VMware Workstation 7.0 Rises Above the Virtual Pack

Desktop virtualization products in a nutshell

To see all Desktop Virtualization products, see the sidebar at InstantDoc ID 125517: "An Overview of Desktop Virtualization Products."

VMware Workstation 7.0

RATING: 5 out of 5

PROS: Extremely broad host and guest OS support; VM support for 3D graphics and the Windows Aero interface; support for snapshots, clones, and virtual printers

CONS: More expensive than all the competing desktop virtualization products

PRICE: $189

RECOMMENDATION: If you need a desktop virtualization product with a full set of top-of-the-line features, then VMware Workstation 7.0 is a must-have.


While the lion’s share of interest in virtualization currently revolves around server virtualization products such as Microsoft’s Hyper-V technology and VMware’s ESX Server, the virtualization trend actually began on the desktop with the original VMware Workstation product launched back in 1999. Today, desktop virtualization remains a vital technology for IT and developers.

Developers use desktop virtualization to test applications on multiple platforms and to easily roll back changes brought about by application testing. Help desk and QA professionals use it to replicate end-user scenarios. IT professionals use it for hosting legacy applications and testing OS changes and patches. The latest release of the Workstation product, VMware Workstation 7.0, sets a new standard for desktop virtualization.


Desktop vs. Server Virtualization

Unlike the current crop of server virtualization products which are hypervisor based, VMware Workstation is a hosted virtualization solution. This means that the virtualization layer runs on top of a host OS. Hosted virtualization doesn’t offer the same levels of performance and scalability as hypervisor-based virtualization.

However, hosted virtualization solutions can offer a level of integration with the host OS that exceeds what hypervisor-based solutions can offer. This integration makes desktop virtualization a good solution for desktop development scenarios, which don’t need the scalability or performance required by server virtualization but can benefit from the greater degree of host desktop integration. For more information about desktop virtualization products using a hosted virtualization architecture, refer to the sidebar "An Overview of Desktop Virtualization Products."


Installation and Testing

VMware Workstation runs on virtually all releases of Windows as well as every major Linux distribution. It supports over 400 guest OSs including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. I installed Workstation 7.0 on a 64-bit Windows 7 desktop with 4GB of RAM.

After completing a pretty hefty 525MB download, the installation of Workstation 7.0 was uneventful, taking only a few minutes. The installation process required me to input a rather lengthy license code, then rebooted the system when it was complete. You can see the VMware Workstation 7.0 console in Figure 1.


Creating and Importing Virtual Machines

On the technical side, Workstation 7.0 supports virtual machines (VMs) with up to four virtual processors. To take advantage of this, you must have at least four cores in your host. Support is available for up to 32GB of RAM per VM. VMs can also be encrypted using 256-bit AES encryption. Workstation 7.0 VMs support USB, DVD, CD-ROM, sound, and webcam devices.

With Workstation 7.0, you create new VMs using the New Virtual Machine wizard, which steps you through creating a VM, including installing the OS. As you can see in Figure 2, the wizard even lets you set your Windows product code and the Windows machine name and initial password. Another nice touch is that VMware Tools are automatically installed in the guest OS.

In addition, Workstation 7.0 can import VMs using its built-in Conversion Wizard. You launch this wizard using the File, Import and Export option. The Conversion Wizard can perform a Physical-to-Virtual (P2V) conversion as well as convert Microsoft Virtual PC and Virtual Server VMs, but it doesn't support the conversion of Hyper-V VMs. The wizard leaves the source VM intact and outputs a new VM that contains the VMware device drivers.


3D Graphics Support

One limitation of VMs has been their lack of support for graphically intensive applications. Graphical drawing and rendering programs, games, and advanced graphics such as the Windows Aero interface couldn’t run in a VM because they used the physical graphics adapter, which VMs couldn’t directly address. Instead, VMs were limited to the capabilities provides by a virtual graphics adapter.

 However, Workstation 7.0 includes advanced 3D graphics for VMs, including the ability to support the Windows Aero interface. VMware developed a new graphics driver that's compliant with the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). This driver is installed in Windows Vista and Windows 7 VM and is capable of displaying the Windows Aero UI. It also supports OpenGL 1.4, and Shader Model 3.0.

Workstation 7.0 is also well integrated with the new Windows 7 desktop. You can see Workstation 7.0’s integration with the Windows 7 taskbar and its support for showing running VMs in Jump Lists in Figure 3.

Other advanced features include support for Unity. Introduced in Workstation 6.5, the Unity feature provides seamless desktop VM application integration similar to Windows 7’s XP Mode. Workstation also has a capture movie feature that can record all activity in a VM and save it in AVI format.

 Workstation 7.0 also offers the ability to take an unlimited number of VM snapshots, to create full or linked VM clones, and to create VM teams, which are a collection of VMs connected by one or more private network segments. You can control the boot order between the different VMs.

Another cool feature in Workstation 7.0 is the ability to print from VMs without mapping network printers or installing printer drivers in each VM. Virtual printing enables all of the printers installed on the host OS to be automatically available to the guest OSs in each VM.


At the Top of the Heap

VMware Workstation was the first product in the desktop virtualization space, and its maturity shows in its advanced feature set: Workstation 7.0 is the clear leader in the desktop virtualization market. However, at $189, Workstation 7.0 is also one of the most expensive desktop virtualization products on the market. If you need 3D support or Workstation’s other advanced features, it's worth the price. A 30-day trial is available. Desktop virtualization doesn’t get any better than this.

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