I have been running Windows 2000 for over
a year now and think it is by far the best operating system I have used.
However, being built on the NT kernel, there are some programs that won't
run and vendors have been slow to come out with hardware drivers. Worms
Armageddon is a great game I have, but it won't run under Win2K. I also
have a digital camera. The vendor does not supply a Win2K driver.
For these reasons, I have my machine set
to dual boot with Windows ME. But I really hate to reboot into another
Then I heard about VMWare Workstation 2.0.
It is designed to run on Windows NT, Windows 2000 or Linux and allows you
to configure virtual machines (the VM in VMWare). Those VMs can run DOS,
Windows 3.1/95/98/NT/2K, FreeBSD 2.2.x/3.x or Linux (currently supported
are Red Hat 5/6, Caldera 1.3/2.x, SuSE 5.3/6.x, TurboLinux 6.0, and Corel
||Was this to be the nirvana
I was looking for - never having to reboot and simply run another OS from
within Win2K? I just had to find out.
I installed VMWare Workstation 2.0.3 build
799 on my Pentium II/266 with 128MB RAM. It is worth noting up front that
this is pretty near bottom of the barrel as far as VMWare is concerned.
About the only thing I had above rock bottom was memory, as they state
a minimum of 96MB. The installation went smoothly.
When configuring a virtual machine, it
is almost surreal. You first tell a Wizard what operating system you are
going to install and answer some questions about networking and other resources
you want to be available to the VM. Then you power on the VM. You see a
Phoenix BIOS screen come up followed by the standard search for memory
and disks. If you didn't follow the instructions you are then greeted with
the error message indicating an operating system was not found. Well, you
have to install one, just as if you have a brand new machine.
Most recent versions of Windows come on
a bootable CD-ROM and most computers can boot from their CD-ROM drive,
so that is the easiest way to complete most installs. If you don't have
an OS on a bootable CD-ROM, you have to revert to booting from a floppy
drive. Unless you are installing a floppy-based OS such as DOS and Windows
3.1, you are going to need DOS-level drivers to access your CD-ROM drive
so you can install your OS.
Don't start thinking you can just stick
the required files on a partition on your hard disk and access them from
there - this is a virtual machine - it knows nothing of the rest of your
hardware. At this point in the game, the VM will see a single 2GB hard
drive that is completely void of data, logical drives, or even partitions.
It really does take a bit of getting used to. What is being created is
a microcosm that is unaware of the larger world in which it exists.
I first installed a copy of Windows 98
SE. After the standard installation finally completed - it took a really
long time - I installed the VMWare Tools. It is highly advised that you
install this component. It not only makes it simpler to do some functions
such as moving back and forth between your real machine and the VM, but
it adds a new video driver that gives much better performance and higher
I kept having to remind myself that this
is a virtual machine. There are many differences between it and your real
computer. The first clue should have been the appearance of a PhoenixBIOS.
That's not what is in my computer. What I ended up with was a computer
that appeared to have 48MB RAM (this could have been higher if I had more
than 128MB of real RAM), a NECVMWar VMWare IDE CD-ROM, a generic NEC floppy
drive, a generic IDE TYPE01 hard drive, a VMWare SVGA video adapter, a
PS/2 compatible mouse, an AMD PCNET Family Ethernet Adapter, and a Sound
Blaster 16 or AWE-32 or compatible sound card.
I really wanted to see if I could get a
Windows 98 game to function. Oops...no go. VMWare does not support Direct3D/DirectX,
and Worms Armageddon requires DirectX 6.
Then my second disappointment - VMWare
does not support USB ports, so my digital camera was out.
So, with the two main objectives in using
VMWare shot, I started looking deeper to see what value I, or anyone else,
might find in VMWare. I am happy to report that all is not lost. This is
one nifty piece of software.
First, anyone who must test
software under various operating systems may find VMWare to be a wonderful
tool. You can easily load up many different operating systems and even
have virtual machines for every variant. For example, Windows 95 came in
at least 4 major variants from the shipping version through the OEM Service
Releases. So, if you have access to all the builds, you can easily test
your software to ensure compatibility.
For anyone who likes to try out new software
and has been burned more than once by some program that hosed their machine,
VMWare has a unique feature that can help. The virtual disk in a VM may
be configured in any of three modes. The default mode is "Persistent".
In this mode, all changes are written to the virtual disk in a permanent
manner. When you shut down the VM and start it up again, all changes made
during the previous session are there. In "Nonpersistent" mode, all changes
are discarded when you exit the VM. The final mode is "Undoable". In this
mode, the changes are maintained in a log and when you exit the VM, you
are given the option to either permanently write the changes to the virtual
disk or discard the changes.
The last two modes give you the ultimate
in a testing environment. You can happily add any new program without regard
for terrible things it may do to system files, configurations, other programs,
etc. Depending on the mode, the changes will either be automatically discarded
at the end of the session, or you are given the opportunity to do so.
VMWare can also be very handy if you have
an occasional need to run a few programs that don't run under your main
OS (assuming of course that your main OS is Windows NT, Windows 2000, or
Linux - as they are the only OSs supported for the host system). Linux
aficionados will probably skin me alive for suggesting such heresy, but
they may be the biggest benefactors, given the number of desktop applications
available for Windows compared to the number available for Linux. I don't
think we should expect a Linux port of PowerPoint any time soon!
Besides my problems with lack of support
for DirectX and USB, I did note some other issues people should be aware
of before diving into VMWare. VMWare is slow. It makes my Pentium II/266
feel like a Pentium 90. As I understand it, more memory would be a big
Some operating systems, most notably DOS,
do not handle the CPU HLT instruction. Running VMWare under such an OS
will send the CPU utilization of your machine right to 100% and peg it
there. A program called DOSIdle (available as DOSIdle2.Zip in the Miscellaneous
Utilities file area on PUB II can help here.
You want a lot of memory. Although they
claim the minimum is 96MB, in reality I think 128 should really be considered
I had some problems finding drivers. There
is a DOS-based driver on the VMWare web site that will work with their
virtual CD-ROM. I had a tougher time finding a driver for Windows for Workgroups
3.11, but I eventually found one on the Internet that worked OK. Keep in
mind, you are not looking for a driver for your hardware, you are looking
for a driver for the virtual hardware. MIDI is not supported on the virtual
Sound Blaster 16 sound card.
The maximum size of a virtual disk is 2GB.
While I would have felt silly listing this as a limitation a few short
years ago, these days 2GB is not all that big.
You may be able to get better performance
by using a real disk partition rather than a virtual disk. I started down
this road for testing, but I must admit I found it confusing and backed
off when I thought I might be getting myself into more trouble than was
warranted. They do warn you that use of existing partitions should only
be done by those who know what they are doing.
I found that the VMWare web site has a
wealth of information and trouble-shooting information. I did not find
the organization of that information all that intuitive, but it's there
for the taking. One of the gems I found was a 13MB PDF file that seems
to contain all the information in 1181 pages.
VMWare is not cheap. The list price is
US$299 if you want to download the 5.5MB package, or US$329 for a CD-ROM
and printed manual. If your primary OS is Linux and you only want to be
able to run Win95/98 in a VM, there is a bargain version available for
US$79 (download) or US$99 (CD-ROM and printed manual).
A 30-day eval copy of VMWare may be downloaded
from www.vmware.com so you can try it out and see if it will suit your
needs before shelling out the hard-earned money.
VMWare Workstation 2.0
List price: US$299 (download)
CD-ROM price: US$329 (includes printed manual)
List price: US$79 (download)
CD-ROM price: US$99 (includes printed manual)
Originally published: May, 2001