It’s official, I’ve given up on VMWare Server.
Oh, we had a lovely run. I tinkered with it while I was still an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, and I began running two full-time VMWare virtual machines – Windows XP and Ubuntu – when I arrived at Carnegie Mellon. VMWare Server saw me upgrade my host machine from Windows XP to Windows Vista to 64-bit Vista to its current Windows 7 platform. There were a few snafus (got that spelling right), of course: VMWare 1.x behaved erratically, VMWare 2.x didn’t have a web-UI plugin for OS X, and my virus scanner threw regular fits over VMWare’s subprocesses.
All relatively minor. Until December 2009 rolled around.
For whatever reason, VMWare stubbornly refused to allow my virtual machines’ startup process to go beyond 95%, at least in the web UI. Oh, the machines themselves were up and running in the background – essentially, the process was headless – but that didn’t help when I needed to administrate, say, the Windows XP machine. I had no access to the web UI. I couldn’t even shut the machines down without killing it from the process manager.
I even started support threads: one on Serverfault, one on the VMWare forums. No answers. I found several other similar threads in the VMWare forums, but each seemed to have a different solution specific to the platform, none of which worked for me. The common thread seemed to involve 64-bit host machines, but that aside no solution was adequate.
My ultimate solution? VirtualBox!
Its look and feel is very reminiscent of VMWare 1.x, except this actually works. Not only that, it comes with a bonus: full support for Windows’ Remote Desktop protocol (obviously with a few extra security measures in place), so there’s no need to install a proprietary web-UI plugin, only a client that can communicate via RDP. I’ve been using this cool open source RDP tool for OS X called CoRD. It’s still in beta, but it shows incredible promise. Until the codebase matures a little further (perhaps over the summer I may try to participate in its development), I’m using it alongside Windows’ own OS X port of Remote Desktop. Which is, frankly, an annoying application.
I now have both Windows XP and Ubuntu virtual machines running happily within VirtualBox, and it works like a charm. My only complaint so far is that I can’t close the VM windows on the host machine without shutting down or pausing the virtual machine itself. But that’s a pretty minor complaint, a far cry from having no manual access whatsoever.
Just in time, too: my thesis research is really gearing up, and I need access to a sandbox machine with highly configurable Python, Django, and MySQL access. A whole lot of extra hard disk space is another big plus. And setting up a Dyn-DNS domain name for easy access doesn’t hurt.