VMware gets what it deserves: Accolades

VMware gets what it deserves: Accolades

Summary: According to InfoWorld's 2006 Technology of the Year Awards VMware has "swept" the system virtualization category (one award for desktops, the other for servers).  OK, so it's not like the category is a hotly contested one across very many vendors.

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TOPICS: VMware
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According to InfoWorld's 2006 Technology of the Year Awards VMware has "swept" the system virtualization category (one award for desktops, the other for servers).  OK, so it's not like the category is a hotly contested one across very many vendors.  There's the open source Xen project (mostly uses on servers), SWSoft's Virtuozzo (also for servers), and Microsoft's VirtualPC and probably some others that aren't at the top of my mind.  But I couldn't agree more with InfoWorld.  On top of that, if you're buying a new PC or rehabilitating one that you currently have, My number one recommendation: install VMWare Workstation before you do anything else. the first piece of software you should buy for it is VMware Workstation.  For those of you not familiar with what VMware Workstation does, it makes it possible for you to clone your entire operating system configuration (for most PC users, this means Windows) and then run those clones in their own windows in a way that each clone (technically known as a virtual machine) is distinctly separate from the others as well as the PC's host operating system.  In other words, the virtual machines run side-by-side without their internal workings ever interfering with each other. 

So, why is this beneficial?  How many times has a system that you owned or used crossed that magic threshold where suddenly, after adding or updating some software component (or getting nailed with some malware),  the system becomes unstable.  You start getting error messages and things start routinely crashing and you have no idea what the source of the problem is.  The only thing you know is that the only way out is to start from scratch again; wipe your system's hard drive out, reinstall all the software (if you can find it); and hope that there's a way to preserve all of your customizations in all of your software (everything from bookmarks to specialized preferences, etc.).   I can pretty much guarantee you that the cost of this process in terms of your time and even worse, what gets lost along the way, will exceed the cost of the $180 it costs to buy VMware Workstation.  In other words, it's what they call short money.  Here's why.

If you do what I do, which is to set up virtual machines by software groupings, the chances that some new component or malware will wriggle its way into your box and destabilize the rest of your system or other software is greatly reduced.  In fact, it's practically eliminated.  For example, after installing Windows into  my first virtual machine and making sure that "base version" is up-to-date with all the necessary updates (security and otherwise), the first thing I do is create a clone of it.  Then, I go into that clone, open up Internet Explorer, and customize it (bookmarks, IE-specific plug-ins, etc.) for usage with all the Web sites that work better (or only) with IE.  Then, using VMware's cloning feature, I clone that virtual machine (now I have three VMs in total) and put that "backup" away for safekeeping. 

From that point forward, I use the second virtual machine (the one with all my IE customizations) as my production virtual machine for all of my IE-based browsing.  If, for example, the IE plug in for Real gets corrupted (this has happened to me already) or something goes terribly wrong with the IE setup, I simply delete the entire virtual machine, go back to my backup (the third VM), clone it (essentially recreating the second one), and I'm right back to where I started with a nice clean, uncorrupted VM.  My "IE-only VM" is just one of my software groups.  

Another one of my software groups is just for doing Web-based e-commerce.  Using that VM, I never ever install any downloads or other software that might somehow come with spyware.  I use my "E-commerce only VM" just to visit specific sites that I often do business with.   I never have to worry about any other software looking at my cookies, my cache, my autocomplete info, or anything. I have another VM/software-group for all my Web-based e-mail.  What if you have three different Gmail accounts and you want to keep all three open simultaneously?  No problem.  And so on and so on.  You get the picture. Each virtual machine is like a completely separate computer and should be thought of and treated as such.

Once your software groups are virtualized, there's another unbelievably significant benefit.   I don't think I know any computer users who haven't at one point or another had to switch machines.  If, for example, the one they have breaks and they get a system to take its place (either a new one or a loaner), bringing that system up-to-speed in terms of personalizations can take forever and even then, it may never be just the way that other system fit like a glove.  But, if that new system has a copy of VMware Workstation on it or it's running VMware's free runtime, then all the user needs is a copy of of his or her various virtual machines and being back up to speed takes, oh, about 10 or 15 minutes at most (as long as it takes to copy the virtual machines to the hard drive).  Personalizations and all.  Just imagine if your the IT person who had the prescience to put VMware on everybody's system's and show them how to use it.  You'd be the company hero on pretty short order. Yeah, VMware is just that good.

