Thursday, October 29, 2009

VMware Workstation 7 Released : New Features

I have been a long time VMware Workstation user enjoying all the benefits of virtualization to ease my computing requirements on the desktop. I regularly have multiple virtual-machines open running nicely isolated applications for tasks related to software development, database design, office productivity applications, 2D and 3D CAD systems, and sandboxed-web-surfing.

My VMs (virtual machines) guest operating systems range from Windows XP to Windows Server to Linux (typically OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Fedora). And, all of this computing activity is occurring simultaneously on my single desktop machine inside virtual-machine-windows thanks to VMware [note: my current "host" operating system is Windows XP Professional]

New in VMware Workstation 7.0
With each release of VMware Workstation, I only further find myself being more productive... VMware keeps adding features to make my life easier when working with multiple virtual machines. And now, with VMware Workstation 7.0, they have done it again with some great new features that are bound to save me further time and/or improve the overall computing experience:
  • Virtual Printing — This is my current favorite new feature just because of how much I detest installing the drivers for the same printer inside each of my virtual machines just to print! Thankfully, Workstation 7.0 now allows you to print from virtual machines without mapping network printers or installing printer drivers in the virtual machine. Woohoo!!!! With virtual printing enabled in the virtual machine setting, all of the printers installed on the host operating system are available in the guest operating system. Can you say, "awesome!... and, about time"
  • TWO GREAT FEATURES LONG OVERDUE: Expand Virtual Disks — Increase the size of the virtual disk from within VMware Workstation. For Windows Vista and Windows 7 guests, the disk partitions can be adjusted without the use of additional software. This should be a HUGE TIMESAVER, as I can not remember how many times I was put through the ringer trying to free up disk space in a VM for doing something like applying yet another super-bloated Microsoft Service Pack that required multi-gigabytes of free space just to expand/install! This should make life a LOT easier! Woohoo! And, Compact Virtual Disks — Reclaim unused space from a virtual disk so that the host or another virtual machine can use it. I have wanted to do this especially for old VM images I was archiving... if I can burn them to a single DVD now, that'd be very nice.
  • 256-bit Encryption — This is another really nice feature in my opinion. It allows you to secure your virtual machines with AES256-bit encryption to prevent unauthorized users from accessing or running the configuration files. I need to explore the extent of the encryption abilities yet, but anything to improve security on the network is a welcome addition!
  • I do not particularly care much about the new support for Windows 7, Aero Glass, and Aero Peek support, but, I am sure quite a few other people will, and this is one of the larger new features of Workstation 7.0; there are other related features for Windows XP Mode Compatibility — Import a Windows XP Mode virtual machine using VMware Workstation 7.0 and run the virtual machine without being prompted to enter a Windows XP license key — that I just do not know how much it matters if you are only using XP anyhow. But, regardless, the support for Windows 7 is here now, and there are all sorts of enhancements related to graphics performance and the like too, including...
  • 3D Graphics Improvements for Windows XP guests — OpenGL 2.1 and Shader Model 3.0 support is now available for Windows XP virtual machines. The XPDM (SVGAII) graphics driver works with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. However, only Windows XP virtual machines install the XPDM graphics driver by default. What this means to you, who knows... but, it is an "improvement". I was already quite happy with the graphics performance, even for my 3D CAD work, with Workstation 6.5, but any speedup is always a good thing.
  • Now, this feature is cool for us developer types: vSphere 4.0 and ESX Support — [this paragraph copied right from VMware site] Install and run ESX 4.0 as a guest operating system. VMware Certified Professionals (VCPs) and technical professionals can install the latest server virtualization software and experiment with server setup, conduct training, show demos, and test production configurations. Running ESX as a guest eliminates the need to have spare hardware available to run ESX natively and enables ESX to run on systems that are not listed on the ESX hardware compatibility list (HCL).
  • Support for more "beefy hardware" emulation: Four-Way SMP and 32GB Guest Memory — if you just happen to have that much underlying hardware available! WOW, I want 128GB of RAM to use for a few VMs!
  • Cross-Platform License Keys — Now this is something I have wanted for a LONG TIME! It allows you to use the VMware Workstation 7.0 license key on both the Windows and Linux versions. (Make sure you read the EULA for the terms and conditions that must be met when switching platforms.) I previously hated how I had to commit to staying on Windows as my host OS forever, or pay for another Linux VMware Workstation License just to move hosts... now, it appears to be "free" addition!
  • Pause a Virtual Machine — I personally never found myself running low on CPU resources due to VMs I had running, but the ability to free your CPU resources instantaneously without powering off or suspending the virtual machine is certainly a nice one. I guess if I had a "runaway" process (e.g., Internet Explorer sucking 100% CPU in a guest VM), I could easily keep it from interfering with other workloads as I debunked it over time.
  • Drag and Drop Enhancements — This is a nice one! Drag and drop enhancements include support for new file types including images and formatted text and extend the existing ability to drag and drop files to a broader set of guest and host operating systems. Prior to this version, the drag-drop was just "OK"... now it is getting rather useful!
  • And some other misc, including Virtual Network Editor, IPV6 Support, Fuse Mount for Linux and more [the full release notes are here: Workstation 7.0 Release Notes].

Building upon VMware Workstation 6.5
And, all these wonderful features of VMware workstation 7.0 are in addition to all the functionality added back in VMware Workstation version 6.5, which included these new (at the time), or significantly enhanced, items:
  • “Unity” mode enables an Integrated desktop experience, whereby you can rather seamlessly integrate your favorite guest-VM applications with your host operating system's desktop, which allows the guest application windows to look just like host application windows (but with color-coded borders for a visual indicator that an application is really running in a guest-VM).
  • Accelerated 3-D graphics on Windows XP guests: hosts running Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Linux can have guest applications that use DirectX 9 accelerated graphics with shaders up through Shader Model 2.0 on Windows XP guests.
  • Record/replay of VM execution activity - record full system behavior, including all CPU and device activity; this can be quite useful when testing or debugging applications.
  • Virtual machine streaming - enables downloading a virtual machine from a Web server and powering it on without waiting for the download to complete via a command-line startup command (VMware Workstation or Player) with the URL of the virtual machine; you can even pause and restart the download.
Other VMware Complementary Products...
VMware offers other commercial, and some free, products that really help you get the most out of your computing resources. These include the FREE VMware Player (essentially, VMware Workstation without all the bells/whistles for creating VMs from scratch), and ESXi (bare-iron Server Virtualization) and other Virtualization Solutions. Check them out! You may well avoid buying extra computer hardware and saving a fortune through smart use of your existing hardware thanks to software-based computing virtualization!