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Question from Tami: I’d like to understand the difference between VM Ware Fusion and Bootcamp. I have loaded Fusion on 4 of my iMacs (small computer lab) and I am not happy. I need to be able to efficiently run some PC software on my Macs (a bummer, but a reality 🙂 ].

There is a new software that I plan to get for my lab, but I was informed it is ‘problematic’ with Fusion, but great with Bootcamp.

Thanks a bunch!

Jason answers: Since Apple moved to Intel processors over 4 years ago, it made Apple computers compatible with Windows. Apple came up with their Windows on a Mac solution with Bootcamp.

Bootcamp comes with Mac OS 10.5 and later. It also came with 10.4, but it was a beta version that expired when 10.5 came out. Bootcamp really doesn’t have anything to do with Windows. It is more of a partition manager. It is an application that will “repartition” your hard drive into two volumes (essentially, two hard drives). It does this without destroying your Mac data. However, always back up your data before you use Bootcamp. Once Bootcamp has created the two volumes, you now have one volume with your Mac data and one volume for your Windows data. Bootcamp would also allow you burn a CD with Windows drivers on it to install after installing Windows, but with 10.6, Bootcamp just tells you to insert the 10.6 DVD after you install Windows to install the Windows drivers.

So, now Bootcamp has created a separate volume for Windows. You insert the Windows disc and restart and the next thing you know, you are looking at an ugly blue screen with white text that looks like you are working on a computer from the 1980’s. Just kidding, Microsoft has made great improvements in their installers since Vista.

Back to the question…This procedure I described shows the main difference between Bootcamp and Fusion. You have to shutdown and leave the Mac OS to boot into Windows with Bootcamp. Fusion runs as a “virtual machine” that allows you to stay in the Mac OS and run Windows at the same time.

So, why would Fusion have problems running Windows programs and Bootcamp would not? Fusion is running Windows within the Mac OS. Since the Mac OS is already controls the computer hardware, Fusion needs to trick Windows into thinking that it’s the primary OS. To do this, there are some pieces of hardware that Windows can’t communicate with directly. Fusion acts as the bridge between the hardware that is already being directed by the Mac. For instance, when you plug in a USB flash drive while Fusion and Windows is running, Fusion asks if you want to connect the Flash drive to Windows or Mac. It can’t be connected to both at the same time.

If someone is telling you that a Windows program runs better in Bootcamp, it is probably because it needs some direct communication with the hardware. I use Fusion, and in my experience and with helping other customers, I have not had a problem getting hardware to be recognized and working with Windows in Fusion. However, I know that running 3D intensive Windows applications like games and 3D modeling software performs best in Bootcamp. Fusion has made it possible to play 3D games, but not all games are compatible.

One final note. There are a couple of other virtualization programs available other than Fusion. There is Parallels and VirtualBox (which is free). They all have their benefits and drawbacks and you can definitely find all kinds of opinions about each one through Google.


p.s. If you provide more specifics about the apps you need to run, we can probably discuss the performance of those applications in more depth.

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