Review: VMware Workstation 4.0.5 February 2004
Reviewed by Marcel Gagné
Part of what I do involves trying out and working with a large number of Linux distributions. It's important for me to know what's out there and how it compares with other products. When I'm not being a writer, I run a small computer consulting business that makes similar demands. My customers expect me to support and work in a number of different environments and operating systems.
For me and others like me, what often happens is that we have several machines running various operating systems so that we have ready access to proper test environments. In some cases, the solution is to have a spare machine for testing — one on which you install and uninstall various operating systems. A better solution would be to have all these machines on your main system and access whichever operating system you needed at the time, preferably without rebooting. That's where VMware comes into play.
VMware enables you to create virtual machines on your computer, complete with boot-up BIOS and memory checks. It virtualizes your hardware configuration, essentially creating a PC inside your PC. Guest operating systems such as Windows (9x, 2000, XP, etc), Linux (pretty much any flavor), Netware, and FreeBSD see these secure, virtualized machines as real systems complete with associated hardware (including USB). These guest operating systems are not emulated. They are actually running on your virtual machines. Furthermore, each virtual machine can be individually networked, allowing communication and file sharing between the virtual and the real machines.
For the developer who needs to work under or write code for different platforms, the advantage of this technology should be immediately apparent. VMware makes it possible to test or play with different OS releases without having to dual-boot (or triple...) or install on multiple systems.
With that promise in mind, I paid VMware a virtual visit and got a copy of the latest VMware Workstation, version 4.0.5.
There's not a lot to installing VMware under Linux. I mention this because VWware is available for both Windows and Linux. The Linux package comes in either an RPM or a tarred and gzipped bundle. The RPM installation is very simple. After installing the package (rpm -ivh VMware-workstation-4.0.5-6030.i386.rpm), you simply run the "vmware-config.pl" and you are on your way. The tarred bundle isn't particularly complicated either. Just extract and run the script:
tar -xzvf VMware-workstation-4.0.5-6030.tar.gz
After a little question and answer session to determine where to install the files (I just accepted the defaults), the script offers to run the vmware-config.pl script just as with the RPM package.
At this point, the installer will try to find suitable modules that match your running kernel. If it cannot, the installer will try to build them for you. This requires that you have the kernel source that matches your running kernel. This whole process takes only a few minutes, and once it's complete, you'll be asked which kind of networking you would like in place for your virtual machines. I generally choose bridged networking here. In effect, the virtual machines have their own IP address (rather than using NAT and masquerading as your machine). In that way, they function as completely separate networked hosts. You can also configure using DHCP.
After all this is done, you start VMware with the command /usr/bin/vmware.
A Forest of Operating Systems
VMware's main interface (Figure 1) is clean and hides no surprises. From here, you can either create a new virtual machine or open an existing one. Click on "New Virtual Machine" and you'll go through a short dialogue. Select the guest operating system you want to install (various flavors of Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, or Netware), then provide a name for this machine and a location on disk where it will live. VMware doesn't require that you create new partitions for the guest OS. It lives comfortably in your existing directory structure. The only thing you need to make sure is that you have sufficient disk space to carry it on.
Figure 1: VMware interface
In my case, almost as soon as I had VMware loaded on my notebook, somebody asked a question about SuSE Linux, specifically having to do with YaST2. In my head, I was retracing the various menus, trying to remember what options were on the screen so I could walk the person through it. Then it occurred to me — isn't this what VMware is for? I created my virtual machine, popped in my SuSE install disks, and sometime later, had a full SuSE 8.2 install on my Mandrake 9.2 notebook.
After installing SuSE and confirming that all was well, I decided to install Windows XP. I was going to be working on another article where it would be handy to have Windows XP running because there also happened to be a Windows client for the Linux package I was writing about. That also worked perfectly.
Over the next few days, I installed a third machine to deal with another set of customer queries, in this case, Red Hat 9. Then, a few days ago, I installed Xandros 2.0. My disk was rapidly filling up with different operating systems and I was loving it (see Figure 2). It became obvious to me that you could get carried away doing this sort of thing.
Working with VMware
Figure 2: my machines
The advantages of being able to run other operating systems on your computer seem altogether too obvious, so much so that there's a danger of passing up some of the great features built into VMware. For instance, there's an option for taking a screenshot of the current desktop, something tech writers will appreciate. This particular feature works fine, storing images in PNG format, but it could stand a little improvement. I'd like to see it handle more than just PNG, for one thing. (Yes, I know I can do the conversion, but I would rather not have to.) Also, the GTK "save file" dialogue is less than exciting and it doesn't remember the directory I was in from one screenshot to the next. Minor annoyances, but annoyances nonetheless.
