Linux in Government: VMware Workstation 5

A look at the new VMware Workstation release--what it can and cannot do.

In last week's article, we discussed virtualization and its role in reducing server sprawl. We included VMware server as one of the products used to virtualize a data center. VMware also sells a workstation with a well-established reputation. This week we take a look at VMware Workstation 5.0.

In the past, many analysts have given kudos to VMware workstation for aiding people who want to run different operating systems for development and testing. Some even have claimed that the product accelerates application deployment. Similar suggestions abound about VMware workstation allowing Windows users to play around with Linux without having to format their hard drives.

Journalists who rely on VMware to evaluate and write about Linux on their Windows laptops, however, will never understand the power and sophistication of Linux. VMware Workstation has many uses, but it is not a substitute for a native Linux installation on bare hardware. Reviewers who practice using VMware to evaluate Linux do themselves and the community a great disservice.

Still, VMware workstation has a value proposition and in certain instances, it can give Linux users some help. For example, in previous articles, I have used the example of a major telecommunications company that migrated to Microsoft Exchange while forgetting that 30% of their users had UNIX and Linux desktops. The CIO's solution included buying 30,000 laptops for $4,000 a piece, simply to run Microsoft Outlook.

Ultimately, the company reprovisioned those laptops and added Citrix servers and VMware to the engineers UNIX and Linux workstations, respectively. Although still an expensive proposition, the company realized a considerable cost savings by trading the laptops for VMware and Windows.

What Is It?

VMware Workstation is a $200 software application that creates virtual machines and allows someone to use some Linux or Microsoft Windows desktops to host other operating systems. For Linux users, it provides a way to run Windows on their workstations provided they have an acceptable distribution. According to VMware, Workstation version 5 runs on:

SUSE LINUX Pro 9.2, SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9.0, Mandrake Linux 10, Windows Server 2003 SP1 beta (experimental support), and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0.

On 64-bit systems, host operating system support for 64-bit versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0, SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9, SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9 SP1, and SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 8. Experimental host operating system support for 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows XP.

To view all the supported Linux operating systems, you should visit this link. VMware supports older Linux hosts in addition to those mentioned above.

Keep in mind you might feel confused by the differences in the release notes and the specifications on the VMware Web site. If you believe the Linux hosts available are limited to the ones listed as newly supported in the release notes, you may miss out on the ability to run older Linux distributions as hosts. Figure 1 shows a screenshot of VMware Workstation 5 installed on a Novell Linux Desktop (NDL9).

Figure 1. The Start-Up Screen for VMware Workstation 5

I had some difficulty finding a suitable host for VMware workstation. Although the release notes claim that the software runs on SUSE Pro 9.2, it didn't. In fact, I kept getting this error message:

None of the pre-built vmmon modules for VMware Workstation is suitable
for your running kernel. Do you want this program to try to build the
vmmon module for your system (you need to have a C compiler installed
on your system)?

CC [M] /tmp/vmware-config1/vmmon-only/linux/driver.o 
/bin/sh: scripts/basic/fixdep: No such file or directory 
make[2]: *** [/tmp/vmware-config1/vmmon-only/linux/driver.o] Error 1 
make[1]: *** [_module_/tmp/vmware-config1/vmmon-only] Error 2 
make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/linux-' 
make: *** [vmmon.ko] Error 2 
make: Leaving directory `/tmp/vmware-config1/vmmon-only' 
Unable to build the vmmon module. 

I decided to try SLES 9 in the form of Novell Linux Desktop and installed it without any updates. VMware did install on the original version. Afterward, I updated NDL 9 and tested VMware Workstation 5 and it continued to work.

You also may find some confusion on the VMware site regarding which Linux distributions can operate as "guest" systems and which operate as hosts. Just remember the host provides space for the guest.

