Virtue Leads to Excellence

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-04-11 Print this article Print

Opinion: VMware's award win highlights the growing role of virtual machines in application development and IT site management.

Simulations are notorious for what they leave out, at least as much as theyre valued for what they include. Knowing what can be safely omitted is perhaps the critical difference that marks a real guru in the field: one whos capable of turning out work that leads to unexpected insight, rather than merely (or even falsely) confirming expectations.

If theres one thing, though, that a computer can simulate both completely and correctly, it ought to be another computer—or better yet, a collection of safely separate operating system environments running under the stern eye of a supervisory software layer. Thats the stock in trade at VMware Inc., a winner in this years eWEEK Excellence Awards and a key technology provider to individual developers as well as to enterprise data centers.

I heard from numerous VMware users when I wrote two years ago about virtual-machine employment in software development. People running multiple deployment environments, side-by-side, for concurrent testing or network emulation were the dominant group. I personally use the Connectix "Virtual PC" technology, now owned by Microsoft, for useful tricks like plugging in a USB device that only has Windows drivers to use it from a Windows session on my Macintosh PowerBook—then dragging the resulting work files from the Windows desktop window to the native desktop of the Mac.

I havent yet tried the latest Macintosh version of Virtual PC on a dual-G5 machine: I suspect that if I did, I would want one of those machines too much.

In the meantime, I see nothing but continued growth for virtual machine technologies on developer workstations. As someone once said about doing real debugging on real machines, its like being an arson inspector looking for the remains of the match that started the fire. The multiple-snapshot facility in VMwares new Workstation 5, enabling both capture and restoration, is a much better way to work—as is its movie-capture tool for reviewing exactly what one did, and saw, while pursuing a bug. Virtual environments, now that the hardware to run them really well is at hand, seem destined to become ever more capable of preserving intermediate states—and showing us the obscure and subtle paths that led to our recognizable problems.

Tell me what problems youre recognizing today at
Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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