (simulated in software). Another reason is that Windows expects to have direct access to your hardware, but the host OS (Mac OS X in this case) controls the hardware. A virtual machine tricks the guest OS into believing it has direct access to the machine’s CPU and other hardware, and it emulates any physical devices—such as sound cards—that might be different between platforms.

Each guest operating system that you install requires its own virtual machine. If you want, you can install several different operating systems or several instances of the same operating system; you can even run multiple virtual machines at the same time. Fusion gives you the choice to run each virtual machine in its own window, in full-screen mode, or in Unity view, which means the Windows Desktop disappears and windows from your Windows applications act more or less like windows from Mac applications.

Virtual Disks

When you set up a new virtual machine, Fusion also creates a special disk image file. When you run Windows, it will see this file as a separate disk. All your Windows files are installed in this virtual disk, but when you’re running Mac OS X you won’t see the individual files inside; it looks and acts like a single file. You can move this file to another disk or another Mac running Fusion, and the virtual machine runs just as it did on the original Mac.

Note: With Boot Camp volumes, which I discuss just ahead, the virtual disk is simply a pointer to your Boot Camp partition.

Real and Virtual Hardware

A big challenge for any virtualization software is enabling communication between the guest operating system and the computer’s hardware—including built-in devices (such as graphics cards and network adapters) and external devices (printers, external hard drives, and the like). I want to explain a bit about how Fusion handles this challenge so you’ll understand what hardware will and won’t work under various conditions and why:

  • Drivers and Emulated Hardware: When an operating system is running directly on a computer (such as your regular installation of Mac OS X or a Windows installation running under Boot Camp), it can access all your hardware directly. In general, each device needs a driver—a piece of software that knows the devices capabilities and lets it communicate with your operating system. Both Mac OS X and Windows include built-in drivers for hundreds of common devices, from keyboards to printers, so you can use most hardware without having to install extra software. For third-party devices that cant use built-in drivers, manufacturers generally offer their own drivers, typically on a CD packaged with the product or as a free download.

    But things are different in a virtual machinebecause both the host operating system and the guest system need access to some of your hardware. For exampleyou must use your mouse in Mac OS X to operate Fusion itself (among other things), while the copy of Windows running in Fusion also needs to respond to mouse movement and clicksButof courseyou wouldn't want to switch to a different mouse when you're running Windowsso Fusion takes your mouse data from Mac OS X and passes it through to Windows.

    In some casesFusion emulates a particular type of hardware (saya floppy drive or serial portthat isn't physically there, and Windows obligingly uses an appropriate built-in driver to access that virtual hardware. In other cases, no existing driver enables proper communication between Windows and Fusions emulated hardware, so Windows needs special, Fusion-specific drivers. 

  • VMware Tools: Fusion’s collection of drivers is included in a software package called VMware Tools. This software not only handles all the basic hardware functions (such as sound and video), but also lets Windows do fancy things like share files with your Mac OS X host operating system, adjust its display resolution automatically when you resize your Fusion window, and much more. Because this software makes using Windows (or Linux) a vastly better experience, you should always be sure to install it. When you set up a new virtual machine using the Easy Install method, Fusion installs VMware Tools for you automatically; otherwise, you can install it manually by choosing Virtual Machine > Install VMware Tools.

    Although VMware Tools contains drivers for Fusions emulated hardwareit doesn't include drivers for some custom Apple hardware that may be built into your Mac. To use such hardware (including your iSight camera and Apple Remote) in Windows, you must install Apple's driverswhich are included with Boot Camp

  • Sharing vs. Taking Turns: Regardless of what drivers you have installed, most of your hardware can be used by only one operating system at a time. For example, your Mac’s SuperDrive can be used either by Mac OS X or by Windows—but not both at once, because the drive can’t work correctly if two different operating systems are giving it competing instructions. The same goes for most USB and Bluetooth devices. As a result, you must configure your virtual machine to use (or ignore) certain hardware, or use controls in Fusion to manually connect or disconnect devices as the need arises.

  • FireWire Devices: FireWire devices present an entirely different challenge. For complex technical reasons, Fusion can’t take over or even listen in on your Mac’s FireWire devices, even if you have the proper drivers installed. Neither can Parallels Desktop or VirtualBox, by the way.) So as far as Windows is concerned, any FireWire devices you may have installed are completely invisible. This need not be a problem with FireWire hard drives, because you can work around the lack of FireWire support by sharing the drives. Likewise, if you have a FireWire printer that works in Mac OS X, you can share that printer with your virtual machine. But other than that, FireWire is unfortunately a non-starter in Fusion. FireWire scanners, Blu-ray disc and DVD recorders, cameras, audio interfaces, and other gadgets that work great in Mac OS X won’t show up at all in Windows.

What Is Boot Camp (and Why Should You Care)?

Fusion and other virtualization programs provide one way to run Windows on your Mac. Apple provides a different one—Boot Camp, software that’s part of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and later. With Boot Camp, you divide your hard disk into two volumes: one for Mac OS X and all your Mac applications and data, and the other for Windows. To switch between operating systems, you must restart your Mac.

