Just explaining to people what VMware is and what it does is difficult… even to other computer geeks. Showing them, however, elicits gasps and phrases such as “no way,” or “Dude!” Since my company had purchased a new server and decided to go the way of the virtual machine, I figured I would get a little hands-on ahead of time. I downloaded the VMware workstation trial version from their Web site and installed it onto one of my Windows XP machines. My initial goal was to have a Linux machine running inside Windows XP.
I’ve used dual booting in the past, but invariably I needed or wanted something that required me to shut down the Linux system and boot back into Windows. I’ve also had several machines running with a KVM to sort it all out… but that’s no longer practical for me at home or at work. I don’t need Linux that often. When I do, I usually want to play with a new version. Mandrake vs. Suse, or Red Hat vs. Debian. I get bored easily and usually just want to delete and start over. It’s not just Linux. Occasionally I need Windows 95, 98, or, God forbid, ME. Usually, these are short-term needs.
VMware allows me to install any of these operating systems without the hassle of dual booting, without the hassle of loading drivers, and without the hassle of having multiple CPUs cluttering up my work area and generating a lot of extra heat and noise. It is, for all intents and purposes, just another application running on my desktop in Windows. I can minimize it, run it at full screen, and essentially treat it like any other application.
But, oh, what an application! It is incredibly simple to create a new virtual machine. The wizard lets you choose some basic aspects like how much of your current RAM and disk space to allocate, and what kind of networking you want to use. It creates a virtual BIOS, drives, partitions… everything. You click the Start This Virtual Machine icon and off you go. In this case, I had put a Linux Suse v9.1 in my CD-ROM drive. Once the VM started to boot, it saw the CD, and began to boot Linux and start the install process.
VMware does a nice job of emulating generic video cards, NICS, sound, etc. Normally (and here is the real beauty of this program), I wouldn’t even consider trying to install any other operating system on my desktop machine at home. Most Linux builds don’t offer drivers for my wireless card, and if they do, they are a pain to get installed. I chose to use the NAT setting for networking, so the VMware emulated an AMD chipset which Suse 9.1 had no trouble identifying. Presto: my Linux “box” is now on the Internet via my wireless NIC, and I didn’t have to fiddle with drivers at all.
Yesterday I installed Windows 95 in a virtual machine to access some old software a client had. Once the project was completed, I simply closed VMware and deleted the folder that contained the six files that constituted the entire Windows 95 installation. It’s as if it never existed. The ramifications for backing up or transferring to other systems are staggering. Have somebody that needs a Linux build for some reason but isn’t capable of installing it or setting it up? Just build it in VMware, burn the folder to a DVD, and hand it to them.
I know I’ve just scratched the surface. I can’t wait to see what features the Enterprise Server version we have coming will include.