VMware Fusion: Run Windows Seamlessly On Your Mac

Following Apple’s switch from PowerPC to Intel processors as the engines to power their computers, the horizons of Mac users were thus widened to enable booting into a fully native copy of Windows, with all respective drivers and settings taken care of via Boot Camp. All of a sudden the potential market share for Apple’s computers skyrocketed and Macs became much more flexible for gaming and the workplace.

Mac users are not limited to Boot Camp to run Windows on their Macs however, with applications such as VMware Fusion allowing the user to run Windows within OS X; as long as your Mac is powered by an Intel processor and has enough RAM to do so (4GB recommended, though less is possible), you can now seamlessly move between each OS’s flagship programs and enjoy the increase in productivity which this brings.

Read on to see how this process works…

There are various reasons you may wish to run a copy of Windows within your Mac – sometimes there’s that last piece of legacy software which you can’t let go of, a printer or other hardware peripheral not supported in OS X, or a job which requires you to run Windows software. Whatever the reason, we’ve got you covered, albeit with one caveat; though great strides have been made with running Windows-based games within a virtual environment, unless you have a powerhouse of a Mac, your machine may struggle with any but the more lightweight or previous generation Windows games.

There are a number of ways to go about running Windows within OS X but the leading three programs are:

  • VMware Fusion
  • Parallels
  • Virtualbox

Each have their own strengths, weaknesses and method of use. My own experience with the trio on various platforms has led me to believe that Parallels is the strongest for gaming, Virtualbox is best for non-gaming use and is less intuitive to get running (though the fact it is free negates this point somewhat), while VMware Fusion is the finest all-rounder and easy to use too – so I shall be using VMware Fusion in this guide.

To get started, first head over to the VMware Fusion website and download a free 30-day trial, then go through the installation process and move on to the next step below.

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Launch VMware Fusion and, assuming you do not already have a BootCamp partition in place on your Mac (if you do, select it from the menu), choose the second option titled “Install Windows or another operating system in a new virtual machine“. Now either insert your Windows disc or navigate to the place on your hard drive where your pre-ripped disc image is located.

This done, be sure to select an “Easy Install” and then a decision must be made whether to create an installation which is “More Seamless” or “More Isolated”, depending on your needs and browsing habits. As you can see in the screenshot above, I chose the former, since I will keep a close eye on what my Windows install is doing and feel comfortable I can avoid any issues. If in doubt, choose “More Isolated”.

Further settings can be customised at will to suit your particular system. For instance, I upped Windows’ RAM allowance to 2GB since I have plenty to spare on my MacBook Pro, though the default preferences be safely left alone if you’re unsure which values to enter. Once this initial setting up of your virtual machine is done, press on the green play button to begin installing Windows, which will install as it normally would in a typical environment.

Note: Though I am using Windows 7 for this walkthrough, most iterations of Windows should work without issue within VMware Fusion

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You may prefer to run Windows fullscreen, just as it would be if you were running a normal Windows computer, to do so is as simple as launching VMware and clicking on your virtual machine, then waiting while Windows ‘unfreezes’ – this is an important aspect of running Windows within a virtual machine to note: You need not shutdown and power off your virtual computer each time you access Windows, instead VMware will ‘suspend’ your Windows session in its current state and allow an ‘unfreezing’ of this later.

As shown in the screenshot above, Windows 7 runs perfectly well and Internet Explorer, Outlook and all the other Windows applications run as normal. Since I’m running OS X Lion and make use of the new Spaces layout, a four-finger swipe to the left is all that’s required to move me back into Lion’s environment. This is a handy method of using both operating systems at once, but if you only want one or two Windows applications running within OS X, it seems somewhat cumbersome, so read on to take a look at VMware Fusion’s Unity and Application Menu options.

Making sure you quit any applications you do not need running in OS X will help VMware Fusion run quicker

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VMware Fusion also has the ability to integrate Microsoft Windows software within Mac OS X in a more seamless manner, even placing applications into OS X’s dock and making those applications behave as one would expect a Mac OS X application to behave, responding to Option-click ‘Quit’ commands. Running Windows in this way is called Unity View – to begin using VMware Fusion in Unity Vew, simply navigate to the view menu located at the top of VMware Fusion’s window and select “Unity”.

As you can see in the screenshot above, I have Windows 7′s Start Menu visible alongside OS X Lion’s Dock and can switch between Mac and Windows software without any noticeable lag.

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Another useful tool within WMware Fusion’s feature set is the Application Menu. Sitting in the Mac OS X Menu Bar, the Application Menu serves as a shortcut to Windows’ Start Menu and enables applications to be launched without needing to first manually boot into Windows. Though there is some lag when initially using the Applications Menu, once Windows is fully loaded, it works quickly and unobtrusively. Utilising the Application Menu in this way is my own favoured method of launching Windows applications within Mac OS X.

Hopefully the above walkthrough will show you how surprisingly easy it is to have the best of both worlds and boot into Mac OS X’s stable and virus-free platform, while enjoying the ubiquitous software which can be found on Microsoft’s own OS. Though this is by no means an exhaustive guide to running Windows in OS X, it should serve as inspiration for your own experiments and a launching-off point to begin. The great thing about running operating systems in a virtual machine method as employed by VMware Fusion is that it does not require potentially destructive partitioning of your hard drive, so long as you’re careful, it’s a very safe and easy way to run Windows on your Mac

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