Nerds only: very impressive new beta of VMware Fusion

Recently I mentioned that I was having a video-corruption problem with a Beta 1 version of VMware's Fusion. (For those late to the story: Fusion let's you run Windows programs on an Intel-equipped Macintosh, right alongside the normal Mac programs. Parallels software does the same thing, but I like Fusion better.)

I'm still having that video problem with the new Beta 2 of Fusion. Perhaps that will make my compliment all the more sincere when I say that the new release is a truly phenomenal piece of engineering. I hope VMware fixes the bug that is annoying me -- and that, according to VMware, is in fact a flaw in Apple's own video drivers for the MacBook Air. But even with the bug, which is work-aroundable since it shows up only in Fusion's "unity" view, I highly recommend this program.

The earlier incarnations of Fusion already went far toward making the Mac a useful platform for those who don't want to relearn all their computing habits or cut themselves off cold-turkey from the vast world of Windows-only software. I have been using it for several months, on a MacMini and a MacBook Air, to run my workhorse Office2007 programs (Outlook, Word, Excel) plus a number of Windows-based favorites, like Zoot and BrainStorm.

The new Beta 2 release includes, among many other things, three big features that matter to me: , so you can make a Mac produce keystrokes that its own (deficient, IMHO) keyboard lacks. For instance, the equivalents to Ctl-Home and Ctl-End in Word, to get to the beginning or end of a document, on Mac portable keyboards that don't have those keys -- or PrintScreen, or Insert, or a slew of others. You can assign any command that's missing from a Mac keyboard, or that your fingers are used to producing in a way the Mac doesn't normally allow, to keys it does have;

keyboard mapping

application sharing, so your Mac system will use Windows programs automatically in certain circumstances. For instance: I like using Windows-based Word2007 a lot better than I like the native-Mac versions of Word. So if I get an attached .DOC file while using the Mac version of Firefox, I can automatically have it opened by the Windows rather than Mac version of Word. Similarly, if I preferred Mac's Safari browser to Firefox or IE, I could set things up so that whenever I click on a link, whether in a Windows or Mac program, it will open in Safari. This function may not sound clear or important as I'm explaining it, but it's very convenient;

document sharing, so that Windows and Mac programs alike can share the same "My Documents" and "My Pictures" etc folders. This also is an important step toward having the machine feel like one seamless system, which can use Mac and Windows programs interchangeably with few bumps or barriers. In that way it's like the introduction of the Euro to Europe (rather than having pocketsful of drachmas and lira) or the spread of English as the international lingua franca (and, yes, I'm ending that sentence with non-English words on purpose).

Another time, more on the current state of Vista-vs-the-world controversies, whether it really matters which platform you use, and whether (as many people have argued to me) Vista is being unfairly blamed for what are really the failings of Lenovo, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, and other companies that sell Vista-equipped machines. For the moment, congrats to VMware -- and please get to work on my damned bug.