VMware Workstation 5.5 for Linux Hosts

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

Few virtual computer environments are as stable, popular and rich in features as VMware. I've been a fan and user of VMware Workstation since version 2.0. I use it for testing network applications, illicitly running Linux in Windows-only environments and, most recently, for testing the sample code in my book Linux Server Security, 2nd ed., across different Linux distributions. (I also wrote most of that edition using MS Word running on a virtual Windows XP machine!) [Do you really want to admit that? —Ed.]

VMware has some serious competition nowadays in the Open Source community. Xen, FAUmachine and user-mode Linux are promising and 100%-free PC virtualization environments. Nevertheless, VMware Workstation 5.5 remains a compelling purchase in the face of all this competition.

Overview and Specifications

VMware Workstation is a user-space application (aided by a couple of proprietary kernel modules) that creates virtual x86-based computers on top of your physical 32-bit or 64-bit x86-based “host” computer.

VMware Workstation 5.5 runs on the following host operating systems:

  • Mandrake Linux 10 and 9.0.

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS/ES/WS 4.0, 3.0 and 2.1, 32- and 64-bit.

  • Red Hat Linux 9.0, 8.0, 7.3 and 7.2.

  • SUSE Linux 10.0 and 9.3, 32- and 64-bit.

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

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 SP3 (beta, experimental support).

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.0, 32-bit and 64-bit.

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8.

  • Novell Linux Desktop 9 SP2 (beta).

  • Ubuntu Linux 5.10 and 5.04, 32-bit and 64-bit (experimental support).

  • Windows XP Professional and XP Home Edition.

  • Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

  • Windows 2000 Professional.

  • Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server.

  • Windows Server 2003.

  • Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition.

Practically any reasonably modern x-86-compatible or x-86-64-compatible PC works as a host platform. VMware supports most Intel processors since Pentium II, and AMD processors (Athlon or better), provided they run at least 400MHz (500MHz or faster is recommended). VMware also supports multiprocessor systems. VMware Workstation 5.5 lets you create virtual machines that use Two-Way Virtual Symmetric Multiprocessing, an experimental feature.

If you need a virtual machine with more than two virtual processors, this is supported in VMware ESX Server, but if you create one and copy it to a VMware Workstation 5.5 host, it won't run unless you change its Number of CPUs setting to 2. You also can create virtual machines with the Two-Way Virtual Symmetric Multiprocessing feature on a uniprocessor host system, if it has either a dual-core CPU or hyperthreading enabled. However, according to the VMware Workstation User Manual, virtual machine performance will be subpar. And, while I'm still on the subject of CPUs, although you can't have more than two CPUs in a virtual (guest) machine, the underlying host can have as many as you like.

Besides a fast CPU (or CPUs), you need plenty of RAM. This is a simple enough equation. You need enough RAM for your host OS, for VMware itself and enough RAM for as many host OSes you intend to run concurrently. For example, my laptop has 1GB of RAM, of which SUSE 9.3 running KDE, a few Konsole shells, the usual assortment of panel applets and VMware itself use a total of about 200MB. That leaves me 800MB for virtual machines. I can comfortably (that is, without hitting swap too much) run three virtual machines that each has 256MB of RAM and so forth.

Officially, VMware requires your host system to have a minimum of 128MB of RAM (256MB is recommended), with no maximum per se, but only a total of 4GB can be used between all guest VMs.

You also need enough hard disk space both for VMware itself and for as many virtual machines as you anticipate maintaining. Both IDE and SCSI disks are supported, both on the underlying host OS and on virtual hosts.

As with RAM, the more disk space on your host system, the better. As a general rule of thumb, you need 172MB for VMware and at least 2GB per virtual machine. By using VMware shared volumes (actually Samba shares), you can share data volumes between virtual machines. This allows you to use the minimum necessary disk space for virtual machines' guest OS software and one big shared volume for application data. This is also a handy means of sharing data between virtual machines and the underlying host OS.

VMware Workstation 5.5 supports a long list of operating systems for guest/virtual machines. These include:

  • Most versions of MS Windows (fully supported), including Vista (experimental support).

  • Mandrake Linux, versions since 8.2.

  • Red Hat Linux, versions since 7.0.

  • SUSE Linux, versions since 7.3.

  • Solaris x86 (experimental support), versions 9 and 10.

In practice, non-officially supported x86 operating systems often work fine as guest OSes. For example, in researching my article “Security Features in Debian GNU/Linux 3.1” (see page 36), I successfully installed Debian 3.1 on a virtual machine, despite the fact that it's not officially supported (the X Window System didn't work, but everything else I tried did, including networking).



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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.