Hyper-V? Not Me! Thank the Heavens for VMware Workstation

If you've read my commentaries in the past, you know that I'm generally a fan of Microsoft's products mostly because of the incredible ROI that I see them provide to my clients every day. So, it takes a lot for me to completely shun a Microsoft product, but I'm going to take a stand for every developer, trainer, and non-data-center virtual machine (VM) user out there and scream bloody murder: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Hyper-V just isn't cutting it. Microsoft is going to lose out big time if they don't step up to the plate VERY soon.

Let me start by isolating the real workload to which Hyper-V is targeted: the data center. There's a very good story here. Given that Microsoft had nothing to offer two years ago, the company has made amazing strides. Microsoft is right to be proud of its very rapid progress in that market. My colleagues who spend real time with Hyper-V and VMware Workstation, however, inform me that the latest updates from VMware improve performance in ways that "smoke" Hyper-V. With Microsoft's advantage of tight integration with its other products and VMware's advantage of having better interoperability with non-Microsoft products, I expect we'll be seeing a back-and-forth tug of war for market dominance as each company releases new versions that offer improved performance and features. The data center story remains interesting for Hyper-V.

HOWEVER, what I'm disgusted with is Microsoft's embarrassing and ludicrous virtualization offerings outside the data center. In order for developers to code for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007), they need to run a server, as do trainers, testers, and many others. In my world, I regularly demonstrate, test, provide training on, and write about SharePoint, so I have a laptop that travels with me and VMs that contain my domain and farm. Microsoft continues to tell us to use Hyper-V, but Hyper-V requires a server host OS—Windows Server 2008 or Server 2008 R2, specifically—which instantly adds complexity, incompatibility, and impossibility.

Server 2008 R2 may be a fine base OS for a server but not for a laptop. Bluetooth isn't supported, limiting your choice of devices. There's no media center support, so options for background entertainment while you work are limited. Standby isn't an option once Hyper-V is installed ("flying brick" anyone?). More important, there are licensing issues (bad) and incompatibilities (show stoppers) with some applications that aren't meant to run on a server OS. Finally, there's a serious performance problem related to the hypervisor and modern video cards to which Microsoft's official response is "Use a standard VGA driver". Even some of the bloggers who used to detail how to create the "perfect Server 2008 laptop" have given up. There are too many show stoppers.

Microsoft's desktop virtualization story is pathetic. While forcing us into a corner with Hyper-V, progress has stopped on Virtual PC and Virtual Server. They are nearly impossible to get running effectively (and impossible to get full fidelity functionality out of) on Windows 7 and even Vista SP2. And they support only 32-bit hosts, meaning "dead end" with Server 2008 R2, SharePoint 2010, etc. Virtual PC and Virtual Server are dead. Not that I mind—with their poor interfaces, management capabilities, and performance, they should have been put down a long time ago. But something else should have been put forward!

So you can use Hyper-V work but be crippled when it comes time to show a PowerPoint presentation or video, or you can steer clear of Hyper-V and work productively. I'm choosing the latter because luckily there are many desktop virtualization products to choose from. Some of my colleagues are even turning to the open source VirtualBox, but I will proudly stand by the one and only piece of software that has served me reliably for the better part of a decade: VMware Workstation. I don't know where I'd be without it. Rock solid, fast, easy to manage, rich snapshot capabilities, incredible support for devices (what good is a desktop VM if you can't plug something into it?), easy transfer of machines (no Import/Export Hyper-V nonsense)...the list goes on and on and on.

I tried so hard this summer to fit Hyper-V into my work, training, and production model, but it just can't be done. Even under my own heavy pressure to leave VMware behind, VMware Workstation's superior capabilities won me over. I'll still be a fan of many Microsoft products, but when you see me present at SharePoint Connections in Las Vegas this November, I'll be using VMware!

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