desktop virtualisation: a giant leap forward or two steps back?

A couple of people recently have asked me if I’m ready yet to give up Windows. With virtual players being offered, it was time to try virtualisation.
If you really want Windows on Ubuntu - VMWare lets you have it!
I’ve just upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04 and with VMWare’s Virtual Player available, now was the time to see what the world of desktop virtualisation was really like. Would virtualisation be the answer to a techy’s dreams?

Installing VMWare’s Virtual Player

VMWare offers their Virtual Player as a free download for Windows or Linux. Ubuntu’s a great platform to try stuff on – its not as easy to screw up as Windows – so installing something and taking it off again leaves no damaged desktop.

The installation went well. The package is fairly small and installs cleanly with an easy wizard to add new virtual machines.

You simply choose an OS, pick an ISO image or load the CD. The familiar installation runs and twenty minutes later, you can start your new virtual machine. Except mine crashed when I tried to start it.

Help is never far away with Ubuntu

It seems a lot of people had tried this ahead of me and suffered the same result. The cool thing about the Ubuntu community is the global knowledge share.

I found a German Blog called Developers-Developers-Developers that had a fix. VMWare had to use its own config file, not the new one that comes with 11.04. One simple paste into the VM Player’s start-up file and I was in business.

Using a virtualised desktop

I must admit, first impressions were good. You get a full-fat desktop. Its resizable and relatively smooth and fast. It feels well, familiar. I had Windows 7 on Ubuntu!

Encouraged by this, I grabbed hold of my old XP disk and installed that as well. Each VM uses about 40GB of storage, so no big deal. Now I had XP as well!

XP worked fine. It actually feels more solid and certainly slicker than Windows 7. But would my new VM’s run Windows applications?

Time to smell the Virtualised coffee

This is where I was to get a shock, my wake-up call. the biggest beef with Ubuntu is that it won’t run things like iTunes or let you sync your Blackberry.

I started out by downloaded the very latest Blackberry software. First Windows 7.

The installation was really shaky. Wizard pages were slow and unresponsive. Eventually after a puzzling aborted first attempt, I had my Blackberry software.

I plugged in my Blackberry. Wow. It sees it – bit wait, I can’t read any screen fonts. The text was so fuzzy it rendered the software totally unusable, in fact.

But was this a Blackberry software or a Windows 7 issue, I’d no idea. Lets try XP!

Now here’s the really surprising thing. The same install run on XP ran perfectly. This time when I plugged in my Blackberry, everything worked fine!

Using Windows 7 and XP as virtual machines, you really do get the impression that XP seems the more stable. Virtual XP is definitely faster and more positive. Windows 7 seems jerky and unpredictable. I didn’t expect that.

Time to give up dual-booting for Virtualisation?

I really wanted my VM to work. I’d be happy with XP, but its days are numbered. Microsoft’s moving away from support and onto the forthcoming Windows 8.

I’ll be sticking with my XP Virtual Machine for the little Microsoft software I still use, but my need to do so is getting less as time goes on.

One good result – this gives me the excuse to dump my Blackberry for a tablet!