VMware Expands Virtualization Options

Review: Workstation 6 sports improved operating system and USB 2.0 support.

eWEEK Labs has come to rely on VMwares excellent line of desktop virtualization tools to work the magic of running diverse operating systems and software configurations in the product evaluations that we conduct.

Therefore, its with pleasure that we report that the latest incarnation of VMwares Workstation—Version 6—continues to make more seamless the connection between the physical hardware on which Workstation 6 runs and the virtual hardware of the machines that VMwares product enables developers, IT administrators and product reviewers to create and host.

VMware Workstation 6, to which we again award our Analysts Choice designation, is now capable of exposing USB 2.0 devices, multiple monitors, and up to 10 virtual NICs to the virtual machines it hosts.

VMware Workstation 6 also now includes support for Windows Vista as both a guest and a host operating system and ships with support for the performance-enhancing VMI (Virtual Machine Interface) that entered the mainline Linux kernel beginning with version 2.6.21.

Workstation 6 works well in testing scenarios where developers or system administrators need to be able to run multiple operating systems or multiple versions of the same operating system. Workstations capacity for teaming up multiple guest machines under their own virtual networks offers IT architects a good solution for prototyping groups of servers in preparation for deployment in production settings.

VMware Workstation 6 costs $189 for an electronic version. A Workstation 6 media kit, which includes an installation disk for the software, along with a printed manual, may be purchased for $49.

VMware Workstation 6 comes in Windows and Linux host versions, but you must choose between the two at purchase time. Upgrades from Workstation 5.x versions cost $99.

Thirty-day evaluation keys are available from the VMware Web site. Without an activation key, the evaluation or full purchase variety, its possible to build VMs with VMware Workstation 6 but not run them. VMware Workstation 6 installation does, however, come with the free VMware Player, so its possible to build a VM with an expired version of Workstation and run it with Player.

However, an activated version of VMware Workstation 6 comes with very robust snapshot management capabilities, as well as with new support for recording and playing back VM execution, which can be very useful for singling out application bugs.

Whats more, the free VMware Player lacks Workstations new capacity for debugging applications that run within guest operating systems from an instance of Microsofts Visual Studio or of the open-source Eclipse Integrated Development Environment.

Guest OSes

We tested VMware Workstation 6 on a Lenovo Group ThinkPad T41 notebook computer equipped with 1.5GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz processor and running Fedora 7.

We also tested the 64-bit version of VMware Workstation on a single-processor Advanced Micro Devices Athlon 64-based system running Windows Vista x64. This setup enabled us to host both 32- and 64-bit guest operating systems.

Fedora 7 worked well for us as a Workstation host and gave us the opportunity to test out the products new support for VMwares VMI Linux kernel interface. Linux distributions that ship with a VMI-enabled kernel, such as Fedora 7 and Ubuntu 7.04, benefit from certain performance boosts when running under Workstation 6.

For one thing, we noticed that our Fedora 7 VM smoothly ceded and retook control over our mouse pointer without requiring us to hit the control-alt key combination. Typically, we have to install VMwares set of virtualization-aware drivers on Windows and other Linux VMs in order to enable this feature.

However, one significant exception to Fedoras suitability as a Workstation host was the distributions handling of Java and Eclipse. Fedoras version of Eclipse is build with GCJ (GNU Compiler for Java), the open-source workaround for Suns formerly non-free Java runtime environment. Workstations Eclipse debugger integration doesnt work with GCJ builds of Eclipse.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read Labs review of Fedora 7.

While VMware Workstation has long impressed us with its equitable support for both Linux and Windows, we did find that Workstation offers Windows users some perks that arent available on Linux hosts.

For one thing, the Windows version of Workstation 6 comes with the Importer wizard from VMwares Converter product, which enabled us to convert Microsoft Virtual PC and Virtual Server VMs, Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery images, and Norton Ghost images into VMware virtual machines.

We created VMs running Vista Business and Fedora 7 as guest operating systems. Both guest operating systems installed without complaint—with VMwares ESX Server and with the previous Workstation 5.5, we had to fiddle around with our virtual disk controller settings to get these operating systems to install.

VMware Workstation 6 now ships with support for accessing guest VMs through built-in VNC (Virtual Network Computing) remote control software, which gave us the option of setting aside Workstations GUI to access our machines remotely—something that previously required either installing remote control software within our guest operating systems or shuffling our VMs over to the separate VMware Server product.

New Hardware Support

VMware Workstation 6 ships with experimental support for three-dimensional graphics acceleration, a capability that requires adding a couple of additional parameters to the .vmx configuration files of our VMs. We tried to enable 3-D acceleration on the Vista VM with which we tested, but we were unable to get 3-D acceleration working.

Also on the graphics front, Workstation 6 adds support for exposing multiple monitors to guest machines. After a bit of trial and error, we managed to make our virtual Vista desktop stretch from our Thinkpads built-in LCD display to an external CRT plugged into our docking station.

We had to set up our Fedora 7 host system in a "spanning desktop" configuration, as the "individual desktops" option would not work for us. Once wed gotten our host squared away, we were able to manipulate our two displays from within our Vista VM just as we would on a physical machine.

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