Evaluating Virtual Machines for Personal Use
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
- 18.2 MB
- Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
- 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.
- 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.
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!