Is it perfect?  No.  For example, buying a copy may only cost $180.  But each virtual machine takes up additional hard drive space and the more of them you run simultaneously (side-by-side at the same time), the more memory that's required.  But chances are you won't have to run all your virtual machines at the same time.  I don't.   For example, I don't have that many sites that I go to that require IE. So, I only run my my IE-only VM when I really need it.   Another problem, depending on how many VMs you have is keeping them all up to date with Microsoft's software updates.  Eventually, I'm hoping VMware will come with a special management feature that handles retrieval of those updates and then distribution to each of the VMs a single-click process.  

Finally, in the wrong hands, VMware can be workaround to anti-piracy technologies such as Microsoft Windows Product Activation (WPA).  A single clone along with all the applications that have been installed in it can be copied to any machine (especially since the VMware runtime that's needed on those machines is free). 

Also, there's the dicey question of Windows license misuse.  Technically speaking, you're not allowed to clone your copy of Windows and run those separate instances simultaneously.  Even if it is on the same machine.  One reason is that your system could be used (if you wanted to) as the equivalent of a multi-user Citrix box where different people can come in remotely and remotely use one of the virtual machines.  This is not what Microsoft had in mind.  So, while it's technically feasible to set up all these clones, the question of whether it's legally feasible and what Microsoft may end up doing about it down the road (either technically or legally) could throw a wrench into things.  It's something to stay on top of.  Even so, my number one recommendation now when people are getting a new system is to get the biggest hard drive possible, get as much memory as you can afford, and to install VMWare Workstation before they do anything else.

Topic: VMware

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  • VMPlayer / Browser-Appliance

    Windows users should also know that they have another 'option' at their disposal for if and when venturing onto the internet.

    VMWare Player's 'Browser-Appliance'.

    Found at:

    http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/vm/browserapp.html

    What does this do?

    In puts your internet session into a safe 'sand box' running in a 'virtual machine' with Linux Unbuntu 5.1 and will not propogate back to the Windows O/S upon which VMWare Player runs! And you can set up options to allow, among other things, the 'Browser-Appliance' to RESET itself to the original settings, everytime you use it!!

    This is a 'no brainer' folks.

    The fact is Windows has suffered from so many security vulnerabilities that running an alternate O/S such as Linux avoids these issues entirely.

    I've spent a few days testing the VMWare 'Browser-Appliance' and can say that, at first blush, it's pretty good and runs the Mozilla Firefox 1.5 browser.

    Depending on your needs, this may or may not be an option to consider--this advice coming from a 'reformed' Windows User who now enjoys the relative 'serenity' of using SuSE Linux 10.0.

    It's a very interesting turn of events that VMWare chose to provide this 'alternative' to the Windows User Community! It's really a viable SAFE alternative, and it's FREE!!!

    Give it a look and if you have a high-speed BroadBand connection, you can finish the download and be up and running in a Linux VM session in about an hour--including download time for the 'Browser-Appliance.vmx' image file.

    Be Safe!
    D T Schmitz
    • use vmware player to install virtual machines

      I will agree, I have configured that very configuration several times using the ubuntu breezy image, it is excellent when you have an extremely powerful windows gaming/video editing/development box, and just want to have an extremely safe surfing environment.

      But if you are a hard core tester or just are bored - both of these use the vmware player & browser appliance to get a custom virtual machine by extending a dos-mode image to an installation environment:

      http://www.hackaday.com/entry/1234000153064739/
      http://www.virtualization.info/2005/10/how-to-create-new-virtual-machine-with.html
      ~doolittle~
    • Just use "undo" disks

      No need to switch horses to Linux. for safe browsing, just run IE in a virtual machine and use undo disks to throw everything away when you close the session.
      spiv
  • Nice people, too

    Let me mention that the VMWare people go out of their way to provide good service. I lost my license key a few generations back, and they took the time to re-establish my account and restore it -- all at no charge (despite the problem being entirely mine.)

    Last week I decided to upgrade from version 4.5x to 5.5x and was also surprised to find that doing so didn't cost me a dime -- the previous upgrade was during a get-the-next-version-free window.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • great for malware research

    VMware is THE thing for doing spyware/malware research. When I go trolling for spyware, I first create a snapshot of a clean VM, usually a VM with XP and no service packs. Once I'm done getting it infected and testing anti-spyware apps against the infection, I just delete the snapshot. I've used Microsoft Virtual PC, too, but VMware beats it hands down IMO.
    Suzi_z
  • Ironic given its limitations...

    VMWare can't boot OS/2 or eComStation as a client even today, while other virtual machies like Microsoft's Virtual PC(!) don't seem to have a problem doing that. That makes VMWare almost worthless to me, and it's doubly frustrating because a couple of years ago they had OS/2 client support fairly far along in beta and then decided to drop it completely.