Guest operating systems include:

  • Mandrake Linux 8.2, 9.0, 9.2, 10

  • Red Hat Linux 7.0, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 8.0, 9.0

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS/ES/WS 4.0 (32-bit)

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS/ES/WS 2.1, 3.0

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server 2.1

  • SUSE Linux 7.3, 8.0, 8.1, 8.2, 9.0, 9.1, 9.2

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 7, 7 patch 2, 8, 9, 9 SP1

  • Turbolinux 7.0, Enterprise Server 8, Workstation 8

  • Novell Linux Desktop 9

  • Sun Java Desktop System (JDS) 2

Because I run Linux as my host, I'm not exactly thrilled by the options provided by VMware 5--users have two Mandrake options as well as older SUSE and Red Hat and RHEL options from which to chose. You can find no Debian Linux options, and Fedora isn't supported. The Linux guests lack some excitement too. A glimpse of the list shows that VMware hasn't provided the journalists any state-of-the-art Linux distributions about which they can write.



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fedora as guest on VMWare

Anonymous's picture

I currently run FC2 through FC4 as guests on VMWare 5

VMware Linux hosts

Anonymous's picture

VMware may not officially support all Linux distro's, but this only means that VMware is shipped with modules matching the default kernel for those Linux versions. What VMware needs to run is vmmon & vmnet modules that match the hosts kernel. Just make sure that there are matching kernel headers and kernel image. Run the ~/ and it will compile the needed modules. Runs on all version of Debian I have used.

SuSE 9.2 as VMware host

Anonymous's picture

I too had this problem. A little searching the SuSE and VMware forums brought me these commands which did the trick:

$ cd /usr/src/linux
$ make cloneconfig
$ make modules_config

Suse 9.2 as VMware host alos works for 9.3

Anonymous's picture

Just F.Y.I

I tried this proceedure on Suse 9.3 and it worked there as well.

Suse 9.3 as VMware host

Shimon's picture


Yes, works well without any problems.


SuSE 9.2 as VMware host

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the commands. You sure it was just a little searching?

I never found anything like that and used an earlier version to get it to work.

SuSE 9.2 + VMware

DJM.'s picture

> I never found anything like that and used an earlier version
> to get it to work.

The problem is that SuSE's 9.x kernels are full of additional patches that Novell/SuSE put there, so that most packages relying on pre-built modules will fail. Workaround: You have to re-compile the modules.

I have this problem with VMware but also with the Linux-versions of a VPN software I have to use (Nortel VPN client).

As for VMware and SuSE 9.2:

Here is how I solve the problem:

cd /usr/src/linux
make cloneconfig
make prepare

With "make prepare" some files that are usually created during a kernel compilation are created too, but nothing more happens, ie. the actual compilation does not take place.

When you call "" it will then find all the necessary files as if a fresh kernel had been compiled. Voilà, problem solved.

I use SuSE 9.2 as main OS on my Laptop, and VMware to run other virtual installations, e.g. Windows 2000, other Linuxes, and so on.



SuSE 9.2 + VMware

Anonymous's picture


I appreciate your explanation a ton. I was going to sell my SUSE 9.2 on eBay and take a big L-O-S-S.

I followed everyting you wrote and understand it. I wish you would post your work-around on Linux Questions or some of the other support sites.

Search engines don't pick up anything from Linux Journal because of this content management system they use. All this great advice in the comment sections and it's totally useless to the community.

Hey Editors - did you get that?



PK's picture

I too run VMware workstation to use Windows programs. 1GB of RAM with a 1.4mhz Pmobile works pretty well. Mine is running on Ubuntu 5.04 with no difficulties. It is nowhere near as fast as Windows running natively but is acceptable. I have used it on Mandrake (Mandriva), Gentoo, Redhat and Debian without difficulty. It boots somewhat slowly but runs pretty well.

The biggest problem with VMware on a laptop is that the host IP changes with locations. And then the guests cannot find the host to share files without a great deal of effort, every time you change locations. It get's old real quick. I take the laptop home at night and I'm tired of changing guest IP info.

I have never made or intend to make a clone. I don't care about this capability. And I just don't have or intend to get or make the space for two or more VMware instances on my harddrive.

Someday Intuit will release a Linux version of Quicken and possibly Quickbooks and OpenOffice's .doc compatibility will improve to the point that I no longer need Windows and I will delete VMware completely. But until then....

There's a very easy way to sh

Anonymous's picture

There's a very easy way to share files between host and guest in everywhere without modifying anything when changing place.

You just have to add another ethernet interface to the guest. Then you can define that eth0 is for the outside world (using bridge mode, probably dhcp enabled for eth0) and eth1 is using host-only mode. Guest can then have a static ip address or dhcp enabled (usually gets always the same ip address). Host has a static ip address (host-only network adapter Vmnet1), so guest OS always finds the host using that ip address. No more trickies and worries about host and guest, they have created a private LAN. Now you can change the place as much as you like.

