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Evaluating Virtual Machines for Personal Use

Created: 02 Mar 2007 • Updated: 29 Jul 2010 | 39 comments
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toralf's picture
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Here's a great introduction and primer that details several ways to install a virtual machine on your PC and use it to get more out of SVS. This article describes different virtual machine software products and how they can be used in combination with SVS. Written for users who are new to SVS and virtual machines and want to learn about using both on their private computer.

To use Altiris Software Virtualization Solution (SVS) on a private computer is simple. Just download the free for personal use version here, install it and create layers for each of your target applications. When you read the manual or the Juice, you will find that it is best to set up a new application layer on a bare Operating System (OS). The question for a private user is: How to get or create such an environment?

One solution is to have an old PC running a bare Windows OS next to the main PC, just to create the layers. That might be a little bit too much. The best solution can be found on the Juice too: Use a virtual machine! It emulates a PC inside a normal PC, called the host. An OS can be installed on this virtual machine like on a normal PC. It is called the guest system. And on this OS software can be tested or new SVS layers created. At any time, the current state of the guest system can be frozen, so that the virtual machine can be set back to a good known state. This frozen state is called a snapshot, see screenshot.

If you are like me -- not working in an IT department -- you might wonder what software you would need to purchase to get such a virtual machine. Don't worry; you do not have to spend a cent. A search in the Web revealed 6 software products that are free or free to evaluate. Please see the list below. Obviously, in addition to the virtual machine software an installation CD of a Windows OS is needed to install as a guest.

Software for virtual machines

Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 SP1
Free
18.2 MB
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
Free
30.4 MB
InnoTek VirtualBox 1.3.6
Free of charge for personal and evaluation use
13.3 MB
Virtual Iron 3.1
Unlimited use for a single server; License key is sent via email.
182.2 MB
VMware Workstation 5.5.3 Build: 34685
Free 30 days evaluation license is send by email after registration.
94.6 MB
VMware Server 1.0.0
Free serial number is sent by e-mail after registration.
50.3 MB

Since all of the products were unknown to me, I looked at three of them: Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, InnoTek VirtualBox and VMware Workstation. The reasons I left out the other software products are simple. Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 was left out because the newer version seemed to be stable enough to evaluate, and I saw no reason to test an old version (even though it might be more stable). Virtual Iron and VMware Server aim for corporate environments with servers and seem too "massive" for personal use. I was looking for a way to simulate a single PC to test software and to create SVS layers. I didn't want to simulate server or corporate infrastructure.

The Installation of all three products is straight forward and nothing spectacular happens. Also the installation of the guest system is the same. When the virtual machine is created it can be booted. During booting the installation CD of the guest OS should be in the CD drive or as an *.iso image on the hard disc. The installation process of the guest system is identical to the one on a normal PC except that the installation happens inside a window on the host PC.

Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

With Virtual PC a wizard guides you through the creation of the first virtual machine. The GUI is very basic, see screenshot. The settings for the virtual machine are placed in second GUI. For more details on Virtual PC, please see this Wikipedia article.

InnoTek VirtualBox 1.3.6

VirtualBox's handling is similar VMware Workstation. Even though InnoTek was involved in the development of Virtual PC before Microsoft bought it. When running Virtual PC it presents a two pane window. The left pane lists the available machines and the right pane shows the details and snapshots of a selected machine. With a click on the "new" button a wizard guides you through the creation of the virtual machine. For more details on VirtualBox, please see this Wikipedia article

VMware Workstation 5.5.3

VMware is supposed to be the leading product in this segment for many years. The installation takes a little longer to finish than the other two products. Its GUI also has two panes with the same functionality as VirtualBox. To increase performance of the virtual machine the guest system should be defragmented before a snapshot is created. See this article.
For more details on VMware, please see this Wikipedia article.

After the guest OS is installed on any of the virtual machines, special add-ons should be installed on top of it. These add-ons will improve the guest's OS performance. One add-on adds graphical abilities that allow drag and drop between guest and host systems. Microsoft names them "Virtual Machine additions", InnoTek calls them "guest additions" and VMware calls them simply "VMware tools". The installation is simple by selection of the appropriate menu item. An .iso image which comes with each software package gets mounted as a CD-drive and the installation starts automatically.

Capture to SVS layer

Since my aim is to go total SVS, I tried to create an SVS layer from all virtual machine software products with a single application capture process. All software products installed without any problem. They were all working correctly after installation. I could create a virtual machine and install a guest system. But after installing the next product the previous stopped working correctly. A driver was missing. I tried a global install but that didn't solve the problem of the missing driver. Since I do not have a different PC I couldn't test the layers on different systems. Due to the problems I had with the drivers I assume that they are not portable.

