The insanely cool VMware Player

Last week we finished with a brief discussion of VMware's free VMware Player, which is essentially an amazingly useful run-time for virtual machines that runs under Windows and Linux.

As was noted in Gibbsblog a few weeks ago, when VMware Player was first released it wasn't "just for [VMware's] own VMs, but also for VMs created with Microsoft's VM environment, Virtual PC [and Virtual Server], as well as Symantec LiveState Recovery disk formats." This is an insanely cool tool that others have described as a VM Acrobat Reader.

Installing VMware Player (VMP) is pretty simple under Windows, and we suspect equally easy under Linux. The VMP requires about 30M bytes of RAM, and most VMs will need about 200M bytes to run. (Linux will be very happy in that amount of memory, Windows less so if you get ambitious and try to run too many applications.) So, bank on at least 250M bytes of RAM for each VMP you run (you can allocate a maximum of 796M bytes). And, yes, you can run multiple copies of VMP simultaneously, but they are each separate instances - there's no common control console for all VMs as with the other VMware products.

An important consideration is that you can't have VMware's VMware Workstation installed on the same PC you use to run VMware Player. This is disappointing, but if you're interested in doing such things, you'll probably be running two PCs on your desk anyway.

When you run VMP it asks you for a VM to run. If you have downloaded one of the VMware Virtual Machine Collection's preconfigured VMs, it will have a "vmx" file extension. VMP also can open VMs stored in "vmc" files (Microsoft Virtual PC) and "sv2i" files (Symantec LiveState).

Note that VMP, at least in its current release, will run VMs created using the evaluation version of VMware Workstation, which seems a curious licensing loophole.

An interesting and useful VM to download and run, particularly if you want to get more experience with Linux, is the Browser Appliance, which consists of Ubuntu Linux, one of the coolest distros around, with FireFox pre-loaded.

<digression>Note that the Browser Appliance includes FireFox 1.07, but FireFox 1.5 has just been released. FireFox 1.5 is a big improvement if only because it can successfully run Google Maps! Performance is also improved; security is upgraded; an automated update feature is included; drag and drop tab reordering has been added; Mac OS X 10.2+ support is improved, including profile migration from Safari and Mac Internet Explorer; and support has been added for SVG, CSS 2 and CSS 3, and JavaScript 1.6.</digression>

If you've used VMware Workstation you'll notice that the user interface for VMP is different; the player menu bar is much simpler than VMware Workstation's and only allows setting various options, changing the memory allocated to the VM, along with VM power-off and reset. (You have to shut down the operating system running in the VM if you want a clean operating system shutdown.)

The only major feature lacking in the VMware Player is a facility for taking a "snapshot" - that is, a copy of the running VM so it can be restarted from that point. That said, the Player recognizes snapshots in virtual machines saved to other VM management products, so with VMP you can power on a "snapshotted" VM from its saved state. You also will revert to the snapshot if the VM is configured to automatically revert upon power-off.

We had to do some searching to find out what the default root password for the Browser Appliance is. Given this is VMware's benchmark VM we should have guessed . . . yep, you got it: vmware.

With the Browser Appliance VM just under 220M bytes and the VMware Player under 20M bytes, this could be an interesting opportunity to use a USB thumb drive to create an ultra-private browsing environment. We'll try setting this up and let you know how it works out.

Tell us what tech toys you want for the holidays at gearhead@gibbs.com. And do check out Gibbsblog.

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