It is now five years since we were hostage to a physical PC, thanks to VMware desktop virtual computing. Of course there is hardware on our desk but it's little more than a shell hosting the virtual PC that does the real work. That's why we ran, not walked, to grab a pre-release copy of VMware Workstation 7. Traditional physical computing, frankly, stinks. The operating system and applications perch precariously on hardware that fails infrequently but catastrophically.
If everything goes horribly wrong, years of careful set up are lost. Switching to new hardware means hours or even days of reinstallation of favourite tools - if you can locate their installers, and if they work with the new machinery that is.
With VMware, disaster recovery or hardware upgrade means only installing a vanilla operating system on a PC, then VMware, and then firing up the virtual machine. Perhaps restore some drive mappings and you're ready for action. We once changed jobs and relocated our entire working environment from one building to another in 30 minutes. And because a VM is really just a large computer file, we always have a fresh back up to fire up in moments.
VMware 7 runs under Windows 7 as an application and uses it as a guest operating system better than its predecessor. With 4 gigabytes of RAM and a pacey processor in the physical machine, a Windows 7 VM is agile and stable. Although it doesn't seem to handle complex 3D graphics quite as well as a real world Win7 box, it runs the benchmark Aero theme effortlessly.
Unless you're planning on heavyweight engineering design work or extreme gaming, VMware will be fine in the graphics department.
The developers have buffed off three rough edges in the old code.
VMware Tools, some code that helps the virtual machine to interact more smoothly with the physical one, now updates with less fuss. And virtual machines can now print to many standard printers without needing to have specific printer drivers installed.
This is a boon for mobile and contract workers, who can now take a virtual PC into a new workplace on a USB stick and use the available printers with no additional software. They call it virtual printing.
No idea why, since it really does print.
Version 7 shares sound devices well with the real world PC and other VMs. Previously, virtual machines wrestled for sonic dominance with ugly results. Now you can run simultaneous Skype conversations on two VMs.
We like to duplicate the VM file and keep a copy off site as a personal business continuity strategy, but we also make use of the quick snapshot feature to guard against minor mishaps.
Before we install a new program, there's always a snapshot made in case of the unexpected. Version 7 will automatically create snapshots at scheduled intervals.
There's now an instant pause control to free up system resources on demand. We have a dedicated virtual machine for video production, with all the tools we need for that, and a separate one set up as a sound studio.
Running both together can stress the most powerful hardware if the video suite tries to render a movie while the sound system is converting a long soundtrack. VMware can now ice one machine so that the other gets the resources it needs to crunch the big job.
Similar to Adobe's Acrobat reader, VMware offers a free player program that runs virtual machines but, until now, could not create them. VMware Player 7 can at last create VMs.
The developer is tight-lipped about a release date for this upgrade but with the release candidate already spreading far and wide it can be only a matter of weeks.
Besides, Windows 7 hit the shelves days ago and one of the most attractive uses for VMware 7 is to afford Win7 enthusiasts a perfect blank canvas for the new operating system.
Peter Moon is a partner in Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers.
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