posted by Roberto Dohnert on Mon 23rd Jun 2003 02:31 UTC
IconIf you have a mixed network like I do sometimes you have to compromise. At my job we run Windows, Linux and a sole Mac (Graphics dept.) and lets face it, when you do consulting work and if you design and develop custom applications you have to be able to develop for your clients platform and as much as I hate it, it's a Windows world. Before I used to have 2 workstations, one Windows and one Linux, or I had to dual boot. In the past, virtual machines have been lacking. Either they were too slow or lacking a certain pizazz to get the job done. Enter VMWare Workstation 4.

System Requirements

Windows 9x, NT 4 SP3, Windows 2000, XP Red Hat Linux 7x, SuSE Linux 7.x, Caldera OpenLinux 2x
128 mb of RAM ( Author suggests 512 )
500 mb of HD Space

What is VMWare

Click for a larger version VMWare is a virtual machine software. It is like VirtualPC for Windows. It allows you to run a "guest" Operating System inside of a "host" operating system. Once this guest operating system is running you can install Applications and run services that the Guest OS supports. For example, if your host OS is Linux you can run Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows 9x and you will be able to run applications for Windows inside of that environment. and vice versa. VMWare is built by no other than VMWare Inc. It is offered in 2 flavors, VMWare Workstation or VMWare Server.

Installation

VMWare can be installed under Linux by typing rpm -ivh , after installation type vmware-config.pl to build you vmmon,vmnet modules. Now before you start worrying about having to build anything under Linux the build process is totally automated and very exact. The Windows installation is done by double-clicking the .exe file.

Features

VMWare sports a Configuration wizard where you can decide what guest OS you wish to install, decide how much virtual disk you will give the machine as well as CD-ROM and Floppy configuration. It also offers host only, Nat or bridged networking. Bridged networking allows you to use either physical Ethernet cards, like I do, or a virtual network. Host Only allows you to access the file system on your machine and is done by virtual networking. It has a configuration editor for post install configuration. With the configuration editor you can configure RAM and other things like sound, Ethernet, USB. Guest Operating Systems can be Windows 9x, NT, 2000, XP and a variety of Windows Server Operating Systems, Free BSD or another Linux distribution. You can even install Plan 9. Plan 9 has a VMWare virtual disk available for download from the official Plan 9 site. Networking in VMWare 4 is very much improved. In previous versions, networking was daunting to say the least. In VMWare 4 it is pretty much automatic once you get the settings correct in the module build process.

Speed

Click for a larger version VMWare 4 is super fast. In comparison to VMWare 3.x it is about 30% faster. When compared to Bochs or Win4Lin it blows them away in speed. You still have some issues in regards to the VMWare run-time engine, you can tell this from booting. When you get into the actual guest OS, you can really tell the difference. Overall it boots faster and is more responsive and if you go into full screen mode it is easy to forget you are on a Linux workstation. In VMWare 3.x I had to allocate 512 mb of Virtual RAM in order to get any kind of decent performance. In VMWare 4 I am running 256 mb of virtual RAM and performance is awesome.

Support

Support from VMWare Inc. is great. The staff was courteous and knowledgeable and really knew their product. I made up a fake problem and they were able to hep me resolve it in no time. From my understanding the SCO issue is not going to hinder their Linux support of the product.

Gripes and Dislikes

In all software, everyone has something to complain about. No one piece of software is perfect. So here are some of the problems I had with it.
UI -- VMWare still sports that old Motif look, which I hate, I wish they would go with a GTK or QT look as they are more attractive.
SETUP-- We need an idiot proof GUI instead of vmware-config.pl. I have found that a GUI is a comfort to those of a non technical nature and some people panic when you even mention CLI.
3D Support -- 3D graphics support needs some work

Comparisons

Compared to like products such as Bochs and Win4Lin, VMWare wins hands down. Compared to Win4Lin it is more responsive and hosts alot more guest OS options. Bochs has alot of problems, speed being the number 1 problem and needs alot more work done to it to even advertise it as a competitive product to VMWare.

Production Environment Use

The question is this, Should I use VMWare in my production line? In my opinion it is now safe to use it. The many headaches from VMWare 3.x are now gone and what few issues remain are trivial. But if you do heavy duty 3D work, no. I have had all of my developers using it for 3 weeks now and they have had no complaints. We are all pleased with its speed and functionality. I'm sure there are many people who use VMWare 3.x in production, to those people I have one suggestion. Upgrade. VMWare 4 hosts alot of new features and fine-tuning to make the upgrade worthwhile. If you do high performance application development like my company does, keep at least one Windows PC handy because as you all know, nothing beats native testing. One thing is for sure it increased the amount of desk space in my environment.

Conclusions

Very, very good product and I would suggest this product to anyone. Yes it costs and it is not free but its well worth the cost. And if it saves you in terms of tum and aspirin then it is a life saver. I try to suggest free, open source programs. But I have yet to find an open source Virtual Machine that even holds a candle to VMWare.

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