It's possible to run multiple machines simultaneously but note that there may be conflicts in certain host devices like your floppy drive. Be warned that the draw on your resources may become too much for your machine as well. Each machine uses whatever memory you have allocated to it (memory limits can be modified even after the guest operating system is loaded) and it is possible to run out. If you have the resources, you can happily run several virtual machines and just click from one tab to the next to access them.
Incidentally, that draw on resources is probably the biggest negative I found with VMware. This program is a hungry beast. The company Web site recommends, at a minimum, a 500 mhz Pentium class processor and 256 MB of RAM. Those minimum numbers may not be sufficient for acceptable performance, particularly if you are installing recent operating systems like Windows XP or a modern Linux distribution such as Red Hat 9 or Mandrake 9.2. Loading MS-DOS or Windows 95 is probably just fine under those constraints.
Figure 3: snapshots
Beyond the obvious benefit of this program, one of the greatest things you need to know about is VMware's ability to take snapshots. These aren't screenshots but rather moments in time for your guest operating system. Let's say for instance, that you were in the middle of a particularly grueling solitaire game and you had to shut down. VMware lets you take a snapshot of the machine state so that you can reboot the machine to that known state. When you restart the virtual machine, just click the "Revert" button and you'll be in exactly the same position in the document you were editing, or that game you were playing. All joking aside, if you are testing an environment or a program that could modify your OS negatively, such as adding a service pack, just shut down the machine, revert to the snapshot, and you are back to where you were before the damage was done.
VMware supports VGA and SVGA viewing modes. You can either run windowed versions of your virtual machines or switch to full screen mode. There's also a quick switch mode that provides tabbed full screen access but without the menus and title bar getting in the way. Moving the mouse cursor to the top of the screen restores the menu so that you can escape full-screen mode.
Side Trips and Kernel Upgrades
In the course of working with VMware, I happened to heed the siren call of the new 2.6 kernel. Given that VMware creates kernel modules to make interfacing with your existing system work, what happened should have come as no surprise. My VMware installation would no longer work. I should point out that I had done at least one other kernel upgrade (a 2.4 upgrade) in the process, so I knew that running vmware-config.pl was all that was necessary. Unfortunately, the VMware modules would not work with the 2.6 kernel.
A little bit of googling helped me to locate a patch, or a series of patches, to make the rebuilding of the modules work and, happily, bring VMware back to life. Head on over to ftp://platan.vc.cvut.cz/pub/vmware and download the latest vmware-any-any-update file. As I write this, version 48 is available. Extract the tarball, run the "runme.pl" file and you should find yourself with a fully functional VMware running under the 2.6 kernel.
So, how expensive is VMware? Currently, VMware Workstation 4.0.5 sells for $329 for the boxed set. Customers who can be just as happy with a download can save themselves a few dollars, $30 to be exact. I admit that VMware does seem a bit pricey on the surface, particularly if all you want to do is run a copy of Windows 98 on your Linux desktop. If that is the case, it would be better to look elsewhere. Win4Lin does the job at a fraction of the price. That said, Win4Lin won't let you run different Linux distributions, FreeBSD, Netware, and Windows XP, all on the same machine and at the same time.
From my perspective as a technology consultant and someone who does multi-platform and multi-OS support, VMware is truly one of the most amazing and useful tools I have ever had on my computer and it is worth every penny. In fact, once you've started using VMware, it will seem remarkably inexpensive. Remember though, that cost comes in many flavors and VMware is a hungry beast, demanding a lot from your system's memory and processor.
After working with VMware these past few weeks, I find it hard to imagine how I ever worked without it. You can try it out for yourself by downloading a free 30-day trial. Just visit the Web site, download a copy, and take it for a spin. I highly recommend it.
For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.vmware.com.
Marcel Gagné lives in Mississauga, Ontario. He is the author of the acclaimed Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye! . In real life, he is president of Salmar Consulting Inc., a systems integration and network consulting firm. He loves Linux and all flavors of Unix and will even admit it in public. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. You can discover lots of other things from his Web site at http://www.marcelgagne.com/.
oder wer den artikel im original lesen will: http://www.unixreview.com/documents/s=8989/ur0402d/
EDIT/: weitere links zu teilweise älteren reviews (ws und gsx) hier: http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?l ... 5-26-RV-SW
Die Foren-SW läuft ohne erkennbare Probleme. Sollte doch etwas nicht funktionieren, bitte gerne hier jederzeit melden und wir kümmern uns zeitnah darum. Danke!
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