    The company may be responsive, but only if you want to use their VM to run mainstream OSes... :-(
    rsteiner@...
    • IBM still sells OS/2?

      I thought that OS/2 was discontinued years ago. I am surprised that anyone still uses OS/2. Why are you using it, does it run some extinct application for you?

      I think that the reason for no OS/2 support is obvious. Your market segment is so small that they can't justify the development effort to maintain the code required to support it. However, if you have pockets are deep enough I beleive that using WMWare's ESX or GSX server would solve your problems as they run nearly everything because they are the host, not your OS.
      balsover
      • Me Too

        Except now its called eComStation. IBM may no longer directly market the OS, but they still have many large customers. What they have done is withdrawn from the retail market, and allowed a company called Serenity Systems to licence OS/2 and rebrand it as eComStation. Serenity is also, ironically enough, working on their own Virtual Machine technology that will support eComStation or OS/2 as either host or guest. Its a small market to be sure, but its big enough to support some companies. Why do I still use it? I like it and it runs what I need.

        Seth
        snberk103
      • IBM sales and support stopped in December 2005.

        During that time (between Warp 4's release in 1996 and 2005), IBM released a lot of new technology for the OS/2 environment including USB support, a ton of new drivers, a new journalled filesystem (JFS), a new Logival Volume Manager which allows for the combining of multiple physical partitions into single logical volumes, etc.

        Not only that, but the client version of that OS is still being sold and supported (via an OEM contract with IBM) by Serenity Systems.

        If you ever hear of an OS called eComStation on any of the hobbyist web sites, that is effectively the Warp 4.52 with various additions (JFS, LVM, optional SMP kernel, etc.).

        I know Warp has a small market share, but I find it to be somewhat annoying that Virtual PC was able to do full support and VMWare had it working(!) but pulled it, and yet VMWare is lauded as the second coming in emulation.

        VMWare is nice when it works, but for some of us it is simply not a complete solution.

        As for OS/2, I still use it because it's stable, it's light on resources, it's virus and spyware free, it runs the various older DOS, Windows, and OS/2 apps I've accumulated over the past 18 years as a PC hobbyist better than Windows or Linux, and it still has enough native software (e.g., Firefox, slrn, Pine, OpenOffice, etc.) to keep my interest and meet my needs.

        I simply have no reason to change (Linux doesn't offer me enough yet on the desktop, and Windows is too expensive and too problematic).
        rsteiner@...
    • Only mainstream OSes?

      I've run (besides Windows and linux) NetBSD, Solaris-x86, and FreeBSD in VMWare. And you can run OS/2 in text mode, just not with the Presentation Manager or Workplace Shell.
      JDThompson
  • Why drive a tank to get to the food store?

    Mr. Berlind is absolutely correct about running multiple copies of Windows simulataneously, regarding the licensing issues. Prompted by one of his previous posts, I researched the issued. The Windows EULA is pretty cut-and-dried about it. And if all you're planning on using VMWare for is a way to send your system back to a previous state, I need to ask myself, "why bother? Why not just use Ghost or something similar?"

    Using a virtulization product merely for the sake of being able to perform system backups is like driving an M1A1 tank to the grocery store. Sure, you'll get there, but your gas milage is measure in gallons per mile, not miles per gallon. Why would anyone in their right mind go through the hassle, potential cost, wasted system resources, and so on simply to do what a disk image does? Additionally, I hate to say it, but I think it is kind of boneheaded to be doing this in the first place on a regular basis.

    Heck, tell me how this is any different from the "E-Z System Restore" disk that every major PC maker gives you now?

    Until I replaced my PC (the parts were needed for something else), I had a copy of XP installed for over two years straight without a single hiccup. I played games, performed development in a wide variety of languages (nothing like installing an IDE or local database or web server to do "odd" things to a system), etc. I never once had a problem. Windows 9X? Sure, I'd blow that away once every six months to a year. Windows XP doesn't need that kind of shock treatment.

    On the other hand, using virtualization for running separate OS's would be a good idea... if the additional overhead, combined with the "pain in the butt factor" of trying to find a common file system didn't make it less expensive and more appealing to simply get two machines and a KVM switch.

    Sorry, but virtulization is dumb, and the average user doesn't need it. It's great for running test systems and what not, development, cross-platform especially, but a waste of time, money, and system resources for everyone else.

