NOTE: This post was updated on 8/25/12. I changed the section talking about enabling/disabling Retina mode for VMs and having to restart my vSphere hosts for it to take effect.
I love good surprises! Today VMware released a new major version of Fusion, and it was packed with really good stuff. Ever since I got my Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP) I’ve been wanting a Retina-enabled version of Fusion. Parallels has had it for a little while now but I’m a Fusion user and didn’t want to migrate. My wait has finally paid off!
First, let’s talk about all the other new enhancements that we get. One thing you’ll notice is that there are now two different feature/license levels for Fusion, the regular just called Fusion and the new Fusion Professional. I will hereby call them Amateur and Pro. Here is a comparison of the new features in each from a table that I blatantly took from the Fusion page:
There are a lot of really great features in both editions. For most people the Amateur version will do just fine. A few things of particular interest to me are:
Uh…didn’t Fusion 4 work fine on Retina-enabled MacBook Pros (rMBPs)? Yes, it worked just fine but not as good as it could. To understand why you need to understand how the Retina display works on a rMBP. It’s a point of confusion for many people…even those that have the notebooks.
Right now I’m typing this post on a rMBP. The resolution of this display is 2880 x 1800. Crazy high for a 15″ display. Normally this would cause the icons and text on my screen to be almost too small to comfortably read. But this isn’t a traditional setup. What OSX does is that it scales the displayed items 4:1 so you end up (in default mode) with the same screen real estate and window/text/icon sizing as a 1440 x 900 display. That’s the resolution of the standard 15″ MacBook Pro. So if I sit a regular 15″ MBP next to my rMBP the windows, icons, and text size is the same. The difference is that those items have 4x the pixel density on my display as the regular MBP. It makes them incredibly sharp. You can’t see a pixel. There are no jagged lines. It’s like the display is printed on paper.
Now, as an aside… OSX lets you change the 4:1 scaling to a couple of other presets. I don’t use the default 1440 x 900 very often. I find it too cramped…not enough real estate. There is a 1680 x 1050 option, which is the same as the hi-res display option on the 15″ MBP. The highest setting in OSX is 1920 x 1200, which is what I use pretty often. This way I get the screen space of a 1920 x 1200 resolution but it’s still extremely crisp. There are also two other lower resolution options for larger text/icons but I’d never use those.
Anyone that has used LCD displays cringes at the thought of scaling and not using the native resolution. With regular LCDs it makes things look horrible..but you have to remember, we have over 5 million pixels (2880 x 1800) to work with here. Pixels so dense that your eye can’t distinguish them so even scaled to appear at 1920 x 1200 everything is perfect. If you want to go really nuts there are 3rd party tools that let you do true 2880 x 1800 resolution with no scaling. Tiny.
So…what does this mean for Fusion? Why does it care about Retina if OSX is scaling? The beauty of the Retina display is that apps can say “Hey, don’t scale this! I want to use the native 1:1 resolution.”. Take something like Photoshop for example. You want toolbars, menu bars, and icons to be scaled so they are large enough but you may want to edit a picture at full resolution without scaling. Photoshop can tell OSX not to scale the editing window. That’s what Fusion does.
With Fusion 5 I can tell it not to scale VM consoles by checking that box above. Now when I boot up a supported VM the desktop is displayed at 1:1. So a 1024 x 768 Windows desktop isn’t scaled 4:1 (or however I have my display set for scaling). I can fit a lot more on the screen at once. This is very useful for multiple VMs, like my AutoLab, that I want to monitor at once. Sure, things are small…but still usable and gives you a lot of flexibility.
For example, here is a screenshot of my desktop showing my AutoLab configuration with 3 vSphere hosts. Each Windows VM is set for 1280 x 1024 resolution. Keep in mind, these desktops aren’t scaled. Every pixel in each one is being displayed. It is a direct 1:1 mapping to the 2880 x 1800 native resolution.
Windows VMs let you enable/disable Retina mode on the fly. Other operating systems do not. For example, for my vSphere hosts I had to enable it and then reboot them. Another consideration is that if you have a few of these going it can slow down your Expose response.
The Pro version adds even more, if you need or want it. You can buy VMware Basic Support with your Fusion license, which is nice for commercial users. You also get VMware Player with the Pro version for running VMs on other devices. The biggest new feature in the Pro version is the Network Editor. Anyone that has used Nick Weaver’s great UNFuse tool for Fusion will be glad to see this. It basically integrates that in to Fusion, putting it on par with VMware Workstation. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about don’t worry, it’s not something a lot of people use but if you’re doing nested labs, like I do with AutoLab. The Network Editor lets you build custom network configurations within Fusion…usually for creating private networks with customer NAT or DHCP configurations.
One note here… I upgraded from Fusion 4 to 5 and it carried over the custom network that I had created with UNFuser and my AutoLab setup continued to work as before. Well done.
There are a lot of good new features in this release and I’m very happy with it. I only highlighted a few that really matter to me, but there is a lot in here. If you have an earlier version you can move to 5 Professional for $50. If you buy new the Amateur is $50 and the Pro is $100. That’s a good deal either way. You can also add the VMware Basic Support to the Pro version, if you wish.