I began a new book this week on Java programming for beginners. I haven't been doing much computer book writing for a couple years, so I no longer had an installed copy of Microsoft Word 97, the version of the software my publisher uses to draft manuscripts. Word 2007 can save files in 97 format, but it doesn't support the publisher's custom styles, so I decided to install Word 97 on Vista.
Word 97 appeared to install properly, but when I installed some other Microsoft software afterward, it removed files that Word 97 requires to run. Now the program reports a registry error every time it runs and Vista won't uninstall it or install a new copy.
After considering other options, I installed a trial version of VMware Workstation, $188 software that creates virtual computers in which you can run other operating systems. You run the simulated computer in its own window after deciding how much disk space and memory to allocate to it, and it acts like it's an entire computer. After setting up one of these virtual systems, you can clone it, suspend it and run it remotely over the Internet.
Using VMware, I created a new virtual Windows XP system where I can run Word 97 and the other software required to write my book. As far as I know, this Pinocchio virtual computer thinks it's a real PC.
Because Microsoft is run by sadists, I had to install Windows 98 before I could install a Windows XP upgrade. It was weird to step back in time and see the Microsoft channel bar, an early stab at web syndication that predated RSS. During installation, Windows 98 also touts its support for USENET newsgroups. Kids today don't know how good they got it. In my day, if we wanted to see celebrities naked, we had to know how to UUdecode.
If anyone has any experience with VMware, I'd like to hear how well it works. My biggest concern is whether anything I do inside the virtual computer can adversely impact the real Vista system it runs on. I want virtual computers that I can destroy with impunity by running buggy beta software and other dodgy programs that don't get along with each other. I end up doing that a lot in the course of writing a book.
I run a few Windows VMs on a Mac, so it's not quite the same, but the whole idea of a VM is that it's self-contained so you can blow stuff up. There may be a way to set up the networking where things could crawl across, but I doubt it and I think you'd have to work at it pretty hard.
While I like VMWare, Microsoft provides a free option for running VMs. Jeff Atwood at codinghorror.com has written some good pieces on VMs in general and Windows VMs in particular.
"Now the program reports a registry error every time it runs and Vista won't uninstall it or install a new copy."
Jesus Christ! Back circa 2005 or 2006, this is the kind of stuff that I hoped and assumed the next version of Microsoft Windows would fix. How is possible that Vista allows registry errors to happen? For the life of me, I can not think of one way in which Vista is better than Windows XP. What did Microsoft spend all those billions of dollars, and years of work, doing?
Here are some obvious failures in modern operating systems that I expect progress on:
1.) The system reserves some core memory, so it can keep functioning even when processes are trying to grab 100% of the memory.
2.) A memory of system changes so that destructive changes can be easily rolled back.
3.) Installers that track dependencies. Ideally, easy-to-understand natural language explanations of what the dependencies mean.
4.) Possibly even the harddrive-as-database.
There is more, of course.
But seriously, Vista is a never ending source of wonder for me. Registry errors? That is so 1997.
I have used VMWare Server and the Virtual PC and Server products from Microsoft. I like all of the products. I have never used the Workstation version of VMWare because you have to pay for it. I am a software developer and I use the VMs for testing software. I also campaigned very hard for our IT department to start using them for various servers. And I'm trying to find a way to use them legally for our salesmen to demo some of our software. We have some products that require a bit more instruction than our salesmen want to take on in order to install it correctly and it would be easier to distribute a VM for them to demo. Things get sticky when our IT guy wants to know how the guest OS is to be licensed.
I'm not sure what you have learned so far, but here are some things to consider:
1. Virtual Workstation/PC products run in a user session--when you log off, they close.
2. Virtual Server products run along side the host so they appear to be a completely independent machine.
3. Virtual machines use a set of hardware that is abstract so once they've been created, they can be moved around easily. A VM created on Host A can be moved to Host B mostly by just copying a bunch of files.
4. VMs can be backed up just as easily.
5. The Microsoft products as yet do not support USB devices in the guest OS. The VMWare products do. I've used the USB support with Aladin HASP keys. On the MS products I had to dig out an old parallel port version.
6. VMWare does have a free version of its server product--I've used this successfully on SUSE 10.3 GM and I have to say it works very well.
7. If you ever consider using the MS products, the Virtual PC Guy's blog is a good source of tips and tricks.
8. In the MS products, there is a concept called a "differencing" disk. In Vmware, the closest thing I can find is the "snapshot". The differencing disks worked great and are good for testing software--they allow you to run a machine by collecting changes in a separate file while the original HD file remains untouched. The one time I tried to use a snapshot, it did some bad things. To be fair, I was using v1.0.3, I think--so they might work better now.
9. The VMWare server product appears to handle memory better than MS Virtual Server. When you assign memory to a guest in MS VS, the full amount of memory is allocated. In VMWare, it doesn't appear to be. So if you have a host with 2 GB of memory and you want to run three guests with 1 GB each, you can't do it in MS VS, but you can in VMWare server, I believe.
10. www.rpath.org has a bunch of images you can use to instantly bring up a new server. You just have to hope they have the image you want.
As far as messing up your Vista is concerned, there is very little that the guest can do to the host. If the guest hard drive file(s) get too big, you could run out of room on your hard drive. The guest is fairly well isolated from the host, though.
You can try the VirtualBox, provided by SUN.
It's easy to configure, i have two VirtualBox running in linux and windows XP OS's.
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