VMware launches Mac virtualisation

Fusion goes on sale next week, letting users run 60 different operating systems from their Macs, offering a challenge to Parallels Desktop for Mac platform.

Virtualisation software maker VMware is set to launch Fusion next week, a Mac-based platform which aims to let users run PC-based applications on their Mac.

The application - set to be released online August 6 - is the firm's first for Mac users, and puts VMware head-to-head with Parallels own Mac-based virtualisation platform Desktop for Mac, which was released 16 months ago.

Fusion lets Mac users seamlessly run applications on any 60 operating systems (OS), from Windows Vista to Linux, whether they are 32 or 64 bit.

"We started receiving more and more requests from customers... to run Windows applications on a Mac," said Reza Malekzadeh, the director of product marketing, at a launch event at Apple's European headquarters in London yesterday. "As Mac machines get more and more powerful... users should be able to unlock the power of those machines."

While this is the first desktop product from VMware for the Mac, the PC-version of the application is in its sixth generation. The product was developed from the ground up, rather than porting the workstation product over, he said.

Multiple operating systems can run at once, depending on how powerful the machine is, he said, but the user need not actually see the different operating systems, as they can be integrated into the Mac user interface.

"It allows you to run Windows applications on a Mac as if they were standalone Mac applications," said Malekzadeh. By using the "unity" feature, the PC operating system window disappears, leaving the application - be it Microsoft Word, minesweeper or a 3D game - sitting on the desktop as though it were running in the Mac environment. An icon even shows up in the dock, and applications running on different operating systems can run at the same time. "People don't care about operating systems," he said. "They don't want the whole OS shown to them, just the application."

"Word for Windows will sit in the doc and you don't have to worry that an operating system is sitting behind it," he added.

Indeed, if a user is working on their Mac in a Windows environment, the power management tools showing battery life will connect through.

During the beta phase, the developers have added several features, including support for 3D graphics. But Fusion does not support some features of Windows Vista, such as the transparent looking-glass interface.

At 49.99, the product is aimed at the consumer market, but has utility for business use, Malekzadeh said. Small businesses owners using a Mac computer can use Fusion to access business productivity applications.

Larger enterprises can use it to facilitate home workers, allowing them to run business applications on their home PC, regardless of the operating system. As well, they can let employees choose their own hardware, and use Fusion to support key applications. "It can be in an enterprise environment, where a corporation has decided Outlook with Exchange or an Internet Explorer-only application is the standard, but I can use any platform I want," he said.

He also suggested Fusion could fit in the education market, giving students safe virtual machine environments to learn in without worrying about damaging the real environment. "Virtualisation lets you have a sandbox on it's own without hurting underlying machines," Malekzadeh said.

Despite the new competition, Parallels is not concerned. "With more than 600,000 active users around the world, Parallels is without question the leader in the desktop virtualisation market," said Parallels director Benjamin Rudolph. "We're confident that we will maintain our leadership role by continuing to respond to the needs of our customers by introducing new groundbreaking technologies - as we did with Coherence and SmartSelect - that make working with multiple operating systems easier, faster, and more productive than ever before."

Since Fusion's beta phase began in December 2006, it has been downloaded 250,000 times, VMware said.

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