Am I the only one who doesn't know why to use VMware?

www.infoworld.com |  Operating Systems

AFTER I WROTE about Win4Lin a few weeks ago I was bombarded with questions from readers. (Win4Lin is a product that allows you to install and run Windows 95 or Windows 98 under Linux.) Most of you wanted to know how Win4Lin compares to VMware.

The comparison is appropriate. Win4Lin has one purpose: to provide a fast, stable Windows environment so you can run Windows productivity applications under Linux. VMware is a general purpose virtual machine that allows you to run Windows productivity applications under Linux.

Some readers asked about the possibility of running Windows games. I can't imagine why anyone would want to run games within a virtual machine running Windows. But I'll answer, even if reluctantly. Win4Lin doesn't support DirectX, which is required by most games. VMware does support DirectX. Therefore, some 2-D games may be playable. But 3-D accelerated games will run like a slide show. And while I'm on the topic of what you can and cannot do, neither Win4Lin nor VMware supports DVD drives or allows you to write to CD-R (CD-Recordable) or CD-RW (CD-Rewritable) drives.

In general, VMware goes well beyond the capabilities of Win4Lin. In addition to Windows 95 or Windows 98, you can run Windows 2000 in a virtual machine under the Linux host operating system. VMware also is available for Windows, allowing you to run Linux in a virtual machine under Windows.

Clearly many of my readers are enamored with VMware due to the gee-whiz factor that it can run multiple OSes simultaneously in true virtual machines. I confess it's pretty cool to boot up VMware in a Linux window and then jump into the virtual BIOS setup screen or watch it count up the virtual RAM.

But beyond the coolness factor, Win4Lin is clearly much faster than VMware, at least on my machine (my machine is no slouch, either -- I recently upgraded to a 1GHz Advanced Micro Devices Athlon system with 256MB of RAM). So if all you want is to run Windows applications such as Microsoft Office or the Lotus Notes client without sacrificing Linux as your desktop operating system, Win4Lin is easily the better choice in terms of speed.

Admittedly, you may want the true virtual machines that VMware provides. So suppose you want to use a single machine to provide services unique to Linux and Windows. You could run Linux as your host operating system and set it up to be your firewall and mail server. Then you would layer Windows 2000 on top of that to provide services such as Microsoft SQL Server and the IIS Web server. Provided you set up VMware properly and gave it enough resources, this single machine would do well at providing both Linux and Windows services simultaneously.

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