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How to use VMWare's VMPlayer on Windows

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Materials & tools neededEdit

  • Internet connection. (preferably high speed/broadband)
  • A functioning Windows 2K/XP/Vista computer.
  • 256MB memory minimum for Windows XP, 128MB for Windows 2000.
  • Anywhere from 150MB-10GB free disk space depending on usage, 1GB for this Howto.
  • Bittorrent Client
  • VMPlayer

Quick stepsEdit

Start and login to your computer.
Go to http://www.vmware.com/download/player/ and click 'Download'.
Install VMPlayer from the downloaded executable.
Download a Virtual Appliance from VMTN http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/
Open virtual appliance with VMPlayer.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

Full stepsEdit


Discussion


In order to run VMPlayer, one must have a reasonably stable Windows 2000 or Windows XP computer. Your computer (hereon referred to as the 'Host system') requirements depend on the virtual systems you plan to use. Your host and virtual systems share your physical memory. If you have 256 MB of memory and the virtual system has specified that it will use 128 MB of memory, you will only have 128 MB left for the host system. Any performance hit on the host will affect the virtual system, so if you're short on memory and disk space already, stop and rethink this unless you really know what you are doing.


If you are choosing to run a typical Linux system as your virtual system, the requirements on the host system are relatively low. However, if you plan to run a virtual Windows XP system, plan on having more resources since operating systems such as Windows XP tend to be resource hungry.


If you are merrily plugging away with 256 MB of memory and a modest Pentium 4 processor for your host system, most Linux virtual systems will run tolerably in conjunction with your host system. You will notice that Windows (host system) will be noticeably slower while running your virtual Linux system. However, if 256 MB is not enough memory for your host system, it will not be enough from which to run any virtual system. As of the edit date of this article, it would be prudent to have 512 MB of physical system memory to avoid frustrations with Linux virtual systems and a must for all Windows XP virtual systems.


Disk space works much the same. If you are near capacity, your host system (Windows XP for instance) is probably being affected and running less than optimally. If you are near capacity of your current hard disk, consider replacing your existing hard drive with a newer, larger, faster hard drive that will make both your host system and virtual system faster. If you can't take the time to replace your existing hard drive with a new one, consider using a new drive as a slave and off-loading data such as music, videos and pictures there. This is also a very good place to run your virtual system from, and in many cases will be faster than running it from the same disk that the host system is installed on.


For reference's sake, most Linux systems will occupy anywhere from about 100 MB to as much as 2 GB of disk space. Windows XP with all of its patches and no applications starts at over 2 GB and needs at least 2 GB of free disk space in practice to run efficiently. If you plan to install tons of apps, plan accordingly.


Processor speed is a factor but not as big a factor as memory and disk space. Processor speed will come into play when running a virtual system with heavy application usage, but the same holds true for your host too. If it can't run on your host, it definitely can't run on the virtual system. For the most part, any modern system with a Pentium 4 processor is plenty to handle a single virtual system at a time. Older processors such as a Pentium III will run virtual systems too, but if they are resource hungry virtual systems like Windows XP, expect delays and plan to exhaust much of your patience. On the other hand, most Linux systems are rather tame in their requirements and will happily run in conjunction with the host system on a Pentium III system.


Other considerations must be evaluated in the following situations: if you have a number of system processes running in the system tray (or otherwise) you would do well to pare down the number that start up automatically to free as much of your resources as possible. These concurrent applications consume much memory and CPU cycles. If you plan to run multiple virtual systems at the same time, there is nothing stopping you except for your host system resources. If you need 256 MB of memory for your virtual machine and you plan to use four instances of it at the same time, you need 1 GB of memory in addition to your host system requirements, which have now also grown with the additional load. In this scenario, 1.5 GB to 2 GB of memory is a must.



Acquisition - VMPlayer


Vmplayer is freely available from VMware's website at http://www.vmware.com and can be downloaded directly from http://www.vmware.com/download/player/
Registration is required to download. Once you have completed the registration form, a link is provided to the downloadable executable.



Installation - VMPlayer


Once downloaded, double-click on the installation executable and follow all the prompts. If you have difficulties installing VMPlayer, please visit VMWare's help page for VMPlayer at http://www.vmware.com/support/services/player.html



Discussion - Virtual Machine Variety


A number of developers produce and distribute various virtual machines for a wide variety of reasons. Some do this to show support and help grow a user base for their operating system of choice. Others do this to show off a specific configuration they have implemented inside an operating system. However, most virtual machines have been made under the term virtual appliances. The wide variety and licensing of the multitude of Linux distributions has resulted in a number of operating systems that excel particularly well at certain tasks. Various developers continue to refine the functionality of a specific operating system until it functions solely for one purpose and exceeds at that purpose quite well, hence the name virtual appliance. From browser appliances to firewall appliances to file and web server appliances, you will find multiple flavors of each appliance using different core operating systems to achieve a slightly different take on each intended role.



