VMWare Player triggers Windows Activation process

Summary:If you've followed any of my blogs regarding VMWare's VMWare Workstation and the runtime it's now giving away for free, then you'd know by now that I'm highly recommending to anyone with a brand new machine that the first thing they should do is load VMWare Workstation on it and then create a bunch of distinctly separate virtual machines (each running Windows for most people), and then, you divide your tasks across those virtual machines.

If you've followed any of my blogs regarding VMWare's VMWare Workstation and the runtime it's now giving away for free, then you'd know by now that I'm highly recommending to anyone with a brand new machine that the first thing they should do is load VMWare Workstation on it and then create a bunch of distinctly separate virtual machines (each running Windows for most people), and then, you divide your tasks across those virtual machines.  For example, all of your personal computing What if I made 1000 copies? Is this a way to bypass the traditional licensing schemes... (in other words, not your work computing) can take place in one or two virtual machines that are separate from the virtual machines that you use for work.  This assures you (and your boss) that the software you have for personal use doesn't interfere with the software you use for work (and vice versa). 

When I said "one or two virtual machines" in describing the number of virtual machines you might spread your personal computing across, I said that because even within your personal computing, you might want to keep things separate.  For example, you might want to have one virtual machine (VM) for all of your online banking.  For this VM, you make it a habit never to install any other third party software that might end up compromising your security.  Perhaps you have another VM that houses all your communications apps.  And a third for your kids' games.  My son has, in the past, downloaded some pretty shady software and I learned the hard way that I can't let him use my notebook for anything.  But as long as he stays within the confines of a VM I've assigned to him, then, I can be a little more flexible.  That's because, if his VM gets screwed up, I just delete it and the rest of the system keeps running without a hitch.

Recently, VMWare announced that it would be making it's VMWare player free (for both workstations and servers).  What this means is that once I create virtual machine (a process known as cloning in VMWare's parlance), I should be able to "play" it on any machine that's running either a full blown copy of VMWare or VMWare's Player (it's basically a runtime).  The implications of this architecture on the software licensing business are many.  For example, if I clone a copy of Windows XP that has a bunch of third party applications installed on it, and then copy that clone to another computer that has the Player on it, couldn't that constitute a license violation (answer: YES).   What if I made 1000 copies?  Is this a way to bypass the traditional licensing schemes like Windows Product Activation that's put to use by companies like Microsoft as a way of protecting their intellectual property?  Could be.

So, I finally got around to testing the Player to see what would happen if I copied a clone from my AMD64-based Ferrari notebook to an IBM Thinkpad T42 and I was quite surprised at the results.  Upon starting the virtual machine on the Thinkpad T42,  Windows XP's start-up halted about midway through and told me that that the computer's underlying configuration had changed significantly and that I had to re-activate my copy of Windows.  So, I moved forward with the activation and, upon activating, everything returned to normal and the virtual machine started working. 

Cool, I thought.  But what was it between the copy of VMWare Workstation on the Ferrari and the Player on the Thinkpad that was different -- different enough for Windows to detect a change.  I thought that VMWare's virtual machine technology virtualized everything to the point that the operating system and applications in a VM were completely abstracted from the underlying hardware.  Well, apparently not.  According to VMWare group product manager Srinivas Krishnamurtiff, there are some things that are not virtualizable.  One of them is the host system's processor.  Said Krishnamurtiff "there's a processor type that's not virtualizable."   In other words, for the clones to truly be portable across systems, the systems may have to be relatively close (within the same family) in terms of process configuration.  At the very least, they can't be processors from a different manufacturer. 

Also, the more I play with this idea, the more I realize that it could create some management headaches for VMWare users.  More on that in my next blog.  Meanwhile, if you have VMWare workstation stories to share with me, write to me and perhaps we'll publish them here on ZDNet.

Topics: VMWare

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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