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VMWare Unveils Desktop Virtualization Upgrade

Next week, VMWare will begin shipping the 4.0 version of its desktop virtualization software, VMWare Workstation.

With a market share lead over other Intel-based virtual machine offerings, the four-year-old VMWare Workstation didn't come in for an overhaul so much as a usability upgrade this time around. A number of features will make virtual machines on a desktop easier to manipulate and use.

At a basic level, virtualization software allows a user to run two or more operating systems on the same hardware. The VMWare desktop software runs on a host operating system and abstracts the hardware, allowing each virtual operating system to operate as if it owns the machine while remaining unaware of the other operating systems on the machine.

VMWare's customer base has found the code useful for running legacy applications on new hardware, for application and patch testing, for development work, for software demonstrations and for software distribution, among other things.

Three major usability enhancements are introduced in VMWare Workstation 4.0 -- a tabbed interface, snapshot capabilities and drag-and-drop functionality.

The tabbed interface will allow users to use a mouse to switch between virtual machines. "In a way, it's kind of a virtual KVM [Keyboard-Video-Mouse] switch," says Michael Mullany, senior director of product management for VMWare.

The snapshot capabilities simplify the process of rolling back bad system changes, a requirement for users testing applications or patches and for developers. Previously, a user who wanted the option of undoing a change had to start the virtual machine in "undoable mode" before altering the system. If the user ran into a problem with the change, the user could restart the virtual machine and get a choice of accepting or rejecting the change. Now, a user can choose to create a snapshot at any point without needing to be in a special mode. The user can also revert to a snapshot version without restarting the virtual machine. "No more figuring out what mode to be in, or having to restart," Mullany says.

Ease of file sharing is greatly improved in version 4.0. Older versions of VMWare Workstation required a computer to be connected to a network for files to be shared among virtual machines on the same computer. Refinements to the code now allow users to drag and drop files from one virtual machine to another or to create shared folders among virtual machines that reside on a computer that is isolated from a network.

Other new features include debugging improvements for developers, improved support for sound cards and graphics cards and expanded operating system support. Newly supported operating systems include Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Linux 8.0 and 8.1 beta, Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS, SuSE 8.0 and 8.1, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, Mandrake Linux 9.0 and Novell NetWare 5 and 6.

VMWare's next version will see much intensified competition from rival Connectix owing to Microsoft's recent purchase of the Connectix technology. With Microsoft's branding, Connectix will have much enhanced mindshare against the currently dominant VMWare.

Against that threat, VMWare emphasizes two advantages -- the relative maturity of its product compared with the newer Connectix software and its cross-platform flexibility. "We're maintaining the ability to allow customers to choose between running on Linux or Windows as the host," Mullany says.

New licenses for version 4.0 will cost $299 for electronic distribution and $329 for a boxed version. Upgrades will cost $99 for electronic distribution and $129 boxed. Some customers who recently bought VMWare 3.2 are eligible for free upgrades.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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