VMWare Inc. just released a new product, VMWare Player, which enables users to run VMWare instances. Also, its free. Thats free as in beer—VMWare hasnt open-sourced its code, but by building this application, and making it available for free—as if it were Macromedias Flash Player or Adobes Reader—VMWare is moving to defend and expand the market leadership position its attained in the hot field of virtualization.
VMWare has also made available for free download a sample virtual machine—a stripped-down version of Ubuntu Linux 5.10 with Firefox and a few other applications preinstalled—which VMWare is calling the Browser-Appliance. The Browser-Appliance is about 200MB in size and the VMWare Player runs about 33MB. So, for about half the capacity of a 512MB USB key, you could carry around the Windows and Linux versions of the Player, plus a functional and controllable operating system environment. Not bad.
VMWare offers links to a few other sample virtual machines, including more than one from Red Hat. The VMWare Player offers software vendors and projects a great way to demo their wares, regardless of the platform.
To build your own virtual machine, youll need VMWare Workstation, GSX or ESX. The VMWare Player is supposed to support virtual instances created with Virtual PC, although I didnt try this out.
I downloaded and installed VMWare Player on my laptop, which is currently running SUSE Linux 10.0. The installation ran just like that for VMWare Workstation or GSX Server on Linux: the applications installation script guided me through setting up networking and compiling the necessary modules for my kernel. Soon I was up and running on the Browser-Appliance instance—the VMWare Player has a fairly spare interface, but I found that it was easy to use and that it stayed out of my way.
Interestingly, it appears that VMWare does not prohibit running virtual machines made with evaluation licenses. Its fair, then, to wonder whether VMWare will cost itself sales by making freely available what many are willing to pay for already. Whether or not that occurs in the short term, VMWare is best positioned to take advantage of growth in the virtualization market.
Microsoft, wisely, entered the virtualization fray with its purchase of Virtual PC, and if Microsofts wisdom holds, itll make virtualization a central part of, at least, its server offerings before too long.
On the free-as-in-freedom front, Xen has grabbed a lot of peoples attention—the performance benefits of its paravirtualization approach are certainly appealing, and some big names have thrown their weight behind Xen. For now, though, Xen is much less mature and less broadly compatible than what VMWare has to offer. With the potential for running virtual machines on any desktop, VM instances could become a widely used tool not only for demonstrating applications but for deploying them as well.
Nows a great time for VMWare to spread its influence and expose more people to its technology, which is what the VMWare player will certainly do.
eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at Jason_brooks@zoffdavis.com.