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We found VMware Workstation for Windows to be quite a bit more advanced than its competition. The product has the USB 2.0 support missing from Parallels, and has a unity mode that's similar to the one VMware implements on Fusion for Mac.

Like VirtualBox on Windows, VMware Workstation can also be connected using remote display techniques such as VNC. And more interestingly, you can use two or more monitors if your hardware supports this.

Snapshots, including nested snapshots, worked similarly to VMware's Fusion product. Nesting snapshots let us perform rollbacks to previous versions of the guest operating system — useful for testing and tech support applications of VMware Workstation.

Because USB 2.0 is supported, we could capture movies in Windows XP and Ubuntu as guest virtual machines (VM). The video speed was very good at both capturing and replaying.

Running XP guests

Running a XP as a guest of XP might seem strange, but it's frequently done for many reasons. VMware Workstation, like the VMware Mac version, readily makes “greased” settings for XP and it was a breeze. We did, however, have to install Bluetooth drivers, because the default representation to a guest machine doesn't include native machine Bluetooth resources in hardware discovery. But we also had great success (after driver installation) with the Webcam. VMware passed the Bluetooth test very well — and delivered the highest speed transfer of all of the combinations we tested, perhaps owing to the expanded USB 2.0+ device support.

The VMware unity mode worked similarly to the Mac version, where guest VM applications were presented natively. However, we had to use a key-combo to switch to them, unlike the more native feel of the Mac version. Sharing folders took a little more work.

There were two ways to share folders in Workstation. One was the older method that required us to map shares as though they were Server Message Block shares. This meant mapping drives through universal naming convention nomenclature like \\host\Shared folders\share_name. The second option was much simpler. By checking the option “Map as network drive in Windows guests”, we were able to see the share directly in My Computer. Dragging and dropping files between XP and XP guest worked simply.

The dual display option worked OK in full-screen mode, but only in certain configurations. The default is where the external display is to the right or bottom of the main display in the host operating system display properties.

We tried setting it in different locations (external display set above or to the left) but VMware had a message that said: “The current arrangement of monitors is not supported.” Also, trying to change display settings (resolution or position) within the guest operating system should not be attempted as the screens becomes mangled between the two displays (similar to Fusion).

Running Ubuntu guests

Ubuntu installation is supported like XP — predefined selections made installation simple. By adding an application called obextool (obex means object exchange in Bluetooth-speak), we were able to pair our test phone and move data back and forth, but only at about 2Kbps — much slower than under Windows XP-XP host/guest combinations we tested. We were also able to connect to the Webcam and other devices, but weren't able to use the Webcam; other USB devices worked handily.

VMware's unity mode for Linux is experimental, yet worked for us in our limited testing. Unlike VirtualBox for Windows, VMware Workstation displays the running applications in the host operating system taskbar. When first entering unity, a small start menu-like apparatus is displayed in the lower left corner just above the host operating system start menu. This menu had a list of Ubuntu's applications (similar to the main Ubuntu menu). The problem with this application selection menu is that it disappeared when we switched to any other application. Just switching back to Workstation does not redisplay it. Maddeningly, a key combination must be entered to show it again, each time you want to use it.

VMware Workstation guest tools are installed through a script from an attached virtual ISO. The tools are compiled and then inserted into the Linux kernel on the Ubuntu guest. The only problem we had was that if you set the Ubuntu guest to autologin, then the VMware-user start-up program does not run upon boot. Therefore, we had to start it manually.

Host/guest shared folders were mounted under /mnt/hgfs and they worked as expected. Drag and drop between host and guest worked, except it wouldn't drop to the desktop, so we had to have a FileManager window open to do this.

Dual displays worked the same way as the XP guest VM (automatically detecting it in full-screen mode), which also included the same limitations (the external display had to be positioned to the right or bottom of the main display).

Of the four Windows-based desktop hypervisors we tested, VMware's was the most integrated, and is the one most likely to be recommended for users who need to host a guest operating system — especially for XP rehosting, as it's fast, and has a high common denominator feature set.

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