Caption by: Alan Stevens
Popular with professional developers and others looking to test, debug and otherwise support software applications, VMWare Workstation is now in its sixth release with a raft of new and enhanced features aimed at further enhancing its appeal to that market. VMware Workstation is popular with developers for several reasons, not least of which is its wide platform support, with implementations available for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of both Windows (desktop or server) and Linux. It can also host a wide range of 32-bit and 64-bit guest operating systems including most versions of Windows and Linux, along with less popular platforms such as Sun Solaris and even, for those who still need it, Novell NetWare.
Support for 2-way virtual SMP is another key feature, enabling virtual machines to be run on one or two processors on suitably equipped systems. You also get extensive network modelling facilities including a built-in DHCP server, up to ten virtual network switches and facilities to specify and limit bandwidth between virtual machines.
Vista support heads up the list of enhancements in the new Workstation 6 release — both as a host and guest OS — but there’s a lot more besides. For example, you can assign up to 8MB of memory per virtual machine (up from 3.5GB in the previous version) with no limit on the amount of memory that can be assigned across virtual machines.
Multi-monitor capabilities have also been added, with the ability to address two screens from one VM or to show different virtual machines on each display. Virtual machines can now be run 'headless', with VMs executing in the background without a display at all. Plus it’s now possible to connect using a VNC remote control client rather than the built-in console, even when in headless mode, and without having to install a VNC server inside each VM.
VMWare seems to have sorted out most of the issues it had with USB, especially on Linux hosts. We didn’t have to do anything to get USB access on VMs running on Novell Linux or Ubuntu systems. Also, you now get support for the latest high-speed USB 2.0 specification, including the ability to synchronise with an iPod from within a VM.
Elsewhere, the tool to convert a physical PC to a virtual machine (P2V) has been integrated into the Workstation 6 console, which is a welcome move even though it’s not available if running on a Linux host. There’s also an enhanced API (VIX API 2.0) to help automate procedures.
Yet another enhancement is the ability to install and update the VMware Tools add-on automatically when a VM starts. And there’s a new option pack (bundled free for the time being) to allow for integration with VMWare ACE, a tool that enables secure virtual desktops to be created and distributed within an organisation.
Application developers, however, will be most interested in the support for Microsoft Visual Studio and the open-source Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE), making it easier to debug code when problems arise. there are also a number of experimental options which, although not fully supported, could prove useful. Most notable of these is the ability to record and replay the execution of a virtual machine — although this feature does have its limitations, including a lack of USB support and slower execution times.
There’s experimental support, too, for para-virtualised Linux guests using VMware’s Virtual Machine Interface (VMI) 3.0, which should improve performance when running operating systems that also support it. Unfortunately VMI isn’t widely supported at present, but that's expected to change.
Note also that a new virtual machine format is required to enable many of the new features, which could affect compatibility with other VMWare setups. However you can convert back and forth between different implementations.
Despite all the changes, the user interface hasn’t changed that much in Workstation 6. Just a few new menu options and updated icons, plus a little tweaking here and there. This is OK because it works well and offers all the tools required to create, copy and clone virtual machines with minimal effort. You can also take and recover snapshots and model a variety of network and bandwidth configurations all on the one PC, making for a very complete and usable virtualisation tool made even better in this release.
Caption by: Alan Stevens