Virtual machines created with any of the three products gets stored in a customizable directory. The directory for a virtual machine with Windows XP Pro SP2 as a guest system takes a little more then 1.4 GB.

Comparison

  • Working with virtual machines in VirtualBox and VMware Workstation seemed a little smoother than with VirtualPC.
  • Snapshots are only supported by VirtualBox and VMware Workstation.
  • Virtual PC can only reset itself to a single state.
  • On my PC, I use an external USB disc drive. Virtual PC didn't allow me to use it. VirtualBox can enable USB controllers.
  • VMware Workstation and Virtual PC allow drag and drop between guest and host. VirtualBox only supports shared folders. But these have to be set up via command-line operations.

Additions to VMware

For VMware, the problem remains that the workstation software only works for 30 days -- for evaluation. This can be solved with the free VMware Player 1.0.2 (29MB). It can be installed in a SVS layer too. Once a virtual machine was created with a bare OS environment the player software can run that virtual machine. The player software allows you to drag and drop files between the host PC and the virtual machine. The main difference between the player and the workstation software is that you can't create new virtual machines, add hardware devices or create snapshots with the player. But it is perfect to create SVS layers. Its Web page states that it should be able to revert to a previous state using a snapshot. I didn't manage to do this, but resetting the SVS layer instead is a perfect alternative and does ensure that the virtual machine stays clean.

Once the virtual machine is created, its directory can be extracted from the workstation SVS layer and added to the read-only SVS layer of the VMware player software. The evaluation copy of the workstation software can then be removed from the system. With this player software, new SVS layers can be created on a bare Windows OS and exported to VSA archives. After moving the archives via drag and drop to the host they can be deployed and tested on the host. When you reset the SVS layer of the player, the virtual machine gets reset to its initial state.

Another interesting free tool in the arena of VMware virtual machines is the
VMware Converter 3.0 (Starter Edition) (18 MB). The converter software is supposed to clone a single machine into a virtual machine (local or remote hot cloning). Or convert from a virtual machine created by Microsoft Virtual PC 7 (and higher) into one for VMware workstation. This clone could then be used with the player or workstation software. There might be some test situations where it is necessary to create a clone of a host system. But to create a clone to create SVS layers doesn't give any advantages, since the system isn't normally bare and the required directory size for the virtual machine would be huge. The only situation I can imagine that would give an advantage is right after a brand new installation of a system. Such a clone would represent the machine as accurate as possible in the virtual machine, and the SVS layers created on it would perfectly fit for that specific PC. Next time I set up my PC, I will test it and post the results.

Another free tool which creates VMware virtual machines is VMX Builder 0.8.6 (2.6 MB). It is in beta and is not a VMware software. Unfortunately it doesn't come with the VMware tools.

Conclusion

A virtual machine which can be used for software testing and creation of SVS layers in a total SVS environment. This environment can be established for personal use without spending any money. It only needs some software products which are free to download and some 1.5+ GB disc space.

Since VMware Workstation, Virtual PC, and VirtualBox work correctly in an SVS layer when installed alone, I decided to use VirtualBox. Since it is free for personal use I only have to use this single software. It supports USB devices and the virtual machine acts smoothly. The fact that it doesn't allow drag and drop isn't great. Setting up a shared folder to transfer the SVS layer archives isn't that much of a burden.

Not all possible configurations were tested and the solution I found for my system isn't crosschecked on a different system. But I hope I could give you a small overview of available solutions and that you can find the one for your needs. Happy vitalizing!

Comments 39 CommentsJump to latest comment

Jordan's picture

A very good article, I didn't know there were that many free options out there (only knew about Microsoft's WM being free).

If a forum post solves your problem please flag is as the solution

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tfronza's picture

Great article we use VMWare for our virtual machines it works great and makes RESETS a Snap when you have to revert back....to a Pre-Install State. Great Job in Explaining!

Thanks - Tom Fronza

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jjesse's picture

Qemu (http://fabrice.bellard.free.fr/qemu/) is a free open source emulator as well. It runs under Linux and Windows as well.
Also VMWare's products all run in Linux as well so you can run Linux and virtual everything to access Altiris applications as well.

Jonathan Jesse Practice Principal ITS Partners

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toralf's picture

Thank you for pointing out Qemu. I read its name but assumed it is a Linux tool. I'll take a look at it too.

Ciao
toralf

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erikw's picture

Toralf, this is a good article.

Thanks for sharing it with us. I use virtual PC 2007 and VMware.

VMware is far out the best.

Regards
Erik

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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toralf's picture

Hi erikw,

Do you have experience with VirtualBox? Or is your statement only for comparing Virtual PC and VMware?

How do you rate VirtualBox to these two products?

Ciao
toralf

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riva11's picture

Great info about Virtual machines and related software.

