Updated: June 29, 2006
VMware Player is one of the more useful software programs available today. It is a virtualization product that allows you to run almost any-PC based operating system (OS) in a virtual machine, as a guest on your native OS.
In other words, if you have only Windows installed, you can still very easily test Linux distributions, or even other versions of Windows, without actually installing and uninstalling anything, tampering with your crucial system and data, and risking critical losses due to these experiments. VMware Player is also ideally suited for testing development (beta) versions of various operating systems. It is very useful for people who want to try multiple versions of different operating systems and tend to install and uninstall a lot.
Created virtual machines are isolated yet complete operating system environments. Not only do they allow the user to operating systems, they also allow for testing of various softwares, for compatibility and debugging purposes. VMware virtual machines can also be used to simulate virus or trojan attacks on the operating system, for studying purposes.
VMware Player machines are safe and complete environments. They exist as configuration files on your PC and can easily be copied, changed or deleted. These files can also include a virtual hard disk, which can vary in size up to tens of GB, if needed, and can contain and preserve changes just like a real operating system would. For instance, you can run a Windows XP virtual machine on your real Windows XP operating system and use completely different softwares in each one.
For me, VMware Player is a software test bed for both new and old operating systems. I like to try out many of the new Linux distributions as virtual machines before installing them physically on a computer. Likewise, I often use VMware Player to run older versions of Windows operating system, which allows me to play old games that are no longer supported by latest operating systems.
Like I said, a great advantage of the virtual machines is that they can be copied from one computer to another without any fuss. You can easily burn the environment to a CD or DVD and then copy it to another PC and use it there, provided the other machine has a VMware Player also installed. Thus, you can keep less often used virtual machines safely stored away and use them only when you need them, without clogging the hard disk. But the truth is, the virtual machines do not take too much space. The virtual hard disks are incremental - in other words only the occupied space actually exists. Thus, a 10GB hard disk with only 2GB of information written on it will take only 2GB physically. Personally, I have a 20GB hard disk specially dedicated to virtual machines and have Windows XP, Kubuntu, Gentoo, SUSE, PC-BSD, and LFS taking only about 8-9GB. If you tell someone you can have 6 operating systems on a 10GB hard disk, most likely they will not believe you.
Best of all, VMware Player is free for download.
VMware also offer a repository of virtual appliances, fully preinstalled and preconfigured machines that you can instantly use. Very notable among these is the Browser Appliance virtual machine, which offers the users a safe environment for daily browsing, based on Ubuntu OS with Firefox browser. The repository offers a broad range of products, including Linux, Solaris, BSD, and more.
I find the LiveCD Player to be also highly useful. It allows you to test a variety of live CDs, including various distributions of Linux, BartPE, Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, and others. You can also change the configuration file (.vmx) to mount virtual CD-ROM devices (.iso).
In next articles, I will cover specific usage I found for this extremely versatile tool, including how I managed to revive old games and even successfully install DOS, all thanks to VMware Player.
Other great products by VMware include free VMware Server and the full VMware Workstation, which is a costly yet extremely powerful and complete virtualization suite. It is more suitable for developers and IT specialists, but if you are a very keen home user, it is one of the worthier products you can spend your money on. VMware Player is greatly complemented by EasyVMX! and QEMU.
EasyVMX! is an online virtual machine creator. It allows you to build the configuration files (.vmx) with your custom size memory (RAM), hard disk type / size and hardware devices, like serial, parallel and USB ports, CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, sound and network cards. Configuration files are created and are made available for a short period of time. For instance, a user could download a Mandrake Linux .iso and then proceed to install it in his / her own virtual machine he / she created using the EasyVMX! creator.
QEMU is an open-source CPU emulator. Among other things, it can be used to create virtual hard disk of custom size and type that might not be available through EasyVMX! But QEMU is a product unto itself and requires a separate page for full coverage.
VMware Player, combined with QEMU and EasyVMX, is a winning trio for any even mildly curious desktop user. Fancy a ride on a completely new OS? Just start the VMware Player and enjoy.