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VMware offers Fusion beta testers deal on final release

Until it's released this summer, Apple Mac enthusiasts can pre-order VMware Fusion for half the price of Parallels, the market leader.

With VMware Fusion now in its fourth and final beta, the company has stated that Fusion will become generally available by the end of August for a suggested retail price of $79.99. Until that point, VMware is offering beta testers the right to pre-order Fusion for an introductory price of $39.99.

Fusion is VMware Inc.'s virtualization platform for Intel-based Mac OS X desktops. Like the product VMware is trying to upset – SWSoft's Parallels Desktop – Fusion allows end users to run native Windows applications at the same time as Mac OS X. Apple's own BootCamp allows users to boot in to either Windows or Mac OS X, but not simultaneously.

The Fusion 4 beta that was made available last week showcases a new feature called 'Unity' that allows users to run Windows XP applications 'headless,' i.e., without viewing the rest of the Windows desktop environment. Parallels calls similar functionality 'Coherence.'

Technically, Fusion relies on the same underlying technology as VMware's developer-oriented Workstation, which runs on Microsoft Windows. Like Workstation, Fusion supports VirtualSMP and native 64-bit guests. But "Fusion is not Workstation," asserted Pat Lee, VMware senior product manager. "Fusion is designed for the everyday end user, not for technical users that need a full dev/test environment," Lee said. For example, Fusion focuses on making it easy to install Windows, and does not include Workstation's Rewind/Replay function.

But IT managers nevertheless look forward to Fusion's general availability to relieve some of the burden of supporting both Windows and Mac OS platforms.

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, systems engineer Tim Antonowicz estimates that approximately 40% of his user base runs Mac OS. "It's really taken off in conjunction with iPods and iTunes – kids are really latching on to that," he said. For Antonowicz, that increase in the Mac user base has meant extra working supporting different client applications, for example, Microsoft Entourage in addition to Outlook.

"Entourage doesn't have the functionality of Outlook; it's kind of kludged product," Antonowicz said. With Fusion, Bowdoin's IT staff can stop supporting Entourage, and have Mac users run Outlook with Fusion. Going forward, Antonowicz anticipates creating virtual machine templates that contain all the applications a given lab or student might need. With Fusion, students could run that same VM regardless of whether they had a Mac or a PC.

Fusion could also reduce Bowdoin's hardware infrastructure needs. As it stands, all Bowdoin classrooms are "digitally enhanced" with a PC and a Macintosh in every room. By standardizing on a Mac running VMware Fusion, Bowdoin will reduce the amount of hardware and infrastructure it needs to purchase, install and support, while still providing students with access to all their applications.

Apple hardware, of course, tends to be more expensive than PC hardware, but, Antonowicz reasoned, "we'll only have to buy one box, not two."

Meanwhile, in mainstream IT departments, it's less clear what the need for products like Fusion or Parallels may be. Apple's internal sales numbers suggest its share of the desktop market is increasing, but it's unclear by how much. "Clearly, Apple has experienced a resurgence as a company, largely because of the iPod, and there's a sort of a halo around it," said Gordon Haff, principal IT adviser at Illuminata, a research firm in Nashua, N.H. Whatever the market share numbers may be, "[Apple's] move to Intel plus virtualization has created a relatively easy pat to running Windows apps on a Macintosh. If you have an employee that prefers a Mac but still needs to run a few Windows apps, that's no longer a showstopper."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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