VMware's VMPlayer: A Desktop Presence?

VMware doesn't have one of the strongest reputations in IT, and probably the best-known reputation in virtualization, for nothing.

The company has continued to make enterprise virtualization a snap, and now it's delivering virtual appliances to the desktop almost as easily as Apple delivers songs to the iPod.

VMware's VMPlayer, sort of like a lightweight version of VMware Workstation, is an interesting approach to virtualizing the desktop to enable it for a variety of different solutions. Whether to run Linux implementations or other virtual desktops, or to create a virtual appliance (which is possible with a small but growing number of applications), VMPlayer takes aim at a space that Oracle's VirtualBox
has had to itself.

While VMware Workstation has been a paid application, VMPlayer is a free download with similar functionality as VirtualBox. However, VMPlayer has the added bonus of integration with VMware Tools -- which makes life easier when switching back and forth between guest
and host operating systems, and when switching back between Linux and Windows, for example.

To be clear: Not every virtual appliance can run on VMPlayer. But we created snap virtual appliances with Wireshark (the network protocol analyzer) on an Ubuntu VM and Spamassassin for Ubuntu (used with Evolution.) Both worked and were up and running within minutes on a virtual server/appliance.

A couple of caveats: Our host machine was a Windows 7 PC running a quad-core CPU and 4 GB of RAM. We assigned 1 GB to the Ubuntu Server in each case and, in each case, performance of the host machine slowed considerably. That aside, the virtual appliances in each
instance did the job it was supposed to do and it did it with no additional hardware overhead. And it was up and running quickly.

VMware does suggest one given use for VMPlayer: for running a "browser appliance" to provide an extra measure of security for your PC while browsing the Web. The appliance is built with Mozilla's Firefox browser and can be configured to reset everything each time to kill all
personal information or browser history. It's an interesting suggestion, but there may be better ways to protect the PC during Internet access. Still, can't fault VMware for trying.

For most users, the move to using a Virtual PC inside a real PC should only take a few minutes to learn and adapt to. VMPlayer is intuitive and does offer clear instructions on how to navigate into and out of the virtual machine. For those who are more experienced at IT, creating on-the-fly virtual appliances to fight spam, monitor the network and
manage storage silos are more challenging but provide lots of opportunity to turn the traditional desktop into an enterprise powerhouse.

And that's not even considering the fact that Windows 7 is perhaps one of the most robust 64-bit platforms to date for PCs, supporting much more memory that, in turn, can support much more functionality in deployment of PC-based virtual appliances.

VMware is making virtualization accessible in ways we couldn't even
imagine just a few years ago and, with CPU makers and others in the ecosystem providing ever-greater performance, it's time to start priming the imagination.

Not everybody does the frequent software testing we do in the CRN Test Center lab, so not everybody is going to go through VMs and virtual appliances like socks, as we're apt to do on occasion. But that's no reason to stop looking at new opportunities for new solutions.