VMware Workstation 5.5 for Linux Hosts

Is VMware a compelling purchase in the face of free virtualization competition?
Installing VMware Workstation

Installing VMware Workstation on a supported Linux system is a breeze. You install the RPM version either by executing a single command or by unpacking the .tgz version and manually running the installer script vmware-install.pl (which is executed automatically if you install the RPM). Then, you run the configuration script vmware-config.pl. That's it! The installer scripts and the configuration script do all the work for you.

For example, to install the RPM version of VMware, I executed the commands:


rpm -Uvh ./VMware-workstation-5.5.1-19175.i386.rpm

and:


vmware-config.pl

The configuration script asks you a number of questions, regarding things like how to set up networking. For most users, the default values are fine; otherwise, the Workstation 5 User Manual provides clear and comprehensive descriptions of the various options presented by the installer script.

Speaking of which, the user manual is, in my opinion, a model of effective technical writing—everything you need to know about VMware is included, explained in plain English and organized in a logical manner. It's accessible from within VMware's Help menu in HTML format, and it also can be downloaded as one big (490-page) PDF file from vmware.com.

Creating Guest Systems

Once VMware Workstation is installed and configured, you can run the vmware executable in the X Window System to start creating and using virtual machines. Figure 1 shows the New Virtual Machine Wizard.

Figure 1. New Virtual Machine Wizard

To create a Typical virtual machine with this wizard (as opposed to a Custom virtual system), you need to make only four decisions:

  1. In which OS will the guest machine run?

  2. Where on your host machine's filesystem will the virtual machine's files go?

  3. Which flavor of VMware networking will the guest machine use?

  4. What type and size of virtual disk to use?

Because this article is a review and not a how-to, I forego explaining all the different options available at this point. A few words about virtual machine hard disks and networking options, however, might help illustrate VMware's flexibility and power.

A virtual machine's hard drive is usually a virtual disk—that is, a regular file that essentially is mounted by VMware as a loopback filesystem. The beauty of this approach is that the virtual disk file doesn't need to reflect its capacity; if you install only 300MB worth of system software, applications and files on your virtual machine, its disk file will be only 300MB or so. The size you specify when setting up the virtual machine therefore will be its maximum size, not its actual size (unless you check the Allocate all disk space now option).

If you run the New Virtual Machine Wizard in Custom rather than Typical mode, you additionally can choose whether to create a virtual SCSI disk (the default) or a virtual IDE disk. You also can choose whether to use a virtual disk at all. If you prefer, and if your intended guest OS is supported in this mode, you alternatively can designate a physical disk partition on your host system as the virtual machine's root. This is handy if you have a dual-boot system on which you'd like to run both (or more) local OSes simultaneously, but support for this feature is limited and comes with some caveats. Tread lightly with this feature, and be sure to read the user manual carefully before you attempt to use it.

You can network your virtual machines using one of three methods. In bridged networking, the default, your virtual machine is given a virtual Ethernet interface connected to the same LAN as your host machine's physical network card (or wireless card—in VMware 5 you can now bridge WLAN interfaces on Linux hosts). In other words, your virtual machine appears on your local LAN as though it were sitting side by side with your host machine.

With Network Address Translation (NAT), your host system acts like a NAT firewall. Your virtual machine is given a fake IP address, and when it connects to other resources on your LAN or beyond, VMware translates the source IP address on all its packets to that of the host system's physical network interface. In other words, your virtual machine is hidden from the rest of your LAN by your host system. This is handled strictly by VMware; you don't need to configure iptables on your host OS to achieve this.

The third option is host-only networking. This is similar to the NAT mode in that your virtual machine is assigned a fake IP address on a virtual LAN separated from your physical/actual LAN by your VMware host system. The difference is that none of the virtual machines on your host-only (virtual) LAN will be able to interact with the real LAN unless you explicitly configure the underlying host OS to forward and route those packets. In other words, with host-only networking, you will need to configure your host OS to route or bridge your virtual machines' packets. This mode, therefore, is most useful when you don't want to connect your virtual and physical LANs—for example, if you're testing potentially dangerous network applications on your virtual LAN.

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What is the basis for the conclusion?

Eric Skalwold's picture

VMware is non-free software, though some is provided gratis in order to gain market share. I would like to know why Mick Baur feels VMware is a compelling purchase in the face of competition from free solutions. That is a very dismissive statement to make without giving any reasons for it. I would like a comparison of the various free virtualization solutions with each other and with VMware. (I am behind in my reading of LJ and came here expecting to find at least a partial answer. I am shocked no one raised the issue previously.)

Even if Mick Baur is correct in his statement, few people have as stringent needs as Mick Baur. Certainly my needs are not as stringent as his. Free virtualization solutions might very well meet my needs just fine. Even if I am enabling someone to use a virtual machine to host a non-free OS and associated non-free ap(s), I prefer to do so using free software for all the reasons the Free Software Foundation so eloquently explains. I am very interested in virtualization software because I have noticed that people who are not committed to the principle of free software and who are using dual boot systems because they have one or more programs they need Windows software for, tend to just leave Windows running once they boot to it. I believe they would mostly use GNU/Linux Free Software if they were running Windows virtually and it was merely another window on their desktop rather than the hassle of rebooting back and forth between OSes.

He is right, but this article reads like a statement of opinion

Anonymous's picture

The facts are lacking here, but I do say VMWare is a compelling purchase. Admittedly, I am a power user. One of the things I need is speed and VMWare Workstation runs right up there with kemu and acceleration enabled, making them among the fastest virtual CPUs. This goes beyond a CPU though in many respects.

The new versions support usb 2.0, allowing me to use external drives in my guest OS without lag. Not to mention some of these devices have no drivers for Linux because they are obscure oldies but goodies. Experimental 3D support is featured as well and can run DirectX games on a Windows guest with respectable speed. Some of these games wine won't run the first line of code and forget other VM solutions for 3D support. Admittedly, it still has some bugs like flickery video in some DX8 and 9 games and crashing in some very recent games but the fact you can run them in a playable fashion under Linux is just great.

I run CPU intensive Windows apps such as video converters with functions that Linux alternatives have yet to implement and the VMs are consistently stable and comply well with CPU scheduling to avoid slowing down the host OS too much. Many free alternatives just can't hold up under that kind of thing, though a few can.

I think it boils down to the package. VMWare does almost everything exceptionally, which has been making it an ever more viable Windows replacement for those of us still stuck needing a few of Mickeysoft's applications. Some free alternatives do 1 to a few things exceptionally, like kemu's quick processing speed, but I have yet to see anything else fully replace a Windows machine when you need one so well.

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