Apple provides drivers that give Windows access to some Mac-specific hardware features such as the built-in iSight camera (on portable Macs and iMacs) and the Apple Remote, but other than a few such niceties, your Mac running Windows via Boot Camp is, for all practical purposes, just another Intel-based PC.

The nice thing about Boot Camp is that it gives Windows full, direct access to your hardware—100 percent of your CPU power, RAM, graphics card, and network bandwidth, for example, go to Windows. In fact, some tests have shown that certain Mac models can run Windows under Boot Camp faster than PCs with similar specs. In Boot Camp, Windows can also use any FireWire devices you may have installed. By contrast, when using Fusion, Windows must share resources with Mac OS X, potentially making both somewhat slower and less efficient, and limiting the kinds of hardware you can use.

The downside of Boot Camp is that you must always make a choice to run one operating system or the other. Lets say you’re developing a Web site using Dreamweaver or BBEdit in Mac OS X and you want to test the site, as you go, in Internet Explorer for Windows. To do this, you must open the Startup Disk pane of System Preferences, select your Windows volume, restart your computer, and run Internet Explorer. Then, you have to repeat a similar procedure to restart in Mac OS X to make any changes—and repeat this over and over again. That’s extremely time-consuming and awkward. Likewise, sharing files between the two operating systems may (depending on several variables) require jumping through a number of hoops.

As a result, Boot Camp works best for situations in which your use of Windows is entirely separate from your use of Mac OS X. For example, if you plan to play a resource-intensive Windows-only game (and do nothing else) for a few hours, rebooting into Windows is no big deal, and Boot Camp will give you the best possible performance. But if you want to use Mac and Windows programs side-by-side or switch between them frequently, Boot Camp isn’t what you want.

So why, as a Fusion user, should you care about all this? Fusion offers two ways to work with Boot Camp. First, you can use Fusion to run the copy of Windows you’ve already installed under Boot Camp—and switch back and forth at any time between the two ways of running that copy of Windows. Second, if you think the benefits of Fusion outweigh the benefits of Boot Camp sufficiently that you ll never want to boot directly into Windows again, you can convert your Boot Camp installation into a virtual disk and then remove it—thus freeing up considerable space on your hard disk.

I tell you this now because once you install and configure Windows (along with your Windows software and documents), you’d most likely prefer not to repeat the process. So if you haven’t yet installed Windows and think Boot Camp might be useful to you, you should install Windows there rather than on a virtual disk. But that choice may not be as straightforward as it sounds; read on for help making the decision.

Decide Whether (or How) to Use Boot Camp with Fusion

Fusion gives you three main options with respect to running Windows under Boot Camp:

  • Ignore Boot Camp: If you aren’t using Boot Camp now, and if you don’t plan to use any Windows applications that need every last ounce of CPU power and RAM your Mac has (or direct access to FireWire devices), you’ll be happiest ignoring Boot Camp altogether. Just install Windows conventionally under Fusion and go on your merry way. But bear in mind that Fusion offers no way to move a copy of Windows from a virtual disk to a Boot Camp volume—if you later decide you want to use Boot Camp after all, you’ll have to reinstall Windows there from scratch.

  • Use your Boot Camp volume in Fusion: If you’ve already installed Windows in Boot Camp—or if you know you’ll need to—you can simply configure Fusion to use your Boot Camp installation and decide, on any given occasion, whether you want to run Windows within Fusion or by rebooting. However, be aware of some downsides to this approach.

    Windows is significantly slower to start up and shut down in Fusion when running from a Boot Camp partition than when running from a disk imageSousing a Boot Camp volume in Fusion is more appropriate for occasional use than regularrepeated use (in which case installing Windows on a virtual disk is the better approach).

    Several nifty Fusion features are unavailable when running a Boot Camp installation of Windows in a virtual machineYou can't take snapshots or use AutoProtect; you can't suspend and resume the virtual machine; and you can't mirror folders between Windows and Mac OS X. 

  • Migrate your Boot Camp volume to a virtual disk: If you have Windows installed in Boot Camp, you can move that installation over to a Fusion virtual disk with very little effort—and then, once you’re satisfied that its running correctly—delete your Boot Camp partition, freeing up the disk space it was using.

Having trouble deciding? In my opinion, the convenience of using Windows without rebooting overwhelmingly outweighs the minor speed boost I get by using Boot Camp. Although installing Windows under Boot Camp and running it in a Fusion virtual machine may seem like the best of both worlds, my experience has been that Windows works far better in Fusion when running from a virtual disk than a Boot Camp partition. After trying it both ways for a while, I finally gave up on Boot Camp altogether and imported my erstwhile Boot Camp volume into Fusion. So unless you’re absolutely certain that you need something you can get only in Boot Camp and few people do—my counsel is to stick with a virtual disk.

If you found this excerpt helpful and want to read the entire ebook that it came from, visit the Web page for Take Control of VMware Fusion 3.

Posted by Adam Engst (Permalink)