One day, it's purchasing Nicira and redefining the data center in software-defined terms. Another, it's dealing with a new generation of malware that can spread through virtual machines (VMs). On yet another day, it's pressuring IT managers to bring their storage solutions current, lest a data bottleneck derail their respective businesses' day-to-day productivity.
Much of this activity has centered on VMware's enterprise ambitions, but on Thursday it returned attention to one of its most successful consumer products, releasing Fusion 5, the newest iteration of its tool for running Windows VMs within Mac OS X. IT interests were not excluded from the docket, however, as the Palo Alto-based company also broadened its enterprise portfolio with the unveiling of both Fusion 5 Professional and Workstation 9.
VMware's vision for data centers embraces hardware agnosticism. Fusion 5 marches to the same beat, enabling Mac users to run any Windows OS from XP onward, including not only the standard version of Windows 8 but also the pro and enterprise offerings as well. Intended to facilitate seamless integration with the host OS, Fusion allows users to launch Windows applications without exiting OS X and rebooting the system. It also supports direct interactions between the two environments, such as dragging and dropping files, if they are running simultaneously, and can be used to test applications in virtual environments.
[ Read Maritz's VMware Legacy Defies Doubters. ]
Windows apps can be treated almost like native OS X programs in many ways: the Dock can be used to launch Windows programs; Expose, Spaces, and Mission Control can support VM programs; and Mac shortcuts and gestures should function in either environment. Users can choose to run Windows in Full Screen View, which allows the guest OS to take over; Single Window View, which restricts all virtualized Windows tools to a single window to keep the environments separate but connected; or Unity View, which depicts VMs like any other open application, with so signs to betray their origin in a foreign OS.
Version 5 of the popular product includes 70 new features. Headlining these is a design built expressly for Mountain Lion, the current incarnation of OS X, that allows users to search for Windows programs in Launchpad and use "Airplay mirroring" to stream both Mac and Windows applications to an HDTV via AppleTV. Other additions include support for newer Apple hardware features, such as USB 3.0 ports and retina displays, and, in a nod to power users, the ability to harness up to 60GB of RAM for VMs-- a 50% increase over previous versions. Fusion 5, like its predecessors, still imposes a limit of 8 GB per single machine, however. In a statement announcing the new product, VMware claimed general performance should be 40% faster than Fusion 4, with 3D graphics and battery life receiving significant boosts.
Fusion 5 Professional includes all the features of the standard edition plus support for more than 200 other operating systems. It also strives to accommodate enterprise security concerns by allowing users to create restricted VMs that allow Mac-based employees to access applications from other systems while preventing the end user from modifying the VM or connecting to a USB device. Swinging the door the other way, it also includes VMWare Player 5 to deploy restricted VMs to not only Macs but also Windows or Linux-based systems. The Professional version, in short, offers a robust indifference to the underlying system, making it a potential bring-your-own-device (BYOD) management option for companies whose employees prefer to use their own systems.
Workstation 9, the last of the three new products announced, enables Windows and Linux users to access their desktops through phones or tablets that use HTML5-enabled browsers. The new version includes optimization for Windows 8, including the OS's gesture controls; general 3D-graphics performance improvements; compatibility with Intel's Ivy Bridge chipsets; and the addition of OpenGL 2.1 for Linux.
Parallels, Fusion's primary competitor in virtualizing Windows for OS X, has announced that a new version of its product is coming Sept. 4. CNET noted that previous head-to-head battles between the rival tools has been fairly evenly drawn, so it remains to be seen whether either will be able to secure control of the consumer market, let alone make a splash among enterprise buyers.
Immediate responses from users have been mixed. CNET's report noted that an alternative exists in the Oracle-developed VirtualBox freeware but cautions that the program is most appropriate for users wishing to dip their computing toes into VMs; users with more sophisticated needs, and certainly IT professionals, will likely find the tool lacking. Skepticism regarding VirtualBox was also evident in a Hacker News thread; several posters criticized the product's inability to run games, and justin66 was even more pointed: "VirtualBox for me had the effect of being an advertisement for VMware," he wrote, noting that he could not abide the "occasional crash or glitch."
Most posters expressed discontent about perceived forced upgrades, claiming that Apple's annual OS refreshes necessitate correspondingly frequent Fusion or Parallel purchases. A thread attached to AppleInsider's article on the announcement revealed similar sentiments. MacRumors users created one of the most extensive conversations, with several existing Fusion users expressing enthusiasm for the new product, several VM novices stating interest in the product as a BYOD tool, and a relatively large and vocal contingent arguing that VirtualBox is perfectly adequate for most users' needs.
Despite the denser concentration of fans, Oracle's product still received harsh words from several posters, including one who linked to two studies by Phronix that showed VMware tools handily outperforming their free competitor. Complaints over Fusion and Parallels pricing and upgrade strategies also surfaced, if somewhat less prominently due to the larger number of participants. Only limited inferences can be drawn from the online responses, but they nonetheless provide some insight into the minds of consumers who are displeased by limited options. How businesses will respond is an altogether different issue. In projecting Fusion's likelihood of success on the enterprise scene, VMware director of personal products Jason Joel stated in the company's press release that a tool like Fusion Professional fills a need because Mac adoption continues to grow even as Windows machines remain one of the business world's most prominent computing fixtures.
VMware's Fusion Blog states that Fusion 4 will work with Mountain Lion, so upgrades are not yet an absolute necessity--unless one of the 70 new features is a must-have for the user's workflow. Fusion 3, however, does not support Mountain Lion.
At least some of the online detractors seemed unaware that VMware is offering anyone who purchased Fusion 4 after July 25 a free upgrade to the base Fusion 5 package. Fusion 3 and 4 customers also have the option of stepping up to Fusion 5 Professional for $49.99, a savings of $50 off the retail price. VMware stated in its news release that volume pricing is available for corporate buyers. New customers can purchase Fusion 5, meanwhile, for $49.99. Rounding out the new products, Workstation 9 is priced at $249, though Workstation 7 and 8 users can add the newer version to their tools for $119. Those who bought Workstation 8 after August 1st can upgrade for free.
Extending core virtualization concepts to storage, networking, I/O, and application delivery is changing the face of the modern data center. In the Pervasive Virtualization report, we discuss all these areas in the context of four main precepts of virtualization. (Free registration required.)