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VMware for Windows NT/2000

Author: Rover
Posted on: 11/8/2000
Discuss: In the forums

When was the first time you turned on a PC? Was it an Apple IIe or a Commodore64, or are you a youngster and it was an Intel 286 processor? Maybe you're a late bloomer and got into computers in the Intel 486 era? Either way, a computer, whether new or old, comes up with an operating system of some kind. I remember my Commodore64 would boot to a DOS like environment and I'd sit for hours plugging in BASIC code. Today, most users are presented with the king of operating systems, MS Windows, but there are others gaining ground rapidly. So what are you waiting for, go get one of the "alternate" OSes, blow away MS Windows, and begin a new computing experience. Not ready for that yet, too afraid to take the plunge? Can't bear to live without your MS Windows? What if I told you there was a way to run a complete computer and a totally different OS from within the safe confines of a window, very much similar to the window you have this page opened in? A window from which you could run a number of different Linux distributions, FreeBSD, Novell and almost every Microsoft OS since MS-DOS 6! If that sounds like fun then let me introduce VMware 2.0 for WindowsNT/2000.

What Is It?
I could lay in some quote from VMware's website that would explain to you what exactly this is, but hell with that! VMware is a computer within a computer, simple in explanation and with VMware simple in execution. With the software installed you have the capability to run a "virtual" PC right on your desktop. The only requirements are a supported "Host" OS and an Intel or compatible processor. This software is absolutely awesome in its ability to mimic a PC. When you execute VMware a window opens with a button at the top that says "Power On". Click that button and you literally power on a different PC right there on your workspace! Complete with a Phoenix BIOS, POST screen, memory count down and drive detection. Seeing is believing so have a look at the screen cap below.

What's really needed!
Obviously running a "virtual" PC takes some processing power and loads of memory, but I've run it on a PC with just 128Mb of RAM and an Intel Pentium 233Mhz w/MMX processor without any trouble. Slow it was, but I never experienced a crash of either the software or my PC, "virtual" or otherwise. I'm now running dual Intel 433Mhz Celerons with 320MB of RAM and unless I really push my PC I do not notice a slow down while the virtual machine is running. The other very crucial part required is the "Host" operating system. You must be running a supported version of Linux or MS Windows2000/NT. I'll be taking a look at the Windows2000 version of VMware in this review.

Why would you want to!
You may be asking yourself, “Why would I want to use this”? VMware was intended for developers to help facilitate cross-platform application development, but I’ve found it to be an intriguing way to try out various Linux distributions without actually giving Linux a partition or drive of it’s own. With so many distros out there it’s hard to tell which one is right for you. Plus, you can load as many different distributions as you like and when you find the right one the others can be deleted with ease. VMware’s website lists all supported versions of Linux but I’ve personally tested Mandrake, Redhat, TurboLinux, Gentus, Debian and Suse and all of them worked. Of course there is always the shock factor when you show your buds your PC within a PC. As they hover over your shoulder and gawk over the sheer power you command, laying praise at your feet as if you were some ancient Aztec god! I don’t know about you but that always cheers me up!

Some Installation Tips
First off you’ll need to turn off “Auto Run” on the CD-ROM, VMware will do this for you during installation. If you want network capability inside your “virtual” PC then make sure you check the box when the installation prompts you for it. The network card is a 10Mbs PCnet card that is capable of talking to your LAN as well as the “Host” PC. Some nifty virtual stuff going on there if I do say so myself!


After the installation and required reboot are complete, crank the software up to get started. The screen you are first presented with allows you to run the “Configuration Wizard”, the “Configuration Editor” or “Open an existing configuration” options. In the screen cap below you can see I have a “Win98” and “Linux” configuration already setup. Obviously in the beginning you will not have any configurations of your own yet, so just choose the “Configuration Wizard”. The wizard will walk you through step by step on setting up a new “virtual” machine.

Your next major choice will be which “guest” OS you will be using on your virtual PC. This is important since the "virtual" machine will be optimized for the particular OS chosen and the OS of the “virtual” PC determines the VMware Tools install files. That is to say, if you choose Linux as the “guest” OS but put Windows on it you’ll get the VMware Tools files for Linux not Windows. The next critical option is how you would like VMware to handle disk drive requirements. You can make a single file that acts dynamically as a hard drive, expanding and contracting as the needs of the “guest” OS change. Or you can dedicate an entire partition to your “virtual” needs. I prefer to use the file option since I have 2 or 3 separate configurations and I don’t have another large drive to dedicate to VMware. Plus, you can move the file to another PC entirely that has VMware installed giving you portability. If you do have an extra drive you could partition it from within Windows2000 into as many partitions as you think you’ll need, putting a “virtual” PC on each. The main benefit of using a separate partition is that VMware/Windows2000 is limited to 2047MB for a single “virtual” drive file, but for a physical drive/partition VMware is limited to 33GB. You can always add another “virtual” drive file to any particular configuration you want, in essence making a D drive or E drive, so long as you have the actual drive space.


