VMware Server for Linux for Free

I will turn down free beer software in favor of freedom software when both exist. If you don't know the difference, that's OK. You cannot see the source code for the video drivers from ATI, for example. You can get them for free but they are not freed. The same with Adobe Acrobat Reader and plugins for the Firefox web browser.

When it comes to virtual machines for Linux I reach a dilemma. Luckily, I have the free VM for Linux, Xen, running a DNS server on my web site. I say luckily since many people of whom I know cannot get Xen to run.

I also have VMware running on another host on our network for testing purposes. Though I don't have access to the source code for VMware, I have decided to drink a six pack and admit this bud's for me.

In my opinion, Xen's a pain and needs what many free software applications need: a frontend. While our friends at Novell have put some serious time into making Yast something of a frontend for Xen, I can't get it to work. But then, I have many other complaints about SUSE as well, so I have come to expect poor engineering decisions at that company.

VMware has a mature, well-engineered and versatile console for its server product. I hesitated to try it until contracted to do a comparison for a book. Now, I'm sold, even though I got VMware server for free.

Features to consider

Here's a couple of paragraphs from VMware's web site that's worth quoting:

Virtualization allows multiple virtual machines, with heterogeneous operating systems to run in isolation, side-by-side on the same physical machine. Each virtual machine has its own set of virtual hardware (e.g., RAM, CPU, NIC, etc.) upon which an operating system and applications are loaded. The operating system sees a consistent, normalized set of hardware regardless of the actual physical hardware components.

Virtual machines are encapsulated into files, making it possible to rapidly save, copy and provision a virtual machine. Full systems (fully configured applications, operating systems, BIOS and virtual hardware) can be moved, within seconds, from one physical server to another for zero-downtime maintenance and continuous workload consolidation.

I found truth in VMware's claims. We setup a test environment under a single IP address. Several developers used that environment. What they did not know: I had multiple VM instances available for each developer and changed them as needed. So, host3, became an environment for testing web development, smtp configurations and administrative scripts.

At one point I had to change the Linux distribution for the host machine. I compressed each instance, put them on an optical storage medium and decompressed each of them after I completed the installation of the guest OS. The process worked flawlessly.

Now, I'm starting to think about the VMware model for free applications like DHCPd, OpenLDAP, etc. I know some frontends exist for those, but I find them lacking and inflexible.

With the number of web developers in the free software community, I'd like to encourage an effort from them to consider writing web enabled frontends for applications like OpenLDAP. I'm not suggesting writing Gnome or KDE applications. Those come with too much overhead.

But, a web enabled console for OpenLDAP running on Debian sans X makes some sense. I have seen such a beast, but the company that developed it wants too much money for it. It's also coupled with a groupware server made up of free software turned proprietary.

What irks me about that company? They use free software to construct their product and you don't see a single bit of code published. They call it their IP and that doesn't stand for Internet Protocol.


What's the cost of leaving our best applications faceless? Adoption. While I may like the CLI functionality of OpenLDAP, enterprises don't. If Xen Source wants to sell what VMware gives away for free, then let them do it. But, I can't support Xen Source with a good conscience.

While I've seen their management console, I consider it just another piece of proprietary software built on the shoulders of the free software community. Good luck Xen source. I'm encouraging my friends to take a look at VMware server.


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Very good article.

new thumbs daily's picture

Very good article.

VMware is great

Geek07's picture

VMware is one of my favorite products since about 6 years now. I am used to pay a view EUR for the workstation version - but now I use the server for free. As you said - xen is a pain. VMware comes in very handy. Well, with some kernel versions I had problems compiling the drivers but in the end it was more a distribution problem (suse 8, 9).
The other point is, that you can use VMware for free on windows host also. That's great. I once had to use windows as host cause my customer wanted me to do so - too bad!
But, with VMware installed and a linux guest on it - the pain of using MSW is half gone. And by the way - MS virtual server is a horror.

VMWare server is

gsm's picture

VMWare server is cool....I've installed it on one of my machines. However, I have a RIGHT to use the Xen code that I run on several servers while VMWare could take their ball and go home any time that they wanted.

