Unity is the Future for VMs

I recently downloaded VMWare’s latest workstation product (VMWare Workstation 6.5) and set it up to run on my 64 bit Ubuntu 8.04 desktop.

While I use primarily use only Linux at home, there are certain tools I occasionally need which are only available under Windows (e.g. Visual Studio .Net etc.). To access them, I have setup a few VM environments (Windows 2003 Server, Windows Vista and Windows XP). But before VMWare Workstation 6.5 came along, it was not always a convenient way to toggle among multiple VMs as I had to go into each Windows environment in order to perform certain tasks. Particularly, the need of constant minimizing/maximizing VM windows was rather inconvenient.

The "Unity" feature in VMWare 6.5 made it much easier to use any VM based applications in the host environment just as if they were native to the host. And copying and pasting between the host and VMs worked perfectly.

It is pretty easy to access the applications via the "start" style menu that floats on the top left corner of the screen:

Unity Menu

The user experience of running applications in unity mode is quite excellent with a few exceptions.

  • If you have background images in the VM environment, you will notice that the mouse is extremely sluggish while operating in unity mode. This can be easily addressed by not using any desktop background images (e.g. use solid colors) and reduce the color depth to 16bit.
  • The application windows sometimes do not show up in the correct z-order. Occasionally, when I tried to open up a file-open dialog, it popped under the main application window.
  • Maximizing an application window running under unity does not always work correctly. Sometimes the window was maximized without being properly repainted.
  • The last annoyance I observed is unique to Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. It seems that the UAC dialog breaks the unity mode. For example, when the UAC dialog shows up, the whole desktop background would appear. Of course, you can always turn off the annoying user access control warnings.

It would be nice if there is a shortcut key to switch between the normal and the unity mode since every time after you boot up a VM you have to switch it to unity mode no matter which mode it was in before. This can be quite frustrating if you are trying to setup multiple VM environments every time after you boot up your main PC.

Even though VMWare Workstation is not free, I do appreciate the convenience unity brings and I could imaging that unity becomes a standard virtual machine feature for all VMs in the future…

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