Back in 2005 I needed VMWare to be able to test a piece of software on multiple separate installations so I went and bought VMWare Workstation 5.5.x for Linux. One of the annoying things with Workstation 5.5 was its complete lack of support for USB 2.0 and somewhat arcane configuration which occasionally necessitated ini file acrobatics for several ‘non-standard’ systems. Other than that, however, it was an excellent application well worth its ‘hefty’ price tag. In any case, back then there were no decent alternatives for linux, save Qemu, which — honestly — didn’t really compete with VMWare.
Earlier this year VMWare Workstation 6.0 was released. Of course a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 2005 and many things have changed with virtualisation. First of all, it is not just EMC’s/VMWare’s turf anymore. Everyone from Microsoft, to Intel, to Sun, to the Linux Kernel, to Xen to [add your favourite company, project here] is talking about and working on virtualisation. Virtualisation is a buzzword, both in the enterprise world, but also among consumers. The oldest players around have not stood still and VMWare could not be an exception: VMWare has released the free VMWare Player and VMWare Server which are pretty decent pieces of software that — while lacking the appeal of Workstation or the Enterprise solutions — are perfectly adequate for the casual user. With little expense you can keep your whole corporate, web serving or database ecosystem on a single machine, or have it distributed among many, creating physical server resource pools.
Nevertheless some days after it came out and since I was eligible for the $99 upgrade on my Workstation copy, I decided to take the plunge and get the latest version of VMWare Workstation. These are my first impressions of it.
VMWare workstation is an absolutely amazing tool for a developer. You can keep snapshots of system states, install new versions of Operating Systems for testing, keep older versions of Operating Systems on separate disks and load them on demand (to test compatibility). The new version of Workstation comes with many requested features such as USB 2.0 support, Multiple monitor support, integration with IDEs such as Visual Studio (Windows) and the immensely popular Eclipse. It now includes VNC, so you can connect to your VMs from another computer on the network and you can keep VMs running in the background (after closing the application), VMs now support more than 4GBs of RAM, you can drag-n-drop files/objects from the VM to the host and vice versa and a host of other improvements. On Linux of particular importance is the support for paravirtualised kernels and the improved 64bit support.
Overall the first impression is that the application (and the VMs) are faster than before. Workstation 5.5.x performed decently on a mid-range Core 2 Duo E6400 with 2GB of DDR2-800 RAM running several flavours of Linux, other OSes and occasionally Windows. Where Workstation 5.5 worked almost flawlessly for most things I threw at it, Workstation 6 does it even better. The application seems much more comfortable running in my Gnome desktop, properly supports my Xinerama/Twinview setup (at last) and worked out of the box on my Ubuntu 7.04 installation (5.5.x had to have its kernel modules patched). Over the last month or so I did observe some issues with the TwinView/Xinerama support, especially with the full screen mode (although they are easily correctable and certain to be fixed in future bugfix releases).
The Virtualisation wars are just beginning and while VMWare was practically owning that market things are bound to get more ‘interesting’ in the coming years. Since 2004 almost all major players in the software industry have jumped onto the virtualisation bandwagon and it’s become commonplace both in corporate and — to some extent — home environments. VMWare has not stood still to the challenge and continued innovating on the high-end while offering two great free products for those that do not need the power and features of its professional and enterprise solutions. Yet, while some years ago VMWare was the only acceptable solutions for a multitude of applications and environments, it is no longer required for millions of people that can do just fine with free or cheaper solutions. If you’re a developer you’ll certainly enjoy its powerful features and integration with IDEs. If, however, you’ve used VMWare in a home environment or a small business environment you may want to look elsewhere for cheaper (or free) solutions. In any case, VMWare Workstation 6.0 is an excellent product with great features for anyone wanting the best virtualisation has to offer today.
I am in no way affiliated with VMWare or EMC Inc. This review reflects my personal opinion of the product after considerable use.