    J.Ja
    Justin James
    • Good Point Everyone

      I play with lots of virtualization products and the hard truth is they all SUCK. It requires too much Processor power to generate a NEW Environment. Something easily handeled by just backing up your system with any backup app. I use Nero BackItUp but there are many that cost less and are much more effective. and a big point here "DON'T ASK FOR TROUBLE" it's out there so stay protected with a good virus program Not NORTON or MacAffee. mor like NOD32 AVG or Avast. Get a Good Firewall NOT NORTON or Macaffee more like Tiny or kerio maybe norton won't be so bad if the incorporate syagate as their firewall and don't touch the programming. Best bet is a NAT firewall or Hardware firewall you buy at the store for about 30-40 buck's. This is the most important Key to survival Don't run IE: unless you absolutly have to. I have been IE: free for 2years now and no complaints. Run Firefox and many of the known attacks won't even bother you. You can surf where you want in relitive safty. When this is no longer true switch to another browser that isn't the target for attacks like netscape or on the sad end opera I will warn all this is not really much better than IE: all kind's of driveby attacks still occure with the use of opera.
      IceTheNet@...
      • If you use a Linux firewall or a network applicance

        A third party firewall for Windows is not required. I have a Linux firewall on my gateway which NAT's me out and the Windows firewall on my workstations, never once had a problem.

        As a matter of fact, I have a windows PC running XP Pro on the net with a static IP to support an old VoIP application that I can't use NAT with, it only runs the Windows XP firewall and never, *not once* has it ever been infected. That machine has been there for 4 years running 24/7, the only additions to it were service packs from MS. I know that my subnet is scanned constantly from the logs on my Linux server (which does not protect the VoIP box). This noise that 3rd party firewalls are required is bull sh*t. Running behind a 2nd firewall using NAT is always a good idea if it is possible, but it is not necessary.
        balsover
    • Ghost or even regular restore points.

      Yes, the simple solution is better than the excessively elaborate every time.

      And the urban myths that live on. Some people still try to argue that IE is unsafe. Probably because they haven't tried it in a long time.

      Attitudes are not a good basis for judgment.
      Anton Philidor
    • Sense at last...

      Too often the computer community goes for complex (and clever) solutions to simple problems. I have got many of my clients out of the mire using XP with a simple restore, and products such as Drive Image and Ghost cover the bulk of the rest. KISS folks!
      rabscuttle
    • Why use VMWare instead of ghost?

      VMWare is much faster -- it only takes a couple minutes to roll back to a previously saved snapshot, and you can keep using the machine while it's doing the roll-back.
      JDThompson
    • efficient use of system resources

      Most high-powered desktops are over 90% idle, so with a cheap memory upgrade and the free vmware player you have an instant testing / development environment that is limited only by your disk space.

      So a single desktop can provide several machines, without the clutter of several physical PCs and associated network hardware, KVM hardware and cable clutter. Very convenient if you are in a cubicle.
      ~doolittle~
      • Thanks for agreeing

        Yes, and if you read my post you will see that I said the same. What I think is not a great plan is using VM products to do the following things:

        * Backup/restore
        * Separate copies of the same OS, running simultaneously, to isolate everyday activites
        * Running two entirely different OS's for anything other than testing/development

        That last one is what I have never, EVER understood. If you need two OS's running full time, it is cheaper, easier, and faster to buy two separate machines, especially once you take into account the system overhead of running a VM system. Furthermore, if you require top-end performance, it isn't like you can buy a faster processor to make up for the CPU drain, you already have the fastest processor you can afford.

        J.Ja
        Justin James
  • Right idea, wrong software

    This is exactly right on in concept- we all need a way to archive our machine and return to a known state at will. However, a far better way is an innovative product by Leapfrog Software called First Defense. It create complete backups of the entire system that are stored locally and can be re-enable simply by a reboot. See

    www.leapfrogsoftware.com

    Right idea, but this is a far better way to do it

    Steve
    steveg@...
    • LeapFrog does not disclose their price?

      I went to the site you referenced www.leapfrogsoftware.com - and they are one of those companies I love to hate.

      Nowhere that I can find does it say what the darn thing costs, and the only "purchase" option I see is to download a trial copy.

      It's like items at the store that don't have prices attached or on the shelf - I just say "no thanks."

      Who wants to get all the way through the check-out line to find out that the price was a little higher than one was willing to pay?

      It's a ploy to make you cave when the price is high. Or maybe it's just stupid marketing. Or maybe (if the world is truly filled with suckers, which obviously is what these companies believe) it's smart marketing.

      Another company which did this to me recently was Citrix GoToAssist. I had to fill out an inquiry form and have someone call me to get them to divulge their price. Needless to say, it was higher than what I am paying at LogMeIn.com.

      I don't mind trying stuff out, but I want to know what the price is before wasting my precious time.
      TaskMan!