VMware Workstation vs. VMware Fusion

By Steven Warren - August 25 2010

In a world where Windows has dominated the PC market for years, there has recently been a rise in popularity for alternative operating systems (OS).

Apple's OS X has become very popular for video producers, graphic artists, and web designers. In addition, there are several quality builds of Linux, including Ubuntu and OpenSuse.

With multiple platforms, virtualization has become a huge asset. Allowing one computer to run several operating systems at a time affords many benefits, including the ability to run any OS-specific software, create multiple workflows  and virtual networks.

VMware Workstation vs. Fusion

Probably the most notable virtualization software is VMware, available for both Mac and PC.

While VMware provides the same service for both Mac and PC, there are notable differences to explore.

Today I'll be comparing VMware Fusion 3.1 (Mac) to VMware Workstation 7.1 (Windows).

The computers I'll be using are a MacBook Pro, 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB Ram running Snow Leopard, and a Dell Inspiron, 2 GHz Intel with 2 GB Ram running Windows XP.

I will install  Windows 7 Ultimate edition on each  machine and report on what I find. We will see what the capabilities and advantages of both VMware Fusion and Workstation are.

One of the major concerns with virtualization is the speed of the virtual OS running on top of the native machine. In this comparison, the Macbook Pro is significantly faster than the Dell, so comparing Fusion to Workstation with these two PC's would be unfair.

VMware Fusion for Mac

I will say that VMware Fusion on the Mac runs without a hitch. No freezes or hiccups, and when you run it in fullscreen, you would never know you're on a Mac. I could play a fairly demanding 3D game and rarely, if ever, experience lag. Pretty impressive.

The benefits of VMware Fusion on a Mac are immediately apparent. Before ever installing an OS, I know that I can install any Linux or Windows build on my Mac, while Workstation on a PC will never run Mac OS X. This is mainly due to Apple not opening it's operating system to other vendors, and is not necessarily a VMware issue, but it's worth noting that the only way to run OS X is on a Mac or using some crazy hack for Windows.

Windows 7 in VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion

The installation process of Windows 7 is straightforward and simple. Whether installing from a disc, .ISO disc image file, or other means, Fusion makes it easy. Once your virtual machines are installed, you'll be greeted with the “Library” every time you open Fusion (Figure 1).

You're provided with a list of your virtual machines and a “Play” button next to each. You can start one up by clicking “Play” or double clicking it. On this screen you also see a Delete and Pause option to remove or suspend a virtual machine, respectively.

Inside the virtual machine it's as though you're running a Windows 7 PC. The only difference is the additional menu bar at the top that gives you options such as Fullscreen or Single Window view, take a snapshot of the machine to restore, and USB/Disc Drive options.

Two more benefits of Fusion are

  • drag and drop support
  • Migrate PC option

Any file from your Mac can be dragged right into the virtual machine, and vice versa. This makes sharing files between your hard drive and virtual machine extremely user friendly. The migrate PC option is a nice touch as well for those making the switch to a Mac but would like to keep all their current PC files.

Benefits of VMware Fusion and Workstation

Fusion for Mac really excels in simplicity, elegance and ease of use. Meanwhile, Workstation for Windows offers some powerful features unavailable to Fusion. Installation of Windows 7 in Workstation was just as straightforward as in Fusion. Installing from a disc or .ISO file is still just as easy. Upon opening Workstation, you come to the home screen with a sidebar view of your virtual machines and a toolbar with a few more options than Fusion.

Upon starting Workstation, I immediately loved the tabbed browsing of virtual machines. Fusion on the other hand, opens a whole new window for each OS you start up. That's a window for your library, and a window for each additional OS. It can clutter a desktop fast. Workstation organizes everything neatly in one window, with access to all your virtual machines on the left and tabs on top.

You can start, suspend or shut down a virtual machine with the Play/Pause/Stop button in the upper right hand corner. If you view it in fullscreen you'll also get a toolbar, much like the one in Fusion with similar options.

Workstation Teams

There is another advantage to Workstation though, and that's creating a “Team” of virtual machines with LAN segments. With virtualization taking a larger role in businesses, and more people using it to train for networking, this Team option becomes invaluable. While it is possible to network virtual machines in Fusion, it's a much more arduous task, and Workstation makes it simple.

Final Verdict

Both Fusion and Workstation are fairly similar, with a few key features differentiating them.

Sophistication and ease-of-use in Fusion is a welcome benefit, while Teams in Workstation are great for businesses and network trainees. Either way, if you're in a position where you have to use multiple operating systems on your machine, VMware is a solid choice.

You can try both Fusion and Workstation as well as many other virtualization products from Vmware for free at vmware.com/products.

Ready to test your skills in VMware? See how they stack up with this assessment from Pluralsight

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Steven Warren

Steven Warren is a writer in sunny Florida. His articles and blogs have appeared on web sites such as CIOUpdate.com, Techrepublic.com, SearchTechTarget, Datamation, and DatabaseJournal. You can visit his web site at www.stevenscottwarren.com and follow him on twitter at @stevenswarren.