Tom, Tom, when will you learn ?

Fred Mobach's picture

Dear Tom,

Sorry that I found this article so late.

When will you, my friend, learn again to ask us when you're working on something which won't run well for you like Xen ? :-)

This year we offered a server to the Dutch linux organisations like nl.linux.org to run many services (see http://wiki.hensema.net/doku.php?do=index&id=nlo.services) on a number of domains (see http://wiki.hensema.net/doku.php?id=domains).

Let's have a look at the GNU/Linux distro installed :
caesar:~ # cat /etc/SuSE-release
SUSE LINUX 10.1 (X86-64)
VERSION = 10.1

And a look at the domains running :
caesar:~ # xm list
Name ID Mem(MiB) VCPUs State Time(s)
Domain-0 0 2176 2 r----- 59922.1
coloniae 7 256 1 -b---- 1031.8
fjordland 6 256 1 -b---- 995.2
galapagos 5 256 1 -b---- 44105.9
gentoo 3 256 1 -b---- 52089.9
humbolt 2 256 1 -b---- 3797.0
king 1 256 1 -b---- 1134.1
rockhopper 4 256 1 -b---- 922.1

It was installed on June 6, 2006 and runs since then well. Even so well that we have installed Xen servers at customers sites, and we'll continue to do so just to save on hardware costs, power and cooling.

As you'll understand this is also Mendel's work.

Best regards and best wishes for 2007,


user mode linux

Amelia's picture

When it comes about virtual machines, I preffer user mode linux.

Finally, a solution to backing up my Dell Axim

What Is's picture

I use VMWare for the one thing that I couldn't find a native linux app to do: to back up my Dell Axim with the native tools (Activesync and Outlook). While I hate both programs, they are the only reliable way to get the info off the Ax in a useable format, in the event that the Ax is lost or stolen.

And now I can do it without dual booting! Yippie!

Our Use of VMware

Armando Ortiz's picture

I'm a Linux desktop fan. While I can't appreciate the fact that Novell isn't making Xen very user-friendly in a more expeditious way, I do love the desktop they polished for use. We're a mostly-Microsoft house - our database is written in Access with links to SQL Server, our documents use primarily Word and Excel, but we do have some Linux servers. I'm the only SuSE desktop user - but then again, I know what I'm doing. When I go home, I'll sometimes have to access the resources here at work through a VPN, however, I detest my laptop or desktops at home joining the domain and it was somewhat difficult to access the resources available, especially in running our Access applications that want to see SQL Server. So what I did with VMware was create a Win2k 'machine' that has all of the applications I would run as if I were at the office, is part of the domain and as soon as I get into the network through the VPN, I simply full-screen my VMware Win2k machine and act like I'm AT the office. It's been a treat for me and I honestly don't mind that the source is closed. VMware makes everything for me worthwhile.

To underscore the usefulness of VMware, I also ran proofs-of-concept for some projects using FreeBSD, various Linux distros and a thin client which we're planning to use. I couldn't have done this without VMware and its freeness.

i agree with the article..

Petem's picture

i have been using the free version of vmware server as a test bed here.. and it works great.. however.. if you want speed.. you really have to go with their infrastructure product.. yes.. is does cost money.. but it is probably what yo want to compare against XEN.. now.. XEN.. i have yet to get it working... AND.. from what i have read.. it is a bear to get windows to run in a xen vm if at all.. and i have a need for that... IF and when XEN becomes as easy to setup and will run the platforms i need i will defenently give it a try... im not to crazy about using a closed source product.. but it works.. and it works really well..

Troubled conscience at Xensource?

Michael L's picture

Xensource is actively contributing to the codebase of a GPL product and selling services built around it, which is the classic model of building a business model around open-source software. VMWare is giving away closed-source software in an attempt to sell their priced closed-source products. Whatever one can say about the relative merits of each virtualization product (eg - Xen's paravirtulaized environment runs with an order of magnitude less overhead than VMWare), I don't think that one can fairly criticize Xensource about ther open-source chops while praising a completely closed-source company. Sure, the free-as-in-beer release of VMWare server is cool....I've installed it on one of my machines. However, I have a RIGHT to use the Xen code that I run on several servers while VMWare could take their ball and go home any time that they wanted.