Just to add more info for VMWare VM creation. No need to buy a VM Workstation, the same thing can be done using the VMX-builder (http://sanbarrow.com/vmx.html). This product helps to create a VM for VMplayer, Workstation 5.5 and VMserver.

Also the same VM can be used for ESX 2.5 and WS 4.5 with some minor changes.

Regards

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wilbertnl's picture

Stimulated by your article, I created an SVS 2.1 beta16 layer with VirtualBox 1.3.6.

I installed Windows 2000 as guest (assuming that win2k is lighter on resources than winXP). I'm able to build new layers in the VM, that's great.

But my experience is that after I re-enable the layer, it shows an error about a missing kernel driver and a missing USB driver. When I reset the layer, this seems fixed. But resetting also means recreating the guest, with existing VHD.

Did anyone have this similar experience?
How would I avoid the driver errors when enabling the layer?

Anyway, thank you for this article!

Misunderstandings are my Expertise

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erikw's picture

You can better package in a win2k3 version. This shares the kernel with Xp. Win2k is a special version that is not completely compatibel, because it has a different way to handel kernel drivers.

Regards
Erik.
www.svs4u.nl

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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wilbertnl's picture

Maybe I wasn't clear enough.

The error is popped up by VirtualBox, and I think it refers to the kernel mode driver and USB host service on the host, which is Windows XP.

Are you saying that the combination of host=win2k/guest=win2k or host=winxp/guest=winxp would be more successful?

Thank you.

Misunderstandings are my Expertise

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toralf's picture

@wilbertnl,
You might extract the guest from the layer before you reset the layer. Then you do not need to rebuild it.

Ciao
toralf

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toralf's picture

Dear all,
Thanks for the feedback,

I wasn't sure if such an article would get some response or even attention. Thanks for the nice words and remarks.

Ciao
toralf

Ciao
toralf

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DMisener's picture

Can anyone shed light on the Microsoft licensing requirements for these virtualized OSs? Is an additional license required?

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erikw's picture

DMisener,

Yes, if you have a virtualised OS, the Os should have its own license.

But Microsoft has a special way to get licenses for a low price. If you have you're own company, and you need licenses, you can sign up with Microsoft as a registered partner.

After done this, you can acquire 25 licenses of each MS product for only 380 Euro's a year.

Go to microsoft.com/partner, and see the terms.

Regards
Erik
www.svs4u.nl

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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toralf's picture

It depends on the country you live in and what OS you talk about. I know that for the top two Vista products you do not need a extra license. For the rest I'm not sure.

Ciao
toralf

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erikw's picture

For the top two Vista products there is no additional license needed if you use the Microsoft Virtualize option.

If you wish to use VMWare, then again you still need the additional license, because Microsoft sees it as a extra machine.

Regards
Erik

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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riva11's picture

I tried the Microsoft Virtual PC but seems some many far from VMWare solution.

VMWare now is the state of art about virtualization solutions.

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tcolguin's picture

In my job I administrate a number of build servers, quite of few of them "virtual". I have been using VMware Workstation for several years, and I recently saw that VMware released the free version VMware Server and took it for a spin. It was put out free mostly because of pressure from Microsoft free version, anyway it is the one that is built with less features, and the VM Workstation is the one they think is worth $300, for its extra features. So you should really put this one, not Workstation on your list to use. So, if you are looking for "simple" the names workstation and server are backwards.

Now as for features. Well, I have been using Workstation long enough that I have version 4 not 5, and I can tell you that VMware Server has every feature my Workstation version has and "server" implies nothing about the machine needed to run it or how hard it is to setup. Frankly, other than the fact that in VMware Server I can now administrator the VMs from another machine, I can't tell any difference from it and VMware Workstation 4.

And of course, I wouldn't be using them if they weren't good products. Just make sure you have enough RAM to support the two operating systems, native and the virtual one.

Chris

P.S. I'm running one of my virtual build machines, and my Web server on the VMware Server version (free), and yes VMware was first in virtual machines, and is still the best. You can get more information here.

Just in case someone runs into it, the ESX Server not the free server, it is their best VM that runs without needing a native OS. And it is VERY expensive.

Chris

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erikw's picture

VMWare ESX server costs around 3,500 dollars, and is their best product. I still use the GSX version. It runs on a Windows OS, and is also great.

With GSX I build my images, and with the free server version I maintain and run them in a live environment. I run 1 server and 4 virtual servers on a HP dl320 with a dual core Xeon 2.4 ghz processor and 5GB RAM.

It runs great, and I love the remote maintenance tool.

The server is co-located in a data center.

Regards
erik

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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Sundance's picture

If I remember it right there are only two points which differ between VMware server and VMware Workstation.

