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User Reports

VMware 3.0 in SuSE Linux 7.3

Frank Rennemann
Translated by:
Tino Tanner

Having been in contact with VMware 1.x and 2.x since the first public beta versions and having used the product productively in previous jobs (why squeeze an entire Windows computer somewhere beneath the desk if a virtual machine is sufficient for testing browsers?!), I was rather curious about the new edition called VMware Workstation 3.0.

Anyone can download the latest version from the VMware website and obtain a 30-day evaluation license by mail. Consequently, I decided to abandon my VMware 2.04 in favor of the new version. Before long, I had downloaded the 9 MB RPM and executed rpm -Uhv as recommended. This resulted in a number of conflicts with files of the existing VMware 2.04. My fault! After all, the update instructions indicated that old versions should be uninstalled prior to the installation of version 3. So I made backup copies of all important files of the old version (the only important file being the old virtual machine) and uninstalled the old VMware.

Subsequently, the RPM can be unpacked easily. A short note on how to continue would have been useful at this point. But as no hint was given when the RPM was unpacked, I had to go back to the manual, which shows the next step: the execution of the perl script vmware-config.pl as root. So, that's what I did - to no avail. Though the configuration script finds a suitable vmmon kernel module for my standard SuSE kernel, it insists on compiling its own vmnet module. Gracious as I am, I would have permitted it to do so, but the standard SuSE installation I currently use does not have any kernel sources installed.

After having installed an additional 115 MB of kernel sources to the hard disk, I am able to proceed to the next error message. This time the script complains that it can not locate the file version.h and rightly assumes that I have not yet compiled my own kernel on this system - which the script apparently considers to be a good idea. In view of the 115 MB of sources the system is loaded with, you may wonder why the tiny version.h is not included. However, it is quite understandable, as a kernel can be selected during the installation of SuSE Linux. However, you do not have to compile a new kernel (the SuSE manual strongly discourages the "inexperienced" from doing so ;->) in order to generate a version.h file.

This would be the end of the story for the less brave, but since I am bent on writing an article on VMware 3.0, I continue steadfastly.
make cloneconfig
in
/usr/src/linux
followed by
make dep
places a fresh version.h to the location required by the VMware configuration script. This is possible without having to endure hours of configuring and compiling a new kernel. Still, it is difficult to understand why VMware does not make use of the cloneconfig functionality, but encourages the user to embark on unnecessary and time-consuming adventures.

There we go! After a few more questions and answers, the script is satisfied and VMware Workstation 3.0 is ready for productive use. At least that is what you would expect, since it starts promptly upon entering the command. Interesting that an entire virtual PC starts quicker than StarOffice - but then you shouldn't forget that the virtual PC is not yet complete. So let's install an operating system. I insert the SuSE 7.3 DVD, which I always keep in reach, and start the VMware wizard. The list of possible guest operating systems has grown considerably, ranging from MS-DOS (only MS-DOS, Novell-DOS does not work) and the various Windows versions from 3.1 to XP to Linux and FreeBSD. I select Linux, enter a path for the virtual PC, and enter the size of the virtual hard disk (up to a maximum of 4 GB), after which the system is ready to go.

The VMware window has a cute little "Power on" button at the top left, which boots a PC in the PC, including the BIOS boot screen. The SuSE installation program starts, but terminates with an error message after some time, which is rather surprising. So I press "Power off" (the same button) and restart the installation in text mode. Works much better, doesn't it? No it doesn't - DVD support in a "naked" virtual machine doesn't seem to be very advanced.

Therefore, I decide to use my set of SuSE 7.2 CDs, which I use for my baby server that unfortunately doesn't have a DVD drive. Now the installation works smoothly. You should, however, postpone the X server configuration until later on. The virtual AMD network adapter is detected and can be configured easily, everything else is done later on. Following the installation, I log in as root and install the vmware-tools. For this purpose, a virtual CD is temporarily mounted - an easy, quick, and very comfortable process. Additionally, the tools come with a suitable X server that can be configured as usual with sax2. The Logitech wheel mouse is detected (and works later on) and VMware's own graphics adapter is accepted (see Image 1). Now I just need to set the desired resolution and a suitable VESA screen driver (see Image 2). After the configuration is stored and startx is entered, the system finally launches the graphical user interface.

   
Image 1:
SaX2 contains a VMware graphics adapter
Image 2:
Selecting the VESA driver

The first thing you should do now is to start the vmware-tools. Apart from synchronizing the time between the host and the guest, this causes the mouse pointer to be captured/released automatically when it is moved to/from the VMware window.

OK, the performance of Linux was acceptable, even if it seemed a bit slower than in the predecessor version. The next step is going to be tougher: an old Windows installation waits to be implemented. It contains all browsers that are supposed to display our web site correctly. The installation was done under VMware 1.0, survived the shift to VMware 2.0 without difficulties, and should of course continue to work - which it does, provided you do NOT update the virtual hardware! I attempted to do so, with the result that my Pioneer DVD drive went on a total strike after it loitered about the Windows CD for quite some time during the hardware detection. Then it stopped entirely until I rebooted the system after a 15-minute security break. I thought it over and decided to place the contents of the Windows CD directly into the virtual Windows, thus avoiding extended searching sprees on the CD during the hardware update. You still need a good deal of patience (the process takes about an hour on a PII/350), and Windows reboots at least three times, but in the end the virtual PC runs with Windows using updated virtual hardware.

I'm going to touch on the installation of a new Windows and the additional features of version 3 in the next article.

Conclusion

Having tackled initial problems such as the removal of the old version, post-installation of the kernel sources and the mission version.h, the installation of VMware Workstation 3.0 is rather uncomplicated. Nevertheless, a newcomer may encounter some difficulties in overcoming the comparably minor obstacles. On the other hand, VMware apparently does not view typical newcomers as potential customers, since the new VMware version starts from 299$, and the basic version was cancelled entirely.

Resource consumption has also increased slightly: any Pentium II processor was sufficient for the last version, while a processor with at least 400 MHz is required for the current version. Nevertheless, my three-year-old Pentium II 350 MHz system proved to be adequate. 128 MB RAM are the minimum, which is quite understandable due to the fact that each virtual machine devours some of the host's memory. In order to operate a Linux a host and a Linux guest with 64 MB each, the host needs the double amount of RAM. My system has 256 MB, 96 MB being allocated for the guest, which was absolutely satisfactory.

Fortunately the consumption of hard disk space is no longer an issue in this age of 100 GB hard disks. I will not be able to comment on the 4 GB limit for virtual hard disks, since I didn't have enough space to try to set up larger hard disks. The system uses virtual SCSI hard disks, which means that theoretically up to seven virtual drives can be connected. If you add the virtual IDE hard disks, the space totals up to 40 GB (one of the IDE ports is occupied by the CD-ROM drive).

One of the things I liked was that the virtual sound card even works before having been configured with YaST2. Unfortunately, full-screen mode is not possible with dualhead operation - but this is something I should have expected.

I was also positively impressed by a cut & paste test I conducted between the Linux host and the Linux guest. A selection in the NEdit window of the host could easily be pasted into a NEdit window of the virtual PC by means of the middle mouse button. And of course the same thing also works vice versa.

Though in view of the new price policy it's rather unlikely that anyone would buy VMware just to play around, users who depend on the use of several operating systems will hardly find a better alternative. At least the price of 99$ for the update version is still within reasonable limits.

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