Acquisition - Selecting and Downloading a Virtual machine


For the purpose of this Howto, we will download Fedora Core 5, a very common and stable Linux distribution. We will go about downloading this via a directory hosted by VM Ware's VMTN (VMware Technology Network.) The directory is available from the initial VMPlayer download page and is at http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/
At the bottom of the page is a categorical listing of virtual appliances. Click on Operating Systems. As you can see, there are a number of offerings. Browse through until you find an entry for Fedora Core 5 and click on it. You may have to navigate to a subsequent page to find it. The resulting page is a summary of the virtual appliance you are to download. The virtual appliance is available by clicking on the Download This Appliance link in the upper right hand corner. In this case, the link takes you to the developer's VMWare images page, http://www.thoughtpolice.co.uk/vmware/
Scroll down until you find Fedora Core 5, Standard Install. Note that the entry has multiple download methods. Both http and bittorrent downloads are available. Select which ever one you are capable of using to begin the download. Standard http downloads are discouraged as they are direct downloads from the developer's website. Torrent downloads are typically much faster and are not limited by the capabilities of the developer's server. Refer to the Materials and Tools Section above for a link about Bittorrent and how to install it if you have not already.


The download will take quite some time, even over high speed or broadband connections. Downloads of this size are impractical over dial up and are not recommended unless you have exceptional amounts of patience to burn through.



Installation - Unpacking and Using your Virtual machine


The file you downloaded should have a filename resembling fedora-fc5-i386.zip and should be all of 900+ MB. Don't be fooled by Windows, it will report a full file size as soon as the download starts. Wait till your bittorrent client tells you it has completed the download.


The file was packaged as a zip file to ensure integrity of the contents while in transit to you. Use any zip utility you like, the one built into Windows XP will do just fine. The resultant set of files are the whole sum of pieces needed to run Fedora Core 5 as a virtual machine. The files before you were created by someone with access to VMWare's VMWorkstation product, which has the capability to 'author' new Virtual machines. A feature wisely removed from the free version of VMPlayer. Once the zip file is unpacked into the location of your choice, simply double click on the VMPlayer icon that was installed onto your desktop from the earlier steps. VMPlayer will prompt you for the location where the Virtual machine is that you wish to run. Navigate to the folder that the files were unpacked to and VMPlayer will automatically recognize any file with the .vmx file extension. In the folder with the extracted files, there will be a fedora-fc5-i386.vmx file. VMPlayer will automatically highlight this file. Simply click 'Open' and your new Virtual machine will start up.


You will notice a few similarities between your virtual environment and your regular PC. The VM software provides a virtual Bios and performs a virtual POST operation. Your resources such as audio are redirected to the host system's audio. USB hardware is also shared.



Configuration – Virtual machines


Part of what makes VMPlayer a free product is it’s lack of virtual machine environmental controls. VMPlayer is almost entirely ‘hands off’ for the user. Settings, including the amount of memory to make available to the virtual machine, are set when the virtual machine is made with VMWorkstation. If you are not satisfied with the amount of memory dedicated to the virtual machine, you must purchase VMWorkstation or find someone with VMWorkstation who is willing to make such modifications. The idea behind VMPlayer is that it should to be simple to use and install, leaving the important decision making to the creator of the virtual machine, not the user.



Usage – Fedora Core 5 VM


The specific instance of Fedora Core 5 that we are running will prompt you for specific user information the first time you boot it up just like you would if you had installed it yourself on another computer. The root password is already set and it is 'thoughtpolice'. Usage of Fedora Core 5 is both complex and simple and is beyond the scope of this venue. However, usage of Fedora Core 5 will not vary as a virtual machine. All periodic maintenance indicated under normal usage is still indicated for Fedora Core 5 when used as a virtual machine. Refer to the links below to access the Fedora Forum for further help on using Fedora Core.



Maintenance – Virtual machines



VMplayer not only lacks controls for configuring the virtual environment of the virtual machine, but also lacks a key maintenance tool that is found on VMWorkstation. As the virtual machine is used, various levels of fragmentation occur. If you’ve chosen a virtual machine with an operating system that does suffer from filesystem fragmentation like all Microsoft Windows products, the virtual machine itself will need to defragment. This is not a concern with filesystems such ext2fs or later that are used by *nix operating systems. Fragmentation also occurs within the files that contain the virtual machine itself. This is not to be confused with physical fragmentation of these files within the host filesystem. VMWorkstation contains a tool that allows the user to initiate a defragmentation of the virtual machine files that is lacking in VMPlayer. If you are fortunate enough to have access to VMWorkstation, it would be worth having this process done periodically to avoid degradation of system performance. Lastly, if using a Microsoft Windows environment as the host system, typical fragmentation of the files associated with the virtual machine is bound to happen. If defragmentation is necessary, begin with the virtual machine itself and perform a defragmentation with the tool available to the virtual machine operation system. Once done, shut the virtual machine down and perform a defragmentation via VMWorkstation if available. As a final step, defragment the host system as you normally would.

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