Old, flawed thoughts

Anonymous's picture

The open source community has been spewing this kind of crap for over a decade now without any major examples of this occurrence taking place. It's the same old philosophical BS applied to a new situation with absolutely no supporting evidence.

When you guys figure out the truth in what he is saying, you might actually start to penetrate the enterprise in a meaningful way. The simple fact is that without a quality front end to make management of the product efficient to a wide audience of admins, the product will find no serious place in any enterprise.

Until development activities include accounting for that fact, proprietary software will continue to kick your asses with simple little tactics like this one regardless of the merits of the open source philosophies.

you might actually start to penetrate the enterprise

Anonymous's picture

Well well. But enterprise is not about single service. Enterprise is about integration of essentials.

Text based configuration currently rules the world of administrated systems as with perl it was about 200 lines of code to manage dns, dhcp, qos, ldap, wiki, user accounts on non ldap systems and several more things and about same amount of makefile's lines spread across the systems that make the configuration testing, backup, deployment and verification single command.

Well said!

Anonymous's picture

Well said!

Apples and Oranges

Bryce Leo's picture

You cannot compare Xen and VMware. They're not the same type of emulator, yes they both do the same job however Xen is a Hypervisor while VMWare provides virtualization. The Xen approach technically allows for much closer to speeds you would attain from being directly on hardware. It's a very complex subject and Xen and VMWare are two very different products. If you'd care to email me a reminder to dig up the article in my (Linux Format I belive) about Xen and how it relates to VMWare I'd be glad to. I'm not a fan boy and I completely respect the need for the tried and tested VMWare in a enterprise environment however I do think that Xen has the edge on being the overall performance king when all is said and done.

For Web-based UIs, check out

Anonymous's picture

For Web-based UIs, check out PHPLDAPAdmin (http:http://phpldapadmin.sourceforge.net/) and Gosa (mentioned above). For non-Web GUIs, there's LAT (LDAP Administration Tool) http://dev.mmgsecurity.com/projects/lat/ and luma (luma.sourceforge.net/)

VMware implementation project in Cincinnati, Ohio

John S. Kennedy's picture

Hi all!

If any of you may be interested in a VMware implementation project in Cincinnati, Ohio, please send your current resume to:



John S. Kennedy, Belcan IT

Redhat has been working on a

AK's picture

Redhat has been working on a Gnome frontend for Xen. Check it out at http://virt-manager.et.redhat.com/index.html
Given the proper libraries, it could also do Vmware and Virtual PC (hah!) management.

A Xen WUI exists

Jed Reynolds's picture

web-based front-ends

Anonymous's picture

Re: "With the number of web developers in the free software community, I'd like to encourage an effort from them to consider writing web enabled frontends for applications like OpenLDAP."

I would think that webmin would have plugins for administrating daemons like openldap and such. Try looking into that.

I agree, Webmin is a

Anonymous's picture

I agree, Webmin is a miserable choice for administering OpenLDAP. Instead, you should have a look at PHPLDAPAdmin: http://phpldapadmin.sourceforge.net/ Gosa is also another feasilbe alternative (mentioned above). If you want a GUI instead of a web app, have a look at: LAT (LDAP Administration Tool) over at http://dev.mmgsecurity.com/projects/lat/ and luma (http://luma.sourceforge.net)

web-based front-ends

Steve Scott's picture

Yes, there are a couple for Webmin. There is also GOsa http://gosa.gonicus.de/ which "is a GPL'ed PHP based administration tool for managing accounts and systems in LDAP databases"

web-based front-ends

Tom Adelstein's picture

anonymous wrote:

"I would think that webmin would have plugins for administrating daemons like openldap and such. Try looking into that."

No thanks. Take a look at VMware's console. I was alluding to robust web frontends not ancient ones.

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