In an unusual move, VMware has given us a twofer and updated both its desktop flagship products today. VMware is releasing VMmware Workstation 8 for Windows and Linux, and VMware Fusion 4 for Mac users. The Fusion update makes Fusion “more Mac-like” and finally allows users to virtualize Mac OS X under VMware Fusion. Workstation 8 is aimed squarely at developers and professionals working cloud and virtualization deployments, with remote access to virtual machines and support for up to 64GB of RAM.
VMware Workstation is VMware’s oldest product, and still very popular with developers and IT professionals who need to have access to virtual guests on their desktop.
New in Workstation 8
With Workstation 8, VMware claims support for more than 600 operating systems, from MS-DOS to Windows 7. But the real juice is for developers working with and deploying current operating systems into production in the cloud.
VMware sees users doing a lot of development on the desktop and then pushing it into the internal cloud. Workstation 8 allows developers to create their virtual machines, then drag and drop them to vSphere. Workstation 8 is big on sharing, too. The release has features that let developers share a virtual machine directly from the desktop to another user running Workstation 8. Alternatively, you can connect to a remote virtual machine with Workstation 8 if the machine is running on vSphere, vCenter, or another copy of Workstation 8.
With the remote access features, developers are not constrained by the hardware of their local machine. They can simply connect to remote machines with Workstation, ESX 4.x or later, and vCenter Server and run the guests on the more powerful system but display them locally.
This release of Workstation also beefs up performance considerably, allowing it to take advantage of up to 64GB of RAM. VMware admitted to me that they haven’t seen many workstation or desktop machines with 64GB of RAM, but they picture Workstation 8 running on servers for development teams that need to share VMs.
Workstation 8 also has better desktop hardware support for its guests, with HD audio, USB 3 support, and Bluetooth devices. The company has also bolstered the 3D performance of Workstation 8 in this release. See the release notes for all the features and details on Workstation 8. The upgrade price for Workstation 8 is $99, users of Workstation 6.x or 7.x can take advantage of the upgrade. Just starting with Workstation 8? The release is $199 and available immediately as an electronic download.
New in VMware Fusion 4
While Workstation is aimed at the IT professionals doing heavy duty development work, Fusion is largely targeted at Web developers and professionals who’ve switched to the Mac and still need access to some Windows apps. Fusion 4 offers support for more than 200 guest OSes, a bit less than Workstation but still a respectable set.
VMware Fusion 4, thanks to a blessing from Apple (finally) brings Fusion users something they’ve been waiting for a long time – the ability to virtualize Mac OS X. Developers who work on OS X will be able to virtualize OS X Lion, Snow Leopard, Snow Leopard Server, and Leopard Server in virtual machines. Note that VMware only officially supports virtualizing OS X on OS X Lion.
The release is also “more Mac-like” with a streamlined user interface and a better integration with OS X Lion’s full screen features and its gestures. You can swipe between a virtual machine and Lion with a three-fingered gesture. The virtual library display has been revamped, and the preferences for VMware Fusion now look more like the native system preferences on Mac OS X.
Fusion 4 also has an updated snapshot feature that lets you scroll through a timeline of snapshots of your VM. Note that Fusion has always had snapshots, this is just a prettier and more friendly way to display them.
Switchers will find a better integration of Windows applications into Mac OS X, particularly if they’re running OS X Lion. Fusion 4 will add Windows apps to the Dock, Spotlight, Mission Control and LaunchPad – but only the applications that you choose.
Like Workstation, Fusion has gotten a bunch of performance boosts and offers better 3D performance, virtual Bluetooth, and 5.1 HD audio.
With Fusion 4, VMware claims more than 90 new features (PDF) though some are less exciting than others. (For instance, VMware claims “run from any folder you choose” as a feature, and loading and unloading services and kernel modules on demand as two separate features.)
Fusion 4 is available immediately for download for $49, and a box set is with DVD and USB key (for those with no optical drive) is coming as well.
VMware has quite a bit of competition these days on the desktop front, with Parallels, VirtualBox and a number of other desktop solutions. What’s your pick for virtualization on the desktop?