Sitting back and watching 2009 zoom past me, I noticed that the desktop virtualization market is finally beginning to grab hold within organizations. Media, analysts and vendors have been telling people about its technological wonders for years. But for one reason or another, it has taken all that time for it to really catch on. And even if organizations haven't already started implementing the technology in some form or fashion, it is at least finally making it on to their immediate roadmaps.
Desktop virtualization comes in many different flavors and can be implemented in a number of different ways. Why should it be any different from so many other virtualization technologies? By that I mean, there isn't really just one type of desktop virtualization.
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VMware has been involved with desktop virtualization technologies for many years now. And while most people think about server virtualization when they think about VMware, in fact, the virtualization giant has been doing desktop virtualization for quite a few years longer than its server counterpart. Virtualizing an x86 desktop machine goes back 10 years for VMware, back to the beginning of the company's history. That's a couple of years longer than the popular ESX server virtualization product line has been on the market -- the technology that has made it so popular and wealthy today.
VMware recently launched VMware Player 3.0, and this thing isn't what you might remember from the original launch in 2005. One of the big holdups with using VMware Player back then was just as the name described: It was only a player. It couldn't actually create virtual machines. And before the days of a large virtual appliance marketplace being made available to download preconfigured virtual machines, well, there wasn't much fun or use for VMware Player. My how things have changed.
VMware Player 3.0 is, dare I say it, quite useful. This free virtualization platform can now create virtual machines: 32- or 64-bit Windows or Linux VMs. In fact, it can handle over 200 supported operating systems, including the latest, Windows 7. And it's powerful enough to handle up to four virtual CPUs and 32GB of memory (if you have that big of a desktop machine handy). It even spans multiple monitors.
And much like its bigger VMware Workstation sibling, VMware Player now has improved graphics capabilities with support for a new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) graphics driver developed to take advantage of Windows Vista and Windows 7. With this driver, users can take advantage of Windows Aero, OpenGL 1.4, and Shader Model 3.0 for advanced graphics. And let's face it, graphics (or lack thereof) have long been a problem holding back the wide spread adoption of desktop virtualization.
VMware Player also takes advantage of a new printing feature, thanks to a partnership between VMware and ThinPrint. It can be a serious pain to have to install printer drivers inside of your virtual machine guests -- but now, you don't have to. Taking advantage of ThinPrint technology, virtual machines on VMware Player can print hassle free by making use of the printer drivers on the host machine. Try that and see if it doesn't save you time and trouble.
So if you haven't looked at VMware Player in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised. VMware has removed the painful creation restriction, and they've added in quite a few new capabilities and features bringing it up a few steps closer to Workstation. But with a price tag of free, I'll take the limitations.
What about you? Have you tried it? How does it compare to something like VirtualBox from Oracle/Sun - another free desktop virtualization platform. And what about VirtualPC from Microsoft? Also free. Would you use Player in place of VirtualPC on Windows 7 in Windows XP Mode? Don't you love free options?