VMWare Fusion

VMWare Inc. was founded in 1998 with the express purpose of making virtual machines a feasible alternative for actual hardware. They've developed a series of products that enable the use of virtual machines on a variety of platforms, including PCs, UNIX systems and Mac OS X. They've also got a server-level product that allows larger servers to be turned into multiple systems through the magic of virtual machines.

I was fairly skeptical of VMWare (and its closest competitor, Parallels) at first. Thanks to VMWare Fusion, the virtual machine product for the Mac, I'm now a fan of the concept. Figure 1 shows VMWare running a virtual instance of Windows XP on my MacBook Pro. For convenience, Windows XP is on my Mac's second monitor.

Figure 1: Using a Mac with a Windows XP Virtual Machine

Thanks to VMWare, my MacBook Pro represents three machines in one. First and foremost, the Mac itself, which functions as my primary development box.

Second, I have a virtual instance of Windows XP which 1) allows me to use a variety of Windows-based development tools, and 2) allows me to use Windows-based versions of the Internet Explorer and Firefox web browsers to test web sites that I've developed. This is invaluable since, as any serious web developer can tell you, one of the most difficult tasks that I face is ensuring that my sites look good on all of the commonly available browsers, e.g. - IE 6-8 on Windows, Firefox 2-3 on Windows, Firefox 2-3 on the Mac and Safari (the primary Mac browser).

It's difficult to imagine what I did before VMWare came along and made my life a whole lot easier.Third, my role at Grab Networks requires me to do me to work with an advanced search engine product. I have a Linux (CentOS) virtual machine with a fully configured version of the search engine product. I can run web sites on my Mac using Ruby on Rails and access the search engine on my Linux virtual machine.

There are a few limitations. My MacBook Pro has 4GB of memory, so I can only effectively run one virtual machine at a time. At any given moment, I can be using the Mac and the PC; or the Mac and the Linux virtual machine. This is still more than sufficient to meet my development needs.

Even better, a virtual machine is just a file, albeit a very large one. Both of my virtual machines are around 2.5 GB. Pristine copies of these virtual machines are checked into my team's Subversion repository. Anybody else who has VMWare can check them out and use them. For example, someone else on my team can use the Linux virtual machine to work with the search engine product.

VMWare even has a marketplace where pre-configured virtual machines can be purchased. Need a QA box? Download one from the marketplace. Or have one of your people set up and configure a bare virtual machine with a desired set of products and tools, and then distribute copies of that virtual machine to whoever needs it.

VMWare Fusion LogoSo, your PC virtual machine gets infected by a virus? Assuming that you've been practical about backing up your key files and documents, just throw that copy of the virtual machine away and start using a new, uninfected copy.

My company is also using the server edition of VMWare. Imagine that you have a powerful server that isn't being heavily used. Split it into two servers using VMWare. Now that box is doing the work of two systems.

VMWare has done an excellent job of making virtual machines practical for real use. In fact, it's difficult to imagine what I did before VMWare came along and made my life a whole lot easier.



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