One of the most important principles when designing a scientific experiment is to add only one new factor at a time. So call me a bad scientist—my first attempt at desktop OS virtualization was also my first time trying Windows 7. Scientific method aside, it was a great experience and I think Windows 7 will be used inside virtual machines (VMs) often.
I installed the Windows 7 RC from the publicly available 32-bit ISO file. Workstation quickly identified the ISO as Windows Vista and asked for my product key and full name. Despite the misidentified OS, Workstation's Easy Install feature ran through the entire install without asking me for any further input and successfully started Windows 7, with the only apparent problem being the clock set in the wrong time zone. Whether that's a testament to VMware's programming team or the similarities between Vista's installation process and Windows 7's, I can't say.
My test machine has a 2 GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM and runs Vista Enterprise. 2GB is what I'd call the bare minimum for running Vista, so I wasn't expecting much in terms of performance. I assigned my VM one processor and 1GB of RAM and I continued to use the host machine during my Windows 7 install. Despite all this, the installation process took just 34 minutes, including a reboot of the VM to install VMware's tools into the guest OS.
Aside from a few minor graphical problems, the Windows 7 RC runs very well in VMware Workstation. Click to expand.
The VM's performance was overall very good, especially considering the limited hardware it was using. Windows 7 said its video driver wouldn't support advanced Aero effects and the startup animation tended to be displayed as a mess of random colors, but the experience of launching and using applications was generally smooth, without too much slowdown. The HD nature video included with Windows 7 played back well, with only a little stuttering.
Overall, I'd say Windows 7 running in Workstation with 1GB of RAM worked as well or better than Vista did while Vista was running the VM. You miss out on quite a bit of Windows 7 when you can't use all of its Aero features, but it is functional. Workstation's Unity feature, which allows you to put an application from a VM onto your host desktop, worked fine as well, so you can use the new Windows 7 calculator right next to Vista's calculator, if that's what you're in to.
Giving Window 7 a shot on an underpowered VM whetted my appetite for more. I plan to try virtualizing the OS again on a machine with more RAM, and I might even go so far as to install it on my main desktop. My experiment has also given me a lot of respect for the technology in Workstation—even though Workstation was released in October, it handled the new OS without any major problems.
Workstation's Unity feature works with Windows 7, so you can use applications from Windows 7 alongside your other applications on your desktop. The green borders indicate that those applications are running in the VM. Click to expand.