VMWare: A Free and Powerful Tool for Web Development

July 21st, 2006

VMWareI’ll admit it. I’m smitten. I just fell in love with a piece of software. Sad, I know, but this particular piece of software not only fills a need I had, it has freed me to explore and experiement with various operating systems in ways that just weren’t priactical before.

For years, I have known about VMWare’s virtualization software and its ability to let create a sandbox that allows you to test or experiment with an operating system or piece of software without risk of corrupting or destroying your main computer. This tool is invaluable if you don’t have extra machines lying around the house or office. However, until recently, this software has always been expensive.

The other day, however, I ventured over to VMWare.com and found to my delight that VMWare Server is now free! I downloaded the software and within an hour had Windows Vista Beta running in a virtual environment on my main production machine. Unbelievable. A big thank you to VMWare for making this piece of software available to the rest of us.

If you are a web developer like me, you need this software (but don’t know it yet) to run various legacy browsers. If you want to learn how to use or otherwise experiment with Linux, there is no better way. Simply set up a virtual machine, load the OS, and you’re good to go. On my main machine, I now run and test FreeBSD, SUSE, Red Hat, and Fedora.

Before, experimenting with all of these separate systems meant partitioning physical drives and making sure I had compatible hardware. Now, I’m thinking seriously of putting my test machine on eBay. (If you’re in the market for a relatively new AMD box, let me know).

This also allows me to try otherwise risky software without fear. I’ve had the Vista Beta sitting on a shelf gathering dust for about a month for fear and dread of corrupting my test machine. No chance that can happen with virtualization.

I know this sounds like a puff piece for VMWare. It really isn’t. I’m just genuinely excited that what was previously expensive and difficult is now free and surprisingly easy to use. Now I’m not sure I’ll ever want to live without it!