February 1, 2006

Running VMware Player under Linux

Author: Tina Gasperson

After testing VMware's new Player on Windows a few weeks ago, I wanted to see how it performs on Linux. While the Player is a great tools for Windows users who want to see what its like to run Linux, the inverse of that equation doesn't play out the same way. Curiously, Microsoft wasn't interested in loaning me a Windows XP image, but that was OK. I tried another operating system instead -- a Linux distribution that looks like it could be a lot of fun.

The process of getting VMware Player installed on Linux was time-consuming. When I realized that it wasn't going to go as smooth as butter, I was a little disappointed. I don't have a few spare days to tinker with my computer. Linux on the desktop has come a long way in the last few years, but apparently not all the kinks are gone.

I've been using SimplyMEPIS on my HP Pavilion zt1170 laptop. This isn't a review of that distribution, so suffice it to say that I have been very happy with Mepis's performance throughout the entire process of installing, configuring, and living with it. Because of that, I was surprised that it didn't want to play nice with the Player. Apparently, VMware's product has some issues with matching kernel headers that span the distributions. If you've ever updated your Linux system, there's a good chance that your headers don't match up with the kernel source. If I'd realized the problem right away, I wouldn't have taken the drastic measure of (temporarily) giving up on SimplyMEPIS and downloading and installing Ubuntu.

But that's what I did because I was in a hurry and I figured Ubuntu was a safe bet. That's the distribution VMware chose to build its browser appliance with, so if anything was going to have the right configuration for a smooth install, it was going to be Ubuntu. I was right about that -- the installation went fine. Much to my chagrin, however, after I updated my system later, the Player decided not to start up anymore. I did get things working properly after downloading and installing gcc and the right headers version. It took me a while to determine the problem, though, and that's a problem -- but I won't go on a rant about how my desire to use Linux 100% of the time is often thwarted by the fact that I do not have at my disposal the spare hours to devote to things like researching unsatisfied dependencies and mismatched headers.

Once I got my problems solved, I was able to try out a few images. I downloaded FreeBSD and took a look around this "minimal install" image. System performance was not noticeably degraded as I navigated the directories. I didn't take the time to learn how to configure the network or install anything, but if my goal was to learn more about how the BSD-based operating systems work without having to try a full install and configuration, this would be a good way to do it.

Next I tried Damn Small Linux (DSL). I really liked this little distribution and was pleased to see that it comes with a GUI that is spare but still easy to navigate. DSL didn't recognize my wireless card, but other than that it loaded up fine, with the exception of some minor rendering problems and a bit of lag in responsiveness, even though the Pavilion has 512MB of RAM and a 1.13GHz processor.

Finally, I loaded VMware's Browser Appliance, a preconfigured instance of Ubuntu featuring the Firefox browser. Other than a few more rendering issues and a bit of lag, this image worked perfectly, including recognition of the wireless card. The absurdity, however, of running Ubuntu inside Ubuntu was not lost on me.

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