- Extremely intuitive and easy to use
- supports many operating systems
- Relatively expensive
- virtual machines are roughly equivalent to a standard x86 system
- doesn’t support Microsoft’s DirectX API
Software developers and IT managers use virtualisation software to test and develop software on multiple operating systems. The obvious benefit of being able to run multiple operating systems on a single computer is that you don’t need the added expense of purchasing multiple machines. This type of software is also ideal for saving time and effort when your organisation needs to test service packs because it allows you to apply patches without having to commit changes until you’re sure everything works. For non-developers, VMware Workstation is a neat solution that allows you to play around with Linux or other operating systems without having to format a Windows-based hard disk.
VMware Workstation works by enabling multiple operating systems and their applications to run concurrently on a single physical machine. The clever part is that these operating systems and applications are isolated in secure virtual machines that coexist on a single piece of hardware, mapping a system’s physical hardware resources to the virtual machine’s resources, so each virtual machine has its own CPU, memory, disks, I/O devices and so on. Virtual machines are roughly equivalent to a standard x86 system, so don’t expect the full computing power of your system. However, the ability to run multiple operating systems and their applications concurrently on a single physical machine without overwriting one with the other should more than make up for the performance hit.
The updated software offers a lot for current users too, including broader support of devices, better performance and more powerful functionality. Integration between host and guest operating systems has been improved, you can create 32-bit guest operating systems on a 64-bit host computer that uses an AMD 64 Opteron, Athlon 64 or Intel IA-32e CPU, and you can now create individual virtual machines with up to 3.6GB of memory and use up to 4GB of memory for all running virtual machines. There’s now support for a pre-boot execution environment (PXE) to boot and install operating systems into new virtual machines over an enterprise network (including the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn), you can track a virtual machine’s performance through Windows’ performance monitor counters, and USB devices connected to the host are available to virtual machines. In addition, support for guests using Linux kernels in the 2.6 series have been improved, and you can now install and run Solaris x86 Platform Edition 9 (experimental) and 10 beta (experimental). Finally, like Windows, VMware Workstation automatically checks for product updates.
We also appreciate the ability to share folders, drag and drop files and copy and paste between guest and host operating systems. You can take a ‘snapshot’ (a point-in-time copy of the running virtual machine state) and save it, and then revert back to it at any time to simplify the repetitive testing and configuration of systems. Virtual networking is supported with NAT devices, DHCP server and multiple network switches, while native program debugging in a virtual machine is included with support for both user- and kernel-level debuggers.
Installing new operating systems is as easy as installing a regular Windows application. Once a guest OS has been installed, you can then switch between the two by clicking on the software’s tabbed interface. When a virtual machine is active, its virtual name is displayed in a tab at the top of the virtual machine window. Unfortunately, there’s no support for Microsoft’s gaming API, so you can’t run the latest 3D DirectX games inside a guest operating system. This is a disappointment for Linux users because they won’t be able to run Windows games inside a virtual machine on their Linux desktops. Other types of users will be more than catered for.