Despite all the attention to the new iPhone, a big part of the recent blistering success enjoyed by Apple has been an upsurge in the sales of the company’s Macintosh computers. While Mac sales still account for only a small share of world-wide computer sales, they have been growing three to five times as fast as overall PC sales.
In classrooms and offices, homes and coffee shops, Macs are far more visible in the U.S. than they were just a few years ago. Part of this success results from the fact that Macs are excellent machines that handle the most important and common tasks as well as — or better than — computers running Microsoft Windows.
But the new popularity of the Mac is also partly due to the fact that it can now run Windows along with Apple’s superior Mac OS X operating system. That means that if there’s a program you need that comes only in a Windows version, you can run it on any current Mac model, speedily and with all its features.
Starting next week, there will be a new way to do this. A company called VMWare, long the leader in what’s called “virtualization” — running multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer — will be selling a program called Fusion that allows Windows, and Windows programs, to run on a Mac.
I’ve been testing Fusion, and I’ve found it works well. For instance, as I write this column on a Mac laptop using the Mac version of Microsoft Word, Fusion is allowing me to simultaneously run several popular Windows programs — Microsoft Outlook, Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer. Each is running in its own window, just as if it were a native Mac program. I can switch from one to the other rapidly and smoothly. Their icons show up on the Mac’s “Dock,” just like the icons for Mac programs.
In my tests, Fusion never slowed down my MacBook Pro laptop or two other Macs on which I tested it. As I write this, the Mac version of Word and all three Windows programs are performing normally, even though I am also running five other Mac programs. My MacBook Pro, which isn’t the latest or most powerful model, has two gigabytes of memory and an Intel processor that is a generation behind the current model.
Fusion, which will be available for $80 at vmware.com, becomes the third major option for running Windows software on a Mac. It will go up against a fine program called Parallels Desktop, also available for $80 at parallels.com and at retail stores. The third option is Apple’s own Boot Camp, currently a free product available at apple.com/bootcamp. Boot Camp will become a built-in feature of the next version of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system, due in October.
All three programs require users to purchase a full version of Windows and install it on the Mac. Like Fusion, Parallels is a virtualization program that allows you to run Windows and Windows programs simultaneously with the Mac operating system and Mac programs. Boot Camp works differently: It requires that you restart the Mac to switch into Windows, and it runs only one of the operating systems at a time.
In my tests, I compared Fusion and Parallels, which is its closest competitor. I used Windows XP Professional. Each also works with the new Windows Vista (and with older versions of Windows and various versions of the Linux operating system). But Microsoft has imposed a legal prohibition on installing the most common consumer versions of Vista, Home Basic and Home Premium, via virtualization programs.
The two programs are very similar. In most scenarios, they function nearly identically. Both allow you to run the full Windows desktop either in a window on your Mac or in full-screen mode. Alternatively, both allow Windows programs to float on their own, with the Windows desktop hidden, so they look and feel just like Mac programs. Both permit you to fetch and save files from folders already on your Mac. Both support copying and pasting between Mac and Windows programs. Both automatically use your Mac’s Internet connection.
Parallels has more features than Fusion. It comes with a set of utilities Fusion lacks, such as a program that can migrate the contents of a physical Windows PC into a Parallels virtual Windows PC, and another that allows you to retrieve files from the virtual Windows machine even when Parallels isn’t running. Parallels also has a nice feature that lets you assign any file to automatically open in a Windows program instead of a Mac program. And it makes it much easier to use a printer over a network than Fusion does.
But I found Fusion puts less strain on the computer overall. While I like Parallels and have used it since it came out, it sometimes slows down my Mac, especially when it is starting up Windows or performing some other major task. Fusion has a much smaller impact on the Mac’s overall performance.
You won’t go wrong with either program. Both give the Macintosh a level of versatility that can’t be matched by Windows-only machines.