VMware 3.0 Workstation Review

Reviewer: Mark
Category: 
Software
Version: 
3.0
Price: 
$299

This release of Vmware's x86 virtual machine represents a major upgrade. The previous release was reviewed last year. This version adds several major improvements over the 2.x release:

New in Version 3.0

  • Microsoft XP support
  • USB device support *
  • DVD-ROM drive support
  • CD-ROM ISO image support
  • Generic SCSI support
  • Large virtual disk support
  • New Windows-style interface (Windows host version)
  • Built-in NAT (Network Address Translation) for easy connection to networks
  • Easier, more flexible virtual network configuration
  • Improved networking, disk, and interactive performance

*Some classes of USB devices are not supported, including devices that stream audio and video, and those that serve as modems.

The Linux version (running a Microsoft OS inside a virtual machine) can run nearly the entire release series of Windows products (with the exception of NT 3.x). Should you feel so inclined, you can also run MS-DOS 6.0. VMware 3.0 Workstation can now address up to 1GB of physical memory, with support for virtual IDE disks up to 128GB.

Installation

As with the previous release, VMware's virtual machine can be installed using either a virtual disk, or can be accessed using a raw disk partition. I have been using VMware for almost two years and have used the raw disk option to avoid data loss during machine rebuilds. I have a habit of installing various distributions of Linux for testing and evaluation and storing a 200MB virtual disk became a little cumbersome. To install using a raw disk, you need a dedicated second hard drive. I have selected an old 6GB IDE disk for VMware to access my Windows 98SE system. This OS fits quite nicely on it, with Office 2K, as well as a few selected Windows-based applications.

Note: You need a Windows license for your virtual machine. This is clearly stated on the VMware webpage and should be quite obvious to every computer user/owner by now. Avoid the temptation to engage in casual piracy and get a licensed copy of your Windows OS.

To make the raw disk partition work, you will need to give the user account access to the disk device. This is accomplished by setting the permissions to the hard disk you plan on writing to. In my particular case, I had to change the /dev/hdb settings to allow my user account to use the raw disk. After setting the permissions, the installation proceeds just as it did in version 2.x: install the binary (or build from the tarball), execute the installation shell script, and follow the installation wizard. If you are considering using a raw disk, you need to pay particular attention to the disk selection dialog because VMware defaults to a virtual disk.

Once the VMware installation is complete, the license is entered in a startup dialog box. This is the only significant departure from the 2.x release and you will enter the information sent to you via email or from the boxed distribution. Activating the license allows you to begin installing your guest OS, in my case Windows 98SE. I must admit that I didn't have to go through the initial guest OS install effort because I was upgrading my installation from 2.x to 3.0. I merely selected the raw disk, activated my license, tweeked the configuration file, and directed the configuration wizard to the path where it could find my guest host files. For those of you who are upgrading, I am confident that it should be relatively effortless.

Working With 3.0

As I noted before, I have been using this application for the few remaining Windows applications I haven't been able to run under Linux. Thankfully, that list is getting shorter.

But for those few Windows applications that are a must have, I have been extremely happy with VMware's ability to fool Windows into thinking it is running on a Wintel box. I can get full use of all of the peculiarities that Windows brings to its desktop, albeit a little slower. No, make that much slower.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that this system will run as fast as a native Windows installation. Although the memory handling and CPU loading is extremely efficient in VMware's product (and it has improved greatly with 3.0), it is still an emulated environment using your host OS's resources. I have a 1GHz Pentium box with 512MB of memory. I have VMWare configured with half of the host memory dedicated to the emulator. While conducting simultaneous operations in Windows and Linux, I can see a noticeable performance hit, mostly on the emulator side. I have a fairly powerful system, so the recommended 266MHz system with the minimum 128MB of memory will probably be better run as a dual boot machine. A 400MHz machine will run a Win9x client at about the speed of a 166MHz box. As always, your mileage may vary.

I was quite pleased to get USB working under VMware. The 3.0 Workstation has made all of my USB cameras, scanners, printers, etc. functional under the Windows client. The project I worked on this summer bought a digital camera and it was frustrating to not be able to download pictures onto my Linux machine. I was forced to use a colleagues laptop for photo storage due to the lack of drivers under Linux for the camera, and the lack of USB support under VMware. I can now do with my workstation what my colleagues have been able to do for a couple of years.

Summary

I have quite pleased with my VMware emulator. It has allowed me to work with my Windows applications while slowly migrating to a Linux-centric environment. I have tried several Windows emulators for Linux, and Windows API libraries, that have failed to provide me with a fully functional alternative to a dual boot computer. VMware has always given me that extra level of functionality that the other emulators could not.

I consider the VMware 3.0 Workstation to be a "best in class" application that will give any Linux user the seamless emulation bridge to their Windows application library. The two main obstacles that a user might face in adopting VMware Workstation as their crutch to Windows are the cost ($299 for VMware and $199 for a Windows 98SE license), and the drag on host resources. If you are working with a 1GHz system or better, and have plenty of physical memory (>256MB), the speed difference will not be noticeable under an average workload.

Conclusion

The Good - Pros
  • Ability to run multiple OS's on one PC
The Bad - Cons
  • No 3D support only X86 OS's supported
The Ugly - Problems
  • N/A
The Verdict - Opinion
  • Great Program. Increases the professionals ability to use multiple operating systems efficiently.

Innovation: 
4/5
Performance: 
5/5
Stability: 
5/5
Cost / Value: 
4/5

17/20

Overall score


Category: