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Desktop Virtualization Revisited Part Four: VMware Workstation

Does VMware still win in desktop-level virtualization? Easily, but not without a caveat or two.

VMware is the first name in x86 architecture virtualization and there’s a very good reason why: They have excellent products, first-rate support and the lion’s share of the market. With competition at an all-time high, VMware still stands without peer in the virtualization business. They came into the business 10 years ago with a winning attitude, a revolutionary product and good business savvy — and it’s paid off for them. When most people think virtualization, they think Vmware.

VMware Workstation is the decendent of VMware’s first product, simply VMware. Still one of their finest products for virtualization, this desktop-level software also doubles as a VM development tool. VMs created in Workstation can be deployed to your favorite other VMware product with painless ease.

VMware Workstation Essentials

Download a 30-day trial version of VMware Workstation from the VMware Workstation product page and start building your own virtual machine along with the one in this article. The download is very large at just over 500MB. Once you’ve downloaded the installer, launch it and proceed with the installation. This installation takes several minutes because of its size and the amount of data involved. If your computer freezes for a while, don’t worry, your network connection might get temporarily dropped. And, if you’re on Windows, it’s a good idea to reboot after the installation.

Setup a New VM

VMware Workstation looks much like all of the other VMware products so that you have that familiar experience. For this, I’m grateful. I don’t have to relearn where everything is or how it works on each new product. Refer to Figure 1 to setup your first VM. Setup a new VM by either clicking the New Virtual Machine icon in the Home window or using the menu (File->New->Virtual Machine).

Figure 1: Setting Up Your First Virtual Machine
Figure 1: Setting Up Your First Virtual Machine

The New Virtual Machine Wizard launches and I always suggest that you use Custom configuration so that you can optimize your VM for your specific needs. Click Next to continue. Accept the default compatibility of Workstation 6.5 (unless you have some reason not to) and then click Next. Select your local CD/DVD drive or browse to your installation ISO and click Next. You also have the option of creating a new VM without selecting the installation source.

Select the operating system you want for this VM, select the Version (or something as close as you can in the case of some Linux distributions) and click Next to continue. Name your new VM and select its location (Browse to a location if you need to) and click Next. Select the number of processors dedicated to this VM—use one unless you have a good reason to use more than one. Click Next. Select the amount of RAM allocated to this VM by using the slider or entering the amount into the field. Suggested minimums, recommended and maximums are preset for you. Click Next when done. Select the type of networking connection you want for the new VM. I always use Bridged so that the VM has direct two-way connectivity. Click Next to continue.

Officially Supported Guest OSs

  • Windows 3.11-Windows 2008
  • Linux – Several Distros
  • Novell Netware 5 & 6
  • Solaris 9 & 10
  • MS-DOS
  • Other

Choose the type of I/O (Disk) adapter you wish to use and click Next. The virtual disk selection screen is next. Choose Create a new virtual disk and click Next. The Virtual Disk Wizard prompts you for the type of virtual disk (IDE or SCSI). Click Next to continue. Choose your virtual disk size and options. I suggest that you allocate all disk space and split the disk into 2GB files for maximum performance. Click Next. Select a name for your new virtual disk and its location. Click Next to continue. A summary screen is presented to you for final review. You may go back to edit or correct any of the settings, click the Customize Hardware button or click Finish to create the new VM. If you want the new VM to power on after creation, leave the Power on this virtual machine after creation box checked.

Clicking Finish creates the new VM for you and, depending on your selections, it starts up and begins the installation process.

Install the Operating System

Installing a new operating system in VMware Workstation is easy; power on the VM and the machine boots to your bootable CD image and begins the process. Install the operating system as you would for a physical machine. Some operating systems detect that you’re using a virtual hard disk. Don’t be alarmed. It won’t matter to the installer. Proceed through the installation normally as if you were installing onto a new physical hard drive.

VMware Workstation Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Easy to Install and Use
  • VMware Service and Support
  • Excellent Guest Performance
  • Supports a Wide Variety of Guest OSs
  • Actively Developed
  • Windows Vista Support
  • Superb Development Tool

Disadvantages:

  • Most Expensive In Class
  • $189 Price Tag
  • Non-Open Source
  • Huge Download and Footprint

I wish that Vmware would drop the price of this product to $99 or less. I know it’s a great tool for creating and prototyping VMs that are usable in VMware ESX, ESXi and VMware Server and Player but seriously make it cheaper so that people will be able to afford it. Having a free or inexpensive tool like VMware Workstation might convince those otherwise swayed by the lure of free software to use your other really expensive software instead of the free ones.

I would also like to see direct and explicit support for all the major Linux distributions in the dropdown. You need to list Debian, Slackware, Red Hat, Gentoo, SUSE and a few others to convince me that you have Linux support high on your list (And, yes, you have some of these). Instead, you list Asianux, Sun’s Java Desktop and Turbolinux. I guess Debian is Other instead of a major distribution.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I like VMware Workstation and some of what I call disadvantages are pretty minor ones really—all except the price, that is. For the price of VMware’s products, I’d make them throw in a VMware Workstation or two with the purchase of ESX.

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