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A Review of the VMware Virtual Machine on Debian Linux

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VMware Server -- What Is It?

VMware Server is a commercial virtual machine. If you want to know more about the general concept of virtual machines, check out Virtual Machine Intro.

VMware is professional solution Virtual Machine. It's been developing for a few years and is now a fairly mature product. As a commercial solution, it is not open source. However, the company that makes VMware Server (and many other computer management products) has now made VMware Server freely available to individual users.

VMware is unquestionably a professional Virtual Machine solution. It provides a full GUI environment for installing, maintaining, and running guest operating systems within a host. It has many features that make installation of guest systems easy to accomplish.

The computer on which VMware Server is installed is called the host. Within the VMware engine can be installed other operating systems that run on the host. The operating systems installed in VMware are called guests.

VMware can exist on Linux and Windows hosts. On these respective hosts can be installed X86 based guest operating systems.

For many of the more modern guest systems, VMware has packages called VMware Tools. When installed in an operating guest, these additions provide speed enhancements, better keyboard and mouse performance, and in some cases (Like Windows NT) enhanced graphics drivers.

The result is that you can choose a host you like for most of your work, and still be able to run a wide variety of guest operating systems in a window on your host.


How do you get VMware Server?

You can go to VMware.com to get the latest VMware install. Install packages are available for Linux and Windows. For Linux, I found and downloaded a VMware Server tarzip installation file.

Recently, VMware has made their VMware Server freely available. So you can go to the VMware site, download an appropriate version for your system, and register for a free license. You'll need the license number to install the VMware Server product.

The procedure I used to install VMware Server on Debian Etch was:

Unzipped and ran installer (as root)
Choose NAT as the networking interface for guests
Rebooted, allowing VMware to make its pseudo network (vmnet8)

Once installed, you simply type 'vmware' to bring up the system. If things have installed correctly, an ifconfig command will show the addition of VMware network connections, such as vmnet8.

On Debian Etch, installation was straight forward, and all aspects of the engine seemed to work well on my system. On an Ubuntu install the situation was much different. The Ubuntu install is covered at the end of this article.


How Do You Install A Guest Into VMware Server?

Installing a guest system is also straight forward. The VMware GUI lets you simply click on Create a new virtual machine to add another system, select a few initial parameters such as the OS name and type, memory allowed (workable defaults for different systems are available), and guest disk file name and size.

Then VMware boots from the install source, usually a cdrom, and runs through the install. When finished, it assumes the next boot of the new system is from the new disk image, though you can easily force a boot from cdrom whenever desired.

You can use the VMware menu system to define other disk drives, the cdrom, floppies, networking, sound, serial ports, parallel ports, and SCSI devices in the configuration for each guest.

How do you launch a VMware guest?

To run a VMware guest, first start the VMware engine, select Connect to Local Host, use the mouse to select which of the installed guests you wish to run, then click Power On.

Once in a system, across the top bar of the VMware are some pulldowns, one of particular interest is VM. When VM is clicked, it drops down and gives you control over removable media. You can mount and unmount cdroms, floppies, usb devices, and network adaptors. The VM pulldown also gives the you the opportunity to install the VM Tools in your guest OS. Note that not all guests, such as MSDOS, can make use of VM Tools.

Networking with VMware is most easily done with the NAT interface. The VMware Server Engine emulates an AMD PCNET PCI network adaptor, and most systems have a driver for this common adaptor. For the guest, set up to use DHCP, and usually other guest network parameters can be left alone.

Clicking on the guest window lets the guest control the mouse and keyboard. To move out of the guest, use the CNTL-ALT key combination.

To exit a guest, be sure to first use the guest options to shut down. Then click the Power Off button on VMware Server.

Personal Observations

I've tested VMware with Freedos, Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP guest systems. All installed easily and run quite well in my one gigahertz system. The VM Tools installed with no problems. I was pleasantly surprised that the VM Tools install on my Windows NT guest provided a VMware svga driver, greatly improving the standard NT vga video driver.

One interesting aspect of VMware is how it deals with the serial ports. I describe in my qemu review that my quickpad keyboard would not communicate with the qemu serial port, though other products would.

Happily, the serial port support in VMware seems to perform well, even with the quickpad interface software. I did have to click on the Yield CPU on poll check box in the serial port setup window to get the quickpad interface to work.

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Issues with Ubuntu

Once finally installed on Ubuntu, VMware Server worked very well with Windows XP Professional. However, there were numerous issues with getting VMware properly installed on the Ubuntu platform. Each, however, was solvable.

The Ubuntu install of VMware Server seemed to stall on several points, and I eventually found 4 issues that had to be solved. Here's list of the 3 things that had to be done prior to installing VMware, and one that had to be done after the install.

1) 'touch' 2 files in /etc/vmware/ssl: rui.key and rui.crt
2) Install ia32-libs
3) Install ssl and openssl
4) After install, move /usr/lib/vmware/libgcc_s.so.1 to
/usr/lib/vmware/bak/libgcc_s.so.1

Our need for the ia32-libs may be due to using a 64-bit kernel on the Ubuntu processor. Detailed discussions of these issues can be found at:

Install Fixes
Lib Fix

After these fixes, VMware Server seems to work well in Ubuntu. There was one issue with installed guests involving the usb access. The easy fix is described here.

Basically, the fix is to give VMware access to the usbfs virtual disk. To solve this problem, insert the following line in your /etc/fstab file. Then the problem is automatically taken care of whenever you boot into Ubuntu.

usbfs /proc/bus/usb usbfs auto 0 0