Review: VMware Workstation 5 beta

VMware Workstation 5 Beta build 11608
Free while in beta
VMware, Inc.
Palo Alto, California

I've been a VMware user for a long, long time, and I'm always excited to see a new version start its journey to market. The first public beta of VMware Workstation 5.0 came out recently, which means thast this is a good time to look at what's coming our way. First, a general comment: as with previous public VMware betas, this one is quite stable. Yes, there are bugs, but many of us won't be bitten by them at all. However, keep two things in mind. First, due to debug code, this is slower than the shipping version 4.0; you'll want to have a fast machine to test on. Second, the VM format changes, and there's no guarantee that the format in this build is final, so don't destroy your existing VMs (unless you really like reinstalling things from scratch).

So, what's new? The first thing to catch my eye was the enhanced snapshot functionality. VMware 4.0 lets you save a snapshot of a VM and revert to that version, which is good for installing and cleanly removing software. 5.0 extends that by letting you save as many snapshots as you like of a single VM, and it offers a nifty graphical Snapshot Manager that shows you the lineage of snapshots as you create and save them. Testers should find this helpful: you could have a single base Windows 2000 box and then snapshots with various versions of Visual Studio installed and flip back and forth between them, for example.

Also new is the cloning technology. Full clones let you copy everything about a VM to make a new VM. Linked clones are something different. Imagine a VM stored on a shared drive on the network. Every user in the organization can make a linked clone of that VM, and their work is saved on their local hard drive, without touching the parent VM. This lowers the disk space cost for the local copy (though of course it means your network needs to be up to the traffic).

VMs can now be grouped into "teams". A team is a collection of virtual machines and network segments that you can turn on and off as a whole, letting you set up multi-tier applications and initialize them easily. You can also adjust network parameters among the VMs in a team to give you a more "real world" simulation. For example, you could designate one segment as 56K in bandwidth with 3% packet loss to show what a terrible modem connection would do to users on the client.

A raft of new things are officially supported in this version. A few samples:

  • Windows Server 2000 Small Business, SUSE Linux 9, Red Hat Advanced Server 3.0, and Sun's Java Desktop System are among the supported guest operating systems.
  • Various 64-bit hardware and operating systems are also supported
  • Isochronous USB devices like microphones, speakers, and webcams can be used from within VMs

Other miscellaneous enhancements include the ability to save VM activity as an AVI, support for the NX bit on operating systems that use it, and an assistant to convert a Virtual PC VM into a VMware one. All in all, it looks like this is going to be another fine release that expands our ideas of how to use virtual machines in our work.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

Upcoming Events