As most of our esteemed readers know, VMware Fusion 1.1.2 went live the evening of Wednesday, April 23rd, sporting a variety of bug fixes and enhancements, aimed to make things work better, faster, stronger for our users.
What some of our more technical (ok, fine, geeky) users may also know, is that the same day the latest distribution of Ubuntu Linux, dubbed the ever-alliterative “Hardy Heron” also went from Beta to General Availability that day.
Included in the latest Ubuntu, the most widely used desktop Linux distro, were a variety of changes to the underlying Linux 2.6.24, some of which created issues with VMware Tools.
The good news is, some smart users have already come up with some great worarounds, which we’ll get into later. But before getting into that, it might be worthwhile to explain the dynamics that create these issues, so our dear users can better understand how these situations arise.
Machine Virt 101:Guests, Tools, and You
To the x86 operating system–whether Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD, or, as concerns this blog post, Linux–installed on top of that virtual hardware, that hardware looks no different than the “physical” hardware those OSes tie into when installed on a physical machine.
And just like with physical machines, a set of drivers provide that tie between the “guest” operating system (virtualization slang for the operating system of the virtual machine in question) and the virtual hardware that powers it. VMware’s name for this set of drivers, which is different for each guest OS, is “VMware Tools.”
These tools are what make the seamless interaction between guest and host OS happen. Things like the ability to drag and drop between guest and host, create shared folders between the two, automatic resize of screen resolution, and even the mind-blowing “Unity” view that VMware Fusion [YouTube Vid] pioneered, and now featured by VMware Workstation 6.5 Beta.
VMware provides the broadest set of these “guest tools” in the industry, and they come packaged with VMware products, like VMware Fusion, VMware Workstation, and so on, such that when you go to create a new virtual machine, and install a new operating system, the guest tools are there for you to install too.
This is the primary reason why VMware product downloads can be hefty at times: they package the VMware Tools for all of those supported operating systems
Come Together, Right Now
Of course, what this also means is that these tools have to be maintained to ensure that as the operating systems they communicate with change, they still “work.” This is the dance that Microsoft and hardware makers have been doing for years, but mainly only every four years or so.
Linux is a bit different, in that it changes more frequently. In this case, the latest distribution of Ubuntu included some changes to Linux that broke VMware Tools for a limited set of functions.
While the latest distros of Linux aren’t on the supported OS list for VMware Fusion, we recognize that our users like to play around with the latest and greatest, whether that means Hardy Heron or Fedora 8, or what have you.
The good news is, because those great hackers who like to use VMware Fusion and VMware Workstation to help them play with the latest and greatest, are the same people who can come up with clever workarounds, including installing Open Virtual Machine Tools that have been updated to address the changes in the Linux.
Opening Doors with Open Tools
But what are these “Open Virtual Machine Tools” of which you speak? In late 2007, VMware open sourced the majority of VMware Tools, with an eye towards making it easier for the larger open source community to more agilely update and modify the tools that enable the multitude of x86 operating systems that can run on VMware virtual hardware to better integrate with that virtual hardware.
It’s great to see this strategy paying off, with the latest version of Open Virtual Machine Tools addressing the breakage in question.
This is a great post by a user named Josh who did the VMware Fusion community a favor by pointing out a fix posted in the VMware Workstation forums about a month ago.
And as usual, the VMware forums are a great place to share and discuss technical issues. “Mufassa” posted the fix in March after he updated 35 of his development VMs to Fedora 8, only to see after that, gasp, that the update broke VMware Tools.
And lastly, cheers to Peter Cooper for blogging about this in the context of VMware Fusion and Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron, and doing a great job of breaking out the process, step by step. His post is located here.
This post also provides a great opportunity to comment quickly on the value of snapshotting virtual machines.
Because virtual machines are just files, in addition to be able to do things like suspend and resume them rapidly, unlike Apple’s Boot Camp, or even VMware Fusion running on top of Boot Camp, you can also take a picture of them in time, with the “snapshot” feature. Later, if you want, you can revert to that snapshot, if you don’t like what has happened to your virtual machine thereafter.
It’s a new idea for a lot of users, but the great thing is, you can use a snapshot to try out new software, with no risk to your “production” virtual machine.
For example, recently, Windows Vista pushed its new Service Pack. Only Vista users running in virtual machines had the ability to take a snapshot before installing the Service Pack, install it, and then see if everything still worked a-ok. It’s pretty amazing stuff.