My recent conversion from a Windows 7 Professional Desktop PC to an Apple iMac has been a painless transition, where I’m close to shutting down my PC for good. There are only two PC-based applications which I currently still need to run on my desktop: (1) Password Manager Application, (2) Paint.net graphics application.
Fortunately, there exists a product called CrossOver which allows me to run certain Microsoft Windows applications inside of Mac OS X. CrossOver is based on the WINE WIN32 emulation and basically emulates the Windows calls for most of the Microsoft Windows system functions. So you aren’t running the full-blown Windows OS but still can run Windows applications. As such, running such apps with CrossOver is fairly quick on the Mac. CrossOver is a commercial product that normally sells for $40 US, but after the trial period ends they sent me an email offering the product for $20 US which I thought was a deal, so I purchased it.
Now, CrossOver worked fine for running my Password Manager application, as it was based on standard WIN32 calls and control libraries. So, I can start up my Password app very easily by just selecting the app’s icon from the Mac Applications Folder. I have to note that the buttons, and other various Windows controls look very Windows XP-ish (not Vista or Windows 7), and some of the fonts used in the app are a bit off, but neverthless the app runs quite well.
Unfortunately, I can’t run the Paint.net application using CrossOver since this application heavily uses Microsoft’s .NET technology. Apparently, CrossOver doesn’t have a way of emulating the latest .NET libraries so I’m out-of-luck with running my favorite graphics application on the Mac.
After searching through all the available native Mac graphics apps, I still can’t find anything that can do everything I need to do easily as with Paint.net. So, I tend to run back to my Windows 7 Desktop PC (using a Remote Desktop Connection from my Mac) whenever I need to do some graphics image editing. Since at some point I want to turn off my Desktop PC forever, I need to find a solution to this issue.
So, I decided to explore using Virtualization Software which will emulate the x86 hardware virtually, basically simulating a Desktop PC. I can then install Windows 7 in that environment and run Windows and Windows-based applications through this emulation.
There seems to be three big players in this field to choose from: (1) Parallels, (2) VMWare Fusion, and (3) VirtualBox. Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are commercial products that go head-to-head for this application, and both cost around $80 US. VirtualBox is freeware offered by Sun Microsystems which has similar virtualization technology. I’ve used VirtualBox for my Palm WebOS development (the Palm Emulator runs inside of it) and it seems to work fairly well. I’ve also used VirtualBox with Windows 7 and it also worked fine, but seemed a little slow when starting up the applications.
Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are designed for a smoother and transparent operation running on the Mac when compared to VirtualBox, in my opinion. Both of these products offer the ability to run a Windows App on the Mac such that it appears to be a Mac application. So if I run my Paint.net application it will popup in a window on my Mac and operate just as it would on my PC in it’s own window.
So, I decided to download the VMWare Fusion software and use their 30-day trial period to test it out. After jumping through their hoops to get a temporary activation code, the installation of VMWare Fusion and the Windows 7 OS was a piece of cake. Very easy to install, as I simply inserted my Windows 7 OS install CD when asked for it from VMFusion, and away I went.
I used the default settings for the virtual environment of 40 GB of simulated disk drive space, along with 1 GB of RAM. This should be sufficient for running Windows 7 and my Paint.net application. After the Win 7 installation and the various Microsoft Updates, I was all ready to do. No need to fuss with internet connections, etc.
I then installed Paint.net in this virtual world and was able to run it using VMWare’s “Unity” mode which makes the app appear to be a Mac application (running in it’s own window). So I don’t see the Windows 7 Desktop, just my Paint.net app running in a window on my Mac’s desktop screen. Sweet!
I was surprised at the responsiveness of Windows 7 running in this environment, as it appears just as snappy as running it on my Desktop PC. I especially like the Unity-mode, which allows me to run a single app on my Mac. In fact, there’s a drop-down menu from my Mac’s menu bar which allows me access to all the installed apps in the VMWare Fusion’s Windows environment, so I can effectively run any installed app very easily. Note, that Parallels has a similar feature called “Coherence”, so you can probably do something similar with that product.
Another cool thing is that I can configure VMWare to share my Mac’s desktop, and as such all the files currently on my Mac’s desktop appear on the Window’s desktop as well. I can also place an icon of a Windows application on my Mac’s Dock bar so I can launch it very easily.
Now the real test, is how quickly can I start up VMWare Fusion on my Mac when I want to run Paint.net? It would be a real drag if it took 5 minutes for the entire system to boot up for me to run a single application. So I did a quick test on my iMac quad-core i7 machine to see how fast I can bring up the Paint.net application with VMWare Fusion not running in the background.
So clicking on my Paint.net icon on the Mac dock launches VMWare Fusion (which started up the VMFusion virtualization software and booted up Windows 7 inside of it) and my Paint.net application appeared in a self-contained window on my Mac in 30 seconds. That time is actually pretty good, since VMFusion is booting up Windows 7 from a cold start!
Another feature with VMWare Fusion is that you can save a Windows session as “Suspended”, which stores the current Windows environment in a file for faster startup. So I initiated the suspend mode and then Quit the VMFusion application. Next, when I clicked on the Paint.net icon in my Mac’s Dock bar the Paint.net application appeared in 10 seconds! That was astounding, and perfectly acceptable for my needs of running a few specific Windows applications on my Mac. Who knows if VMWare is achieving this because it’s using the multiple core processors on my i7 iMac, but in any case I’m really liking this!
The only downside to all of this, is that you need a Windows 7 license for your virtual world. That shouldn’t be a problem for me, as I can always decommission one of my retired PCs and use that license. Also, you’re tying up a certain amount of system memory (in my case, 1 GB) and a small amount of disk space on your Mac system, but I think that is perfectly acceptable for what I’m getting in return.
So there you have it. A perfect solution for running much-needed Windows Apps on your Mac. VMWare Fusion seems to run fast and allows easy and convenient access to my Windows Apps. I just need to fork over $80 and get a full license. 😉