Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Experiment with VMWare -- for free

I have sinned, but I have seen the light.

Now that I've joined the Church of the disposable image, I need to catch up on some basics. I've been using Fusion and Parallels w/ Windows 2000 on OS X, but the Windows VM world is new to me. So I'll have a few posts on that topic.

Since I've committed to Fusion on the Mac I'm experimenting with VMWare. Their primary end user product is VMWare Workstation, which is inexpensive for academics. This appears to be similar to Fusion on OS X. There's a generous 1 month free trial.

The surprise, however, is that you don't actually need to pay any money at all to do quite a bit with VMs. Both VMWare Converter and VMWare Player are free. VMWare Converter (Windows) will convert an existing machine, such as an XP machine, to the VM format and VMWare Player will execute these images. [Update: OK, not quite! See below.]

This isn't something VMWare markets. VMWare's web site doesn't list VMWare Converter as a possible source for VMWare Player images and even the VMWare Player wikipedia article doesn't mention this.

VMPlayer (Windows) will run their "appliances". -- and more besides ...
... Open Microsoft virtual machines, Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery (formerly called Live State Recovery) images, Norton Ghost 10 images, Norton Save & Restore images, StorageCraft ShadowProtect images, and Acronis True Image images. In this process, the initial virtual machine or image is left untouched in its native format and any modifications are saved in a much smaller VMware-formatted file that is linked to the initial image...
So you can turn your existing Windows environment into a VM and play with it - for free. I think you can also run a VMWare 6.5.2 VM on Fusion but I'm not sure of that.

There are a few VMWare Player limitations, it doesn't enter full screen on startup unless you tweak a setting and it's essentially undocumented. I've also run into device driver issues, I can't see how to install the VMWare tools for example. It's really a bit of a toy but it's free. There's an upgrade mechanism to VMWare Workstation

If you want to download the Win 7 RC .iso file and turn it into a VM without installing it I think you'll need VMWare Workstation -- though if you have VMWare Fusion maybe you could prep it on the Mac then move it to VMWare Player.

VMware Converter comes with lots of documentation. Cough. Actually, it appears to be about as undocumented as VMWare Player. Must be a corporate policy.

I think there are two ways to run Converter - standalone and client server. I did the standalone conversion. I installed it on a machine and directed it to send the resulting image to a network share.

I clicked "convert machine" and followed the defaults. The one place to pay attention is where you're asked to select the target VMWare product. The default is some corporate product, you need to change to "VMWare Workstation 6.5.x".

A reasonably big VM takes rather a while to convert - overnight is typical.

More later...

Update: Ok, now I see the catch. Unless you install VMWare Tools you can sort of use the VMWare Convert image, but you can't go full screen, toggle out of it, some drivers don't work, etc. You can get VMWare Tools from VMWare Workstation, but there's probably a reason VMWare doesn't bundle them with Player. I say "probably" because I think VMWare is rather vague about the whole think. In any case I'll be using Workstation for my further experiments. (You might be able to install VMWare tools via Fusion. I think this is actually legal, since the point of VMWare Player is that it lets you use completed images and if you have a license to Fusion you can can complete them there.)

Update 1/21/2010: I experimented for a while, but I found VMWare on XP much less consumer-friendly than VMWare on OS X. In retrospect that's not too surprising. VMWare/Win is a corporate product, VMWare Fusion (OS X) is a consumer/geek product.

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