Global Preferences
Once you have configured your first virtual machine you’ll be presented with a blank VMware window, but don’t hit the Power On button just yet. We have some tweaking to do before we get started. Pull down the “Settings” menu at the top and choose “Global Preferences”. You’ll see five tabs, “Display”, “Priority”, “Input”, “Memory” and “Workspace”. Take a look around, but pay special attention to the “Memory” tab because that’s where we’re going next. In the middle of the window you’ll see a slider bar for “Reserved Memory”, this is the maximum amount of memory that can be locked for VMware’s use. No other applications or the “host” OS will be able to touch this locked memory. It is recommend reserving 50% of the “Host” system’s physical memory, but this slider allows you to change that. Be VERY careful with this especially if you don’t have a lot of memory to begin with. It should also be noted that no matter how many virtual PCs you run simultaneously the total amount of memory dedicated to VMware is equal to the “Reserved Memory” setting.

Configuration Editor
After the “Global Preferences” is complete and you are satisfied, save your changes, go back to the “Settings” menu and choose the “Configuration Editor” option. This is the heart of each and every “virtual” machine you setup! This is were you can add, delete, and change just about everything relating to the “virtual” machine you are currently working with. Take an extended look around and familiarize yourself with all of the various things that can be changed. As you make your way down the list we are going to make a quick stop at the “memory” section. On my system I set the memory to 128MB, which is more than sufficient to run Linux and is well below my “reserved” memory setting of 160MB. VMware will not let you allocate all of the physical memory on your PC since obviously that would cause a major melt down of the “host” OS! Once you are satisfied with your settings hit the “Save” button and get ready for the boot up.

First Boot
Since I have a bootable TurboLinux CD I just slip it in the CD-ROM and hit the “Power ON” button. After that it’s pretty straightforward. The bootable CD kicks in, boots and within no time your sittin’ fat and happy installing TurboLinux. When you need to be within the “virtual” machine just left click on the window and your mouse and keyboard will be transferred to the “virtual” PC. Then you can hit “Ctrl + Alt + Esc” to release and your mouse and keyboard is returned back to the “host” OS. Later after the “guest” OS is installed simply moving your mouse over the VMware window will transfer the mouse and keyboard, but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now just get whatever “guest” OS you have chosen installed and functional. Remember if you are installing Windows9x you’ll have to boot off a floppy with CD-ROM support so you can format the “virtual” drive and run setup.exe from the CD.

Post Install
So let’s see, you have successfully configured a “virtual” machine and have loaded an OS on it. Now what you ask? Well, now comes the installation of VMware Tools. If you haven’t noticed already the “virtual” PC only runs in VGA mode and boy is it ugly. If you go to the “Settings” menu you’ll see the “VMware Tools Install” option, click it. This will replace the floppy drive with a “virtual” floppy containing the VMware Tools setup files. Brrrrr...I got chills from that little trick! The first thing that happens is a small window will pop up asking if you wish to read the help file on installing the VMware Tools. Since they are an excellent read and walk you through step by step I will not repeat them here. Just go ahead and read them, install the software and be on your happy “virtual” way.

What's Left?
Nothing left to do really except play around. The “virtual” video card is not meant for gaming so I wouldn’t even try, unless of course it is something like Solitaire. I prefer to use the “Auto fit” screen function, but if you want to totally submerse yourself in the “guest” OS there is a full screen option. I’d also like to point out the small little icons in the lower right corner of the VMware window. They’ll flash when the particular device an icon represents is accessed. Another nifty little trick. As far as having more than one “virtual” PC running simultaneously I’d steer clear unless of course you have a quad-Xeon system with 2GB of RAM. I tried it once and was the only time I noticed my system lag, not to mention I had absolutely no free memory left! Although this software was designed with the developer in mind I think you’ll find it very intriguing and handy when doing reviews. I use it all the time to test software on multiple platforms without having to reboot all the time, saving me precious hours of research. VMware offers a 30-day trial license so go on over and download it today. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Almost Forgot
There is a version for Linux that is officially supported on RedHat5.x and above, Caldera OpenLinux2.2 and above, SuSE6.0 and above and TurboLinux6.0. As of this writing XFree86 4.0 is not officially supported on the "host" OS but is expected to be in the near future. Also, VMware has confirmed that there are NO plans to support BeOS as either a "host" or "guest" OS. If you are interested in running VMware for Linux there is a page at VMware's website that lists the necessary requirements. I haven't much experience using VMware under Linux but will be giving it a try in the very near future. I just heard that VMware is planning a server side application based on their current technology that will facilitate further server-side cross-platform application developement. They plan to make a big annoucement at COMDEX in Las Vegas, NV on the 13th and 14th of November this year. Could be an interesting piece of software and may well be worth a look if you have a need for it.

Copyright © by LWD All Rights Reserved.

Published on: 2004-02-22 (47430 reads)

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