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VMware Workstation 5

  • Editors' rating
    8.6 Outstanding


  • Faster
  • easier to use
  • supports Virtual Machine Teams, linked cloning and snapshotting


  • Runs on x86-based systems only
  • priced for business use

VMware Workstation is a well-established and powerful application that allows you to test and deploy multiple operating systems on a single computer. Available in various versions, the Windows version reviewed here lets you run Linux, NetWare or any major operating system on a single, Windows-based desktop. The number of virtual machines is limited only by your hard disk space, while the number that can operate simultaneously is limited only by the available memory.

The software allows multiple operating systems and their applications to run concurrently on a single physical computer. These OSs and applications are isolated in secure virtual machines, VMware Workstation mapping the computer'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. Each virtual machine is the equivalent of a standard x86 computer.

Once you’ve installed VMware Workstation and created a virtual machine, you can install and run complete, unmodified operating systems -- including Windows, Linux, Novell NetWare and Sun Solaris x86 -- and application software in the virtual machine, just as you would on a regular computer. The major benefit of this is that you get to use multiple PCs without the added expense, physical setup and maintenance.

VMware Workstation helps developers and business users streamline software development and testing, accelerate application deployment, and perform compatibility testing and OS migrations. You can also use the software to evaluate service packs without committing to changes until you’re sure that everything works. Casual users can simply use it to play around with Linux or another operating system without having to format a Windows-based hard disk.

Version 5 is significant new release that provides support for Virtual Machine Teams -- virtual machines on a private LAN segment that allows multi-tiered applications to be tested; there's also support for linked cloning and snapshotting, which provides advanced management features and control of virtual machines. Version 5 also extends its support for 64-bit operating systems, including Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 SP1, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 and 4 and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and 9. CPU support now includes processors with 64-bit extensions such as Intel's EM64T and AMD’s Opteron and Athlon 64 architectures.

Older versions of the software allowed you to create a snapshot that saved a virtual machine’s current state for later restoration, if required. However, you were limited to just one snapshot -- creating a new snapshot would overwrite the old one. Version 5 lets you create multiple snapshots in sequence and revert back to any one; newer snapshots are not lost when you revert, so you can visit an old snapshot and then return to a more current one. However, in our tests, a virtual machine slowed to a crawl after saving a snapshot, and a snapshot of a live virtual machine occupies several hundred megabytes. Regular snapshots are smaller.

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Other highlights include new cloning capabilities that let you mark any virtual machine as a template so that numerous users can share its base installation; a movie capture feature records screen, keyboard and mouse activity as an AVI file; and virtual machines can now be deployed on an enterprise-class VMware GSX Server and on the datacentre-class VMware ESX Server platforms. Creating a duplicate of an existing virtual machine is now handled by a simple wizard. The virtual hardware has been improved, too: users with modest-spec computers -- with single Pentium CPU and 512MB of RAM, for example -- should be able to run two virtual machines simultaneously, a feat that the previous version couldn't handle without performance grinding to a halt.