One was that VMware workstation supports some kind of load balancing and the server component doesn't.

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toralf's picture

Thanks tcolguin,
for the feedback on the VMware Server and all the insite you gave. I'll give it a try too.

Ciao
toralf

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toralf's picture

FYI: VMware issued a new version for their VMware Server. It is Version 1.0.2. It solves some security and memory issues. The link the the article is still valid though.

Ciao
toralf

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riva11's picture

Released VirtuaBox 1.3.8 for Windows and Linux versions .

Download available on this link

Fixed some bugs and featuring numerous improvements, see ChangeLog

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riva11's picture

There is also the build 34685 released for VMWare Workstation 5.5.2 Windows and Linux ( http://www.vmware.com/download/ws/

Now on Workstation 5.5.3 is available host and guest support for different host operating systems such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0 32-bit and 64-bit , Experimental support for Mandriva Linux 2007, 32-bit and 64-bit, Ubuntu Linux 6.10, 32-bit and 64-bit and others.

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jjesse's picture

Unless you need support from VM. I use VM Workstation and Server for several "unsupported" OSes just fine. So unless you need VMWare support feel free to install any type of OS to see if it works. I even had Vista running on one VM.

Jonathan Jesse Practice Principal ITS Partners

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riva11's picture

VMware released version VMware Workstation 6.0

With this version, VMware Workstation , fully supports Windows Vista , the only exception is not supported yet the 3D graphics necessary for Vista's Aero Glass display mode.
Other enhancements are ,
- support for multiple monitors
- new virtual USB 2.0 ports support
- new cloning virtual machine feature
- new ability to produce a virtual machine from a physical computer
- remote access capability based on VNC (Virtual Network Computing)
- new experimental support for full record/replay within a virtual machine

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wizard1970's picture

I read the article. I will try at home to make VM server free edition into a svs layer. And then make svs appps in it using svs 2.1

Thank you for sharing your info.

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erikw's picture

Putting VMNWare in a layer is the worst you cann do. The layer will be growing very big, and it will take you a lot of time to keep it running.
Second and that is the final to not do it!
VMWare needs various services to run.
I wish you good luck with trying it, but you can better spend you're time on different tasks.

Regards
Erik
www.svs4u.nl

Regards Erik www.DinamiQs.com Dinamiqs is the home of VirtualStorm (www.virtualstorm.org)

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wizard1970's picture

You are right about the services to run. I was thinking a little to quick for my solution.

Taking snapshot with Vmware is better.

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riva11's picture

Snapshot is the right solution to reset software installation after testing.

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i2professional@yahoo.com's picture

can you please provide more information on snapshot concept

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R-Vijay's picture

I had missed this article so long. I just had a look through it and its really very impressive.
I reckon that Microsoft guys havent explained VPC in such a good self explanatory way.

I will sure try this in my laptop.
My only concern is being the Virtual machine speed.

I run on a dual core-AMD Turiun 64x2 1.6 Ghz, 1 GB RAM.

Any suggestion in this regard??

Cheers'
Viju

Microsoft MVP [Setup-Deploy]
Weblog: www.msigeek.com

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riva11's picture

For my experience VMware as a good solution for different tasks such MS OS Patches, different OS (Linux distros), etc.
About your question, try to create the VM using the default settings (memory, disks, etc) , this way is a good to have a minimal requirements suitable for your envronment.
Of course if you expand RAM to 2GB is really suggested...

Regards

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i2professional@yahoo.com's picture

download link that you have provided is not working can you please update that

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Tony 1776's picture

I just wanted to add my experiences... I have used VMWare GSX, VMWare Workstation, VMWare Fusion, Virtual PC 2004 and Virtual PC 2007. I have to say that VMWare Workstation is the best for creating SVS layers. Being able to create a snapshot and revert in just seconds is amazing and completely worth the money. For a environment where you need a clean system, and where reverting to previous times is important then VMWare Workstation is the best.

VMWare GSX is a very good product for being free. Before I got Workstation thats what I was using. It is nice but not having the snapshots made app packing and testing a pain.

As far as Virtual PC (2004 or 2007) they just aren't up to par with the VMWare tools. Sure they work, but not as good.

I really wish VMWare would reduce the cost of Workstation just a little bit, because it is rather expensive and VMWare Fusion for the Mac is very similar but only $70...

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riva11's picture

Latest releases (download link):

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i2professional@yahoo.com's picture

this is a very good article.

Thanks for sharing such information with us. I am using VMware since last 2-3 years that's a relly great piece of software.

whether symantec have any kinda software like that.?

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UFO's picture

This article should be updated :) It is really great to make a review of such a useful theme.
So new edition is required.

Do not forget the Hyper-V and VM Player.

STS: DLP

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