Monday, February 27, 2006

Being Productive in a Cross-Platform World

Someone asked me about a reference I'd made in another context to VMware, so...

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in VMware or anyone or anything associated with it. Having gotten that out of the way, I can say that VMware rocks :-)

Several years ago I switched my development desktop and server to Linux. I've spent a lot of time working on *nix boxes, and am simply more productive with a decent command shell environment. On top of that, most of the tools I use, and technologies I deploy, are in Java or are otherwise platform-agnostic.

But -- and there's always a but, eh? -- there are a few residual problems with that. The biggest one is Internet Explorer; it's the browser used by too many people to ignore, and its poor standards support means you can't get around testing in it for most Web deployments. And there's the occasional application that you'd like to use (or at least try out) that's Windows-only.

Initially I maintained an old PC running Windows with a KVM switch to jump back and forth. Acceptable, but not that convenient: no copy-and-paste across environments meant lots of back-and-forth switching and retyping URLs, etc.

One day I was lucky enough to receive an email invitation to a VMware seminar; the reward for four hours of my time was a free fully-licensed copy of VMware Workstation. Woo-hoo! It installed with no problems on my SuSE Linux desktop system. Decommisioning two old (and problematic) PCs gave me licensed copies of both Windows 2000 and XP to install.

So now I have the best of both worlds. The VMware windows occupies one of my six virtual desktops (a technology I'd sorely missed while running Windows). Checking a page display in IE or using some Windows-only software is just a mouse-click away. The "snapshot" capability means I can easily revert to a clean version if some installed software borks something up, or won't uninstall cleanly.

If I want to try out another Linux distribution, or some other X86-based software -- no problem. Well, other than disk space, which is a solvable problem :-)

The bottom line: I can't recommend VMware enough as a personal productivity enhancement for someone who prefers a *nix environment but needs access to multiple platforms for testing.
And for a Windows user wanting to start learning about Linux, or have a testing/staging version of your production Linux server right on your desktop -- perfect.

MacOS continues to be the fly in the virtualization ointment -- but you can't have everything. Though -- wouldn't it be sweet if Apple and VMware collaborated to offer virtual hosting of MacOS? Hmmmm... anyone got Steve Jobs' number? :-)