VMware and applicable hosts

Anonymous's picture

I run VMware 5 on Fedora Core 3 with no problems.
One has to update the install for each new kernel release but that is quickly done.

The guest OS is Win2K Pro and it runs fine on my
3.2GHz pentium with 1 GB RAM and 640 GB of IDE and SATA disks.
File IO runs as 15 -20 MB/sec as a GuestOS whereas under W2K
directly I get 7 - 10 MB/sec on a good day.

My only concern is the cost as I only use two apps under Win2K.

VMware performance

Anonymous's picture

The virtual hardware of VMware 5 runs better than previous versions. With a single Pentium IV or an equivalent AMD processor and 512MB of RAM, one should be able to run two virtual machines simultaneously. The previous versions would grind to a halt in such a scenario.

I wouldn't recommend running your system that way, however. If you have a need to run more than one virtual machine, you should run dual high-end processors and 3GB of memory. Otherwise, you cannot use your host machine and the two virtual machines with any efficiency.

I don't agree that such a high-end machine is needed to run VMware Workstation. I've run RedHat Linux in VMware on a 600 MHz Pentium III, 512 MB RAM Windows box with almost the same performance as booting directly into RedHat Linux on the same machine.

All you need a machine that is powerful enough to run the applications you want to run in the virtual machine. The overhead of VMware is very less in terms of CPU utilization and moderate in terms of memory.
For example - If you can run applications A, B & C on an OS without VMWare, you can also run A on the original OS, B & C on two virtual machines if you have enough memory.
You can't expect VMware to triple the power of your machine by installing two virtual machines!

How does it differ from QEMU?

mangoo's picture

It would be nice if the article outlined some differences between VMWARE and QEMU (which is free and is packaged in many distributions).

Don't forget that VMWare 5 al

b34r's picture

Don't forget that VMWare 5 also support DirectX acceleration using OpenGL under a Linux host running a guest XP. While the feature is not yet perfect it already runs a lot of recent game titles that do not work either in Cedega or Wine at more than acceptable performances.

OpenGL != DirectX

Matt H's picture

You know that OpenGL and DirectX/Direct3D aren't the same thing, right; they're competing things. You can run DirectX 9c in vmware. you cannot run OpenGL in vmware. Almost all modern windows 3D is directX, things like Compiz on linux etc are OpenGL. important distinction as you can run windows guest games with directX if the host, vmware and guest are turned on, but you cannot run OpenGL in any virtual machine. OpenGL is seen as being at least a decade out of date, although it's making a comeback in the linux world for compositing window managers.

Short version is that QEMU is

Anonymous's picture

Short version is that QEMU is an emulator and VMware is a virtualizer. VMWARE makes an x86 look like lots of x86 systems. Qemu in theory makes and x86 look like a sparc,ppc,etc,etc it can also be used to run multiple copies but will have a higher overhead than a virtualizer. From what I have seen, VMware is way easier to setup.

Re: Short version is that QEMU is

Anonymous's picture

Sorry, but QEmu is a Virtualizer, to my limited experience no great difference with VMWare (I don't do DirctX &c.) in performance, but $200 cheaper, i.e. free.

Wine is an emulator.

W(ine) Is Not an Emulator.

Anonymous's picture

W(ine) Is Not an Emulator. Is a complete replication of M$ libraries on top of Linux. If it is slower is because it is not polished yet, it has a long way to go to replace win2000 totally.

Regards from Spain.

but QEMU isn't hard to setup :)

mangoo's picture

All I did in my Mandrake system was:

1) urpmi qemu qemu-launcher

2) Then I started qemu-launcher

3) checked "Use CDROM" and pressed "Launch Qemu"

And that was it, I was able to run another Linux from a CDROM :)

I think the comparison you ar

Anonymous's picture

I think the comparison you are looking for is between vmware and xen.

I think the comparison you ar

Anonymous's picture

I think the comparison you are looking for is between vmware and UML.

vmware and UML have more in common than either has with xen.

VMware Workstation 5 and slackware

Anonymous's picture

So how do u get this to work on a slackware 10.x system?