VMware Fusion 4 now available with Lion-specific features

Not one to be left behind for long, VMware (s vmw) has introduced the new version of its Fusion virtualization software to compete with the recently released Parallels 7. Fusion 4, available now as a digital download for $49.99, lets you install and run a second operating system on your Mac (s aapl) in a virtual machine that integrates completely with your desktop.

Fusion 4 ships with Lion-specific features, and the ability to officially run a virtualized OS X machine for the first time, something which was introduced to virtualization rival Parallels with that software’s latest release. You can run either a Lion, Lion Server, Snow Leopard or Snow Leopard server virtualized machine using Fusion 4, which could be very useful if you’ve upgraded to Lion but want to use Snow Leopard to access software or features that you miss from the older version of OS X.

Of course, you can still also install Windows (s msft) on a Mac using Fusion 4, and VMware has added a bunch of features that make using Windows right inside your OS X desktop even more seamless. For instance, you can add Windows apps to Launchpad, managed them as separate application windows in Mission Control, and also use them in full-screen mode and with OS X gestures.

Other advantages new to the latest version of Fusion include significant performance improvements, with VMware claiming 2.5x faster 3-D graphics on contemporary multicore Macs, as well as general improvements to how virtualized apps perform running side-by-side with native ones. You can check out the full list of changes in VMware Fusion 4 via the official site.

Some people prefer Parellels, and some VMware Fusion, but Fusion 4 offers a significant advantage for existing fans and switchers alike; a much cheaper price tag. Right now, Fusion 4 is available at a promotional price of $49.99, which compares very favorably to the $79.99 that Parallels is charging. Fusion customers who bought version 3 on or after July 20, 2011 are also eligible for a free upgrade.