VMware runs Windows under Linux

VMware 1.0 for Linux offers Linux users the capability to seamlessly run Linux, Windows and other operating systems without rebooting their machines. Users can now use Windows for their legacy applications, such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office, while utilizing the power and stability of Linux for other tasks.

This obviously isn’t a product for everyone in your business, but if a user needs access to Windows 95, Windows NT and Linux, it is much more cost-effective to purchase one PC and load VMware on it than to buy three separate machines.

By utilizing a virtual machine platform, VMware can run a full Microsoft-DOS, Linux or Windows environment in a window under Linux. Once VMware is installed, one or more guest OS installations can be configured using a wizard interface. Then, when you press the “Power On” button, the virtual machine boots up and the guest OS can be installed as normal. This means one machine can easily support applications from multiple operating systems while maintaining the power and stability of a Linux system.

No other product on the market today can match the features and functionality of VMware. Its closest competitor is SoftWindows, but that package is a Windows emulator and doesn’t support a full installation of the guest OS. In a VMware installation, the guest OS (DOS, Windows or Linux) doesn’t even know it’s running under VMware.

VMware offers software and Web developers the power to test their wares on multiple platforms in an easy manner. A Web designer can easily run several copies of Windows 95 or Windows 98, each configured with a different browser, and test the features and functionality of the Web site. Developers don’t need to have multiple machines or reboot constantly if they’re running VMware. All this can save a business time and money by increasing employee productivity and speeding up the development process.

And other users can benefit from VMware by having the flexibility to choose any software that runs on Intel hardware instead of being locked in to one particular operating system’s applications. Of course, it will also be great for server administrators who want the reliability of Linux but who may want to use a few Windows-only server applications, or for Windows NT administrators who also want to use Linux-based software on their servers. The Windows NT version of VMware is expected to be released later this year.

I set up VMware on a Compaq Deskpro EN Pentium III 500-MHz machine with 64MB of RAM. I loaded a fresh copy of Red Hat Linux 6.0 (Kernel 2.2.5) and also installed the VMware-enhanced X Windows server. Once the VMware installation was complete, I used the installation wizard to set up a new virtual machine, specifying Windows 98 as my guest OS.

I put in my Windows 98 CD and hit the “Power On” button in the VMware window. A DOS screen popped up, showing the BIOS Power On Self Test screen, and then the Windows 98 installer booted up. I went through the Windows 98 installation just like I would on a normal machine.

Although the Windows 98 installation took quite a bit longer than normal (about 90 minutes), as far as I could tell, Windows thought it was running alone on my machine. I could communicate on the network, use the floppy and CD-ROM drives and share my printer. And I was doing all this while still running Linux.

Overall, I found the installation and integration of VMware to be top-notch. Although the lack of DirectX support and overall sluggish performance are of concern, in situations when broad platform support is more important than blazing speed, VMware will definitely find a place in many organizations.

Railsback is a technology analyst.