VMware Workstation 5.5 review

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Virtual machine (VM) software is undoubtedly a handy tool for software development and testing. It allows you to run multiple OSes on a single system and, if you screw one up, it’s a simple process to reinstate it. Microsoft thought this technology was so good it acquired the Virtual PC software from Connectix in 2003. However, VMware’s Workstation still stands as the benchmark, because it uniquely supports Windows and Linux as host systems. Furthermore, its virtual machine support is far superior, as it can run multiple instances of Windows, Linux, Solaris and Novell NetWare.

VMware Workstation 5.5 review

VMware has always been hot on adding new features to its software, and this version of Workstation is no exception. Admittedly, some are only experimental, but you get support for running 32- and 64-bit apps on the same physical system and options to assign two virtual processors to each VM. For the former, most AMD64 processors are fully supported, while Intel’s VT-enabled processors are in the experimental phase. To use two virtual processors, the host system must have two physical cores installed.

VMs are now even easier to create. You can open Microsoft Virtual PC files or Symantec LiveState Recovery disk images as VMs. The original file will remain untouched, as any changes made will be stored in a separate linked file. Alternatively, you can import the images as independent VMs instead. We tested the latter using a LiveState disk image of an 8GB system drive and had the file imported inside four minutes. We then cloned it twice and had three separate VMs of a Windows Server 2003 system in half an hour.

The Clone tool allows you to produce identical copies of a system that can each become individual VMs. Introduced in the previous version, the Teaming feature allows a lab environment with multiple test systems to be created on a single host. For Team creation, you select the VMs you want to group together and create LAN segments and network connections for each one. We placed our three newly created VMs into a single team, where we could power them all on or off together and suspend or activate them with a single mouse click. However, bear in mind that unless you’re using a fairly powerful host system, performance will become a casualty as the VM count rises.

VMware’s Player utility is now available as a free download. This is a handy tool that allows you to select existing VM files created by Workstation, GSX Server or ESX Server and run them without using the core software. VMware Player presents all kinds of possibilities, as you can use it to evaluate OSes or applications in a safe environment and share them with other users. The Player has a growing band of supporters, with the Linux community high on the list. VMware has links to various websites, where you can download pre-built VMs and evaluate a multitude of Linux builds, along with utilities such as the PC Pro Recommended IPCop.

There’s no denying that Workstation offers one of the most cost-effective solutions for software testing and evaluation. VMware is the undisputed master of virtual machine technology, and this latest version of Workstation delivers a wealth of new features, making it even better value.

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