Virtualization

Sidestep dual-boot headaches with VMWare 2.0

Tired of having to repartition your computer to run multiple OSs? VMWare may have the solution to your problems with VMWare 2.0.


Have you ever tried to run several operating systems on one computer? If so, you had to dual-boot your machine. That also means you had to set up the partitions, format those partitions, and hope nothing went wrong that would wipe out your other OS. With VMWare, your days of dual-boot worry are over.

A little insight on VMWare
VMWare software acts as if it is a standalone computer. It has its own CMOS, its own memory (which the software sets aside on setup), its own “power button,” and more.

But here is the interesting part of the program; the operating system is simply a file on your computer. You do not need to partition the hard disk to make room for another OS. VMWare sets up a file that contains the new operating system and your computer’s OS assumes that the file provided is the hard drive and only “partitions” and “formats” that particular standalone file. You are never required to make any changes to your computer’s configuration.

A VMWare test in progress
When I first heard about what VMWare could do, I was a bit skeptical. So I decided to test the software for myself. I downloaded the evaluation from VMWare’s Web site and installed it on my machine at work, which happens to be a Compaq DeskPro PIII 700 with 128 MB of RAM. I chose Windows 2000 Server as my test OS.

When I ran VMWare for the first time, I was given three options:
  • Run the Configuration Wizard
  • Run the Configuration Editor
  • Open an existing configuration

I chose the first option and ran the Configuration Wizard, which is recommended by VMWare at the bottom of the window.

After clicking OK, I was presented with a wizard window, asking me to choose the “guest operating system” I wanted to configure. I was given quite a few choices:
  • MS-DOS
  • Windows 3.x
  • Windows 95
  • Windows 98
  • Windows NT 4.0
  • Windows 2000
  • Linux
  • FreeBSD
  • Other

Since I was installing Windows 2000 Server, I selected Windows 2000 from the drop-down list and clicked Next to continue. From there, the prompt inquired where I would like the VMWare directory to be created for the Windows 2000 files. I chose the default directory, and clicked Next.

Now came an important part of the setup. The program asked if I wanted to use a virtual disk or an existing partition. Although I did not mention this before, it is possible to use an existing partition if there is one available. However, VMWare recommends this part of the setup for expert users only. Since I didn’t feel like an expert user with the program at this point, I stuck with the virtual disk.

After I clicked Next, I was given a choice of how much space I wanted to provide on the virtual disk. I have a decent-size hard drive, around 9 gigabytes, so I decided to give the virtual disk 2 gigabytes. This way, I could play around with the OS once it was installed and wouldn’t have to worry about running out of space.

I clicked Next to continue, and I was given the opportunity to enable some features within the OS, such as my CD-ROM, floppy drive, and network. I enabled both the CD-ROM and floppy drive and chose to have them loaded (or mounted, for you Linux guys and gals) on startup.

Afterward, I was given three choices for networking the virtual computer:
  • No Networking—I could choose not to network the virtual machine.
  • Bridged Networking—I could connect to the local LAN by using the Ethernet card in my PC.
  • Host-only Networking—I could connect the virtual computer to the host PC over a virtual network.

I finally decided that if I wanted to thoroughly test the software, I needed to select the Bridged Networking option.

Once I made my selection, I clicked Next again and a review screen appeared, allowing me to check the choices I had made during the setup. Here is what I had configured:
  • A hard disk with 2000 MB of space
  • The first CD-Rom drive detected
  • A floppy at drive A:
  • A bridged network adaptor using the Ethernet card in my host machine
  • 64 MB of memory

After I clicked Finish, the VMWare wizard saved my information and I was ready to boot Windows 2000 Server for the first time.
For each OS selection, VMWare automatically sets aside the minimum amount of memory that the OS requires to run. However, if you choose the Other option, you can specify how much RAM is to be provided to the virtual machine.
Installing a virtual Win2K
I inserted the Windows 2000 Server CD into the CD-ROM and clicked the power button on the VMWare window to turn on the virtual computer. To my surprise, a CMOS screen appeared on my desktop.

The virtual machine had begun to boot. It detected the amount of memory that VMWare had set aside for Windows 2000, in this case 64 MB, and then found my mouse, floppy drive, CD-ROM, and the virtual disk.

Soon afterward, the Windows 2000 Server setup screen appeared. I began the Windows 2000 Server installation without any problem. I put VMWare in full screen mode, and for a time, I completely forgot that I was installing a virtual OS on my machine.

Once the installation had completed, the virtual machine rebooted, and Windows 2000 Server began to load. I hit [Ctrl][Alt][Delete], entered my user name and password, and began to explore my virtual Windows 2000.

So what’s the verdict?
I was very impressed with VMWare and how it handled Windows 2000. On my Compaq DeskPro, the speed comparison would be comparable to having Windows 2000 Server installed on a PC with a 300MHz-400MHz processor and 64 MB of RAM. The OS ran a bit slower than I expected, but the overall performance wasn’t bad at all. And the video tended to be jumpy from time to time, particularly when I used the mouse.

The good, the bad, and the final conclusion
I consider VMWare to be an outstanding tool that offers a number of benefits and uses:
  • You can have many different operating systems on one machine.
  • You do not have to repartition your machine.
  • The software facilitates testing new operating systems and new software.
  • VMWare would be great for help desks, where multiple OSs come into play (ISPs are a great example).
  • It’s easy to remove a specific operating system. Just delete the VMWare file associated with that operating system.

However, VMWare isn’t perfect. Here are a few of the downsides:
  • VMWare requires a lot of CPU power to operate. So, don’t even think of multitasking between VMWare and your host OS.
  • If you take out the ability to network when you are installing the program, you cannot add it in later on. You must re-install the software.
  • Software registration is done with a registry file. If you are weary of anything that edits your registry outside of a program installation, you may want to reconsider using this program.

I expect that I will be using VMWare for a variety of projects in the future. In fact, since installing it, I have already used VMWare to get screenshots for several articles that I have written for TechRepublic. I definitely recommend downloading this program and giving it a test run so you can see the results for yourself.

Product information
Product: VMWare 2.0
Company: VMWare Inc.
Web site:http://www.vmware.com/
OS availability: Linux, Windows NT, Windows 2000
System requirements:Click here for Windows
System requirements:Click here for Linux
Download URL:Click here to download the VMWare trial software
Have you tried VMWare in your network—or are you currently using it? What do you think of the software? Leave a post below or send us a note .

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