April 18, 2014

VMware 2.0: Virtually Magnificent - page 5

Two OSes, One Machine

  • April 10, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

We took a certain wry amusement in our first attempt to boot the virtual machine on which we installed Windows 98: we were promptly treated to the notorious blue screen, and no amount of pecking at the Enter key would restore the machine. The pain of this behavior was quickly offset once we remembered we were working with a simulated computer. Linux continued to run smoothly, so we returned VMware to windowed mode and clicked on the reset button. Once the machine rebooted, it complained about being shut down improperly, ran Scandisk, and finally booted normally.

It may seem tedious to note this particular sequence of behavior, but it illustrates one of the strengths of VMware. Despite the inherent and infamous Windows crankiness, the tantrums Mr. Gates' operating system throws become less than tempests in a teapot: they can't slosh their virtual instability out onto the host system at all.

Taken in combination with the ability to halt and store sessions to disk, in fact, Windows' problems become less frustrating. Why bother to reboot and put up with Scandisk (which can plod on a slower machine) when you can restore a saved session grabbed during one of Windows' calm moments?

Amusements with the guest OS aside, VMware delivers what it promises: a working copy of an OS you don't have to leave Linux to use. The guest OS can read files from the host filesystem, communicate over a virtual ethernet connection, and run software written for the guest system.

VMware is able to run virtually the entire stable of productivity software available under Windows, not to mention its development apps and Web browsers. For the purposes of this review, it's enough to note that developers working on cross-platform content, technical writers documenting software on platforms other than their preferred OS, training departments for heterogeneous computing environments, programmers required to develop under Windows in one of the Visual IDEs, and just about anybody else who loves Linux but needs Windows (or DOS, or FreeBSD) has a solution here.


Once installed, configured, and running a guest OS, VMware is a smooth performer. Though we ran no benchmarks, there were subjectively noticeable improvements in speed and CPU utilization over version 1.0, which was more processor-hungry and often seemed sluggish. VMware 2.0 was a much better desktop citizen, responding well to being reniced and performing exceptionally well in full-screen mode.

We did, at one point, manage to crash VMware on the low-end test machine while it was in full-screen mode, which locked the keyboard. Several attempts to recreate the crash failed.

Despite the fact that we genuinely like this product, there are some limitations that need to be noted. For most "serious" users outside of intensive multimedia development, these aren't going to be show-stoppers. On the other hand, they may stop some members of the Linux community from spending their hard-earned $99 (or $299) quite yet.

Since version 1.0, VMware has improved support for DirectDraw and allows users to run 2-D games, though 3-D support is still in the works. Sound output is better, even though MIDI remains unsupported. These limitations, and the fact that the VMware virtual machine is still somewhat slower than the native performance of the host system, mean dual-booting is still the best bet for gamers who remain discontented with WINE's performance or the offering of native games for Linux.

VMware also doesn't support every Intel-based operating system out there: BeOS and OS/2 are two notable exceptions to the list of allowed guest operating systems. In fact, once Linux and FreeBSD are removed from that list, users are left with every Microsoft product since MS-DOS, but nothing else (unless the "other" found under the VMwareWizard configuration tool counts.)

These limitations are trivial, though, and ultimately irrelevant to VMware's primary mission: providing a platform for professionals to develop cross-platform content with as little pain as possible, and without the need for two, three, or four machines or (worse yet, for the impatient) a dual-boot machine.

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