VMWare – Workstation 7 review

personal virtualisation for professional desktop PC users
Photo of VMWare – Workstation 7
£143.78 + VAT

Available for both Windows and Linux, VMware Workstation heads the field as far as personal virtualisation platforms are concerned. Mainly because as well as hosting virtual machines on a desktop PC, it comes with an extensive array of extra tools to, for example, model different network setups, record and replay VM sessions and help debug guest applications. It can even be linked to integrated development environments, making it a popular choice with software developers, trainers and support professionals alike.

And now there’s a new release – Workstation 7 – which, unsurprisingly, leads with official support for Windows 7, both as a host and a guest operating system. That includes host Aero Peek and Flip 3D integration, making it possible to view live VM activity when hovering over the VMware taskbar icon or stacking windows on the desktop.

The new version can be run on any of the Windows 7 editions and likewise any edition of Windows can be configured to run in a guest OS. Moreover, VMs are fully optimised for the new OS, with a new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) to handle the Aero interface in both Windows 7 and Vista virtual machines.

3D support has been enhanced too. Added to which there’s support for the XP Mode virtual machine available from Microsoft to run older applications on a Windows 7 desktop. This can be imported and run alongside other VMs in Workstation 7, with the added advantage of access to multiple processors, high end graphics and other VMware options. This includes Unity mode where guest applications can be run directly from the host desktop.

Don’t, however, run away with the idea that Windows 7 support is all that’s new, as there’s a lot more besides, such as the ability to configure VMs with up to four virtual processors/cores and 32GB of memory. Virtual disks can now be compacted and resized on the fly and there’s a new Auto Protect feature to take scheduled VM snapshots. Plus it’s possible to pause a running VM to instantly free up the processor and memory resources it’s using. Just hit the pause button and the VM freezes.

On the downside, you have to pay to get Workstation 7, even if already using a previous release (upgrades cost £75.32 + VAT). But that’s pretty reasonable considering what you get. Moreover, when we upgraded an existing Workstation 6.5 PC it kept all of our virtual machines and application settings. We could even resume guests we’d left suspended before starting the update.

The only thing we had to do was re-install the VMware tools to add support for some of the new features. One of these is virtual printing, where printers on the host PC are immediately accessible inside guests without having to install any drivers. We had to install the tools manually to get this, but another feature of Workstation 7 is automatic updates whenever newer versions of the tools are released.

Amongst a raft of other enhancements is the ability to encrypt VMs and even run VMware’s ESX 4.0 hypervisor in a VM. Not in anger, but to allow developers and other professionals to work with the hypervisor without the need for extra hardware. Developers also get enhancements to the debugging tools to make them easier and faster to use, plus integration with SpringSource Tools Suite to run and debug Java apps in a VM from within the development environment.

It’s all very impressive and there’s certainly a lot to get to grips with in the new release, but the user interface remains the same and it doesn’t take long. We liked it a lot and think you will too.

Company: VMWare

Contact: 01276 414300

Unlike some of its competitors, VMware Workstation isn't free, but nothing comes close to matching what the VMware product has to offer. And now with Workstation 7 the gap is even wider, the latest version adding official support for Windows 7, yet more 3D graphics, 4-way SMP and numerous other performance, functionality and usability enhancements. Existing users will want to upgrade straight away, while for others looking for a personal virtualisation tool, the search is over. This is it.