VMware 2.0 lets you easily run 2 OSs

As I was writing this column, the topic drastically changed. Originally, I planned an update on how a dual-boot works with Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me). I previously described dual-booting Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 98 (see "Dual-Boot Blues," April 2000), so an update of the topic for Windows Me, Microsoft's latest version of the Win9x code base, seemed appropriate.

The reason for maintaining a dual-boot environment is simple. Some software (including many games) that runs on Win9x doesn't run on Win2K, and Win9x supports more devices than Win2K does. Such legacy hardware and software show no signs of going away, so I've configured my system to boot either Win2K Pro or Win98. (For more information about dual-booting, see Sean Daily, "Mastering Multibooting Madness," July 1999.) But I've discovered an alternative that works better than a dual-boot. You can use VMware 2.0 to run Win2K Pro and another OS at the same time. Compared with a system running VMware, my previous dual-boot system resembles a Stone Age relic. VMware supports Win2K, Windows NT 4.0, Win9x, Windows 3.1, DOS, FreeBSD, and various flavors of Linux. However, VMware doesn't support Windows Me, so I uninstalled Windows Me and reverted to running Win98 so I could keep using VMware.

For best performance, VMware requires a minimum of 96MB of RAM, a 266MHz processor, and sufficient disk space for the host OS (in this case, Win2K) and guest OS (in this case, Win98). My current system has only a 200MHz processor—VMware runs on it but doesn't win any performance awards. Before you run VMware, the manufacturer recommends disabling CD AutoRun, which can cause unexpected interactions when you launch a Virtual Machine (VM). If you already run a dual-boot and plan to install VMware, you need to decide whether you want to build a VM around an existing OS or perform a clean installation on a virtual disk that VMware creates for you. I suggest a clean installation.

VMware's Easy Installation
Setting up VMware for a virtual disk is easy—you simply tell VMware which partition to create the disk on and how large you want to make the disk. Win2K sees this space as a file. However, the VM sees the space as a complete disk, and you can perform a clean installation of your guest OS in that space. No conflict exists between the host and guest OSs for control of the virtual partition, and you don't need to create multiple Win98 hardware profiles. But you need to set aside enough virtual disk space (about 500MB) for a complete Win98 installation.

You can use a VMware ready-to-run CD-ROM to set up a guest OS. Just run a self-extracting Zip file from the CD-ROM, then double-click the .vmx file in the resulting directory. I used this method to install TurboLinux Workstation 6.0, which fills more than 500MB of disk space.

Installing VMware the Hard Way
To safely execute a VM that uses the raw partition structure in Win2K, you need to dismount the partition on which your guest OS will run. On my system, where Win98 resides on the D drive (which is partition 1 of my second IDE drive), I run Win2K Pro's administration tools from Control Panel, Computer Management, then open the Storage folder and select Disk Management. I right-click the D partition, select Change Drive Letter and Path from the resulting pop-up menu, and click Remove. This action removes drive D from Win2K Pro's file system on the next restart but doesn't actually affect the partition; I can then run VMware and start Win98 from the D partition.

I had difficulty getting this complicated procedure to work. If you use VMware to run an existing dual-boot OS, read the technical reference note "Configuring Dual/Multiboot Systems to Run with VMware" in VMware's documentation. I didn't read the note before I started the installation; as a result, I experienced several problems, including having to run the Inbox Repair Tool (i.e., scanpst.exe) to recover mail messages from my 160MB outlook.pst file, which contains all my business correspondence. On a Win2K Pro system, you can find the Inbox Repair Tool at C:\program files\common files\system\mapi\1033\nt.

Using an existing raw partition (in this case, the D drive) also complicates the installation of a special Win98 video driver that VMware provides to improve system performance in a VM. Because you might want to be able to use Win98 by itself in a conventional dual-boot, you need to create a new hardware profile for the VM and install the new video driver only in that profile. A technical note, "SVGA Video Driver Setup for Running VMware with a Windows 98 Guest Operation System Booted from a Raw Disk," in the VMware documentation describes this procedure.

Running VMware
Starting VMware is easy; on my system, VMware is in the Programs folder on my Win2K Pro Start menu. After you start VMware, a VMware dialog box will ask whether you want to run the Configuration Wizard or Configuration Editor, or open an existing configuration. If you've used a ready-to-run CD-ROM, you'll have at least one existing configuration and can select it; otherwise, the easiest option is to use the Configuration Wizard to create a new VM.

The Configuration Wizard will ask you to select a guest OS from a list, which includes Win2K, NT 4.0, Win9x, Windows 3.1, DOS, Linux, FreeBSD, and Other. The wizard asks you for a path to an empty directory in which the VM will reside. By default, this empty directory will be a subdirectory of the folder in which you installed VMware. Next, the wizard will ask whether you want to run the VM from a virtual disk or an existing disk partition. If you select a virtual disk, the wizard asks how big you want the virtual disk to be. For an existing partition (which can exist only on an IDE drive), you'll need to determine which partitions the VM is allowed read/write access to. In either case, you also decide whether the guest OS gets access to your CD-ROM and 3.5" disk drives. You can also choose whether the VM has a network connection. If the VM has a network connection, you can bridge the VM to a local Ethernet adapter, or the VM can run a virtual network that sees only the host machine.

After you finish the configuration, the VM will start, which is fascinating to watch. A PC BIOS boot-up display appears in a window on your Win2K desktop. The VM runs a Phoenix BIOS and offers you the option to press a function key to enter BIOS setup. If you've set up a virtual disk, no OS exists for the VM to run, so the system produces an Operating System Not Found error message. To reboot the VM, insert an OS disk or CD-ROM and press Ctrl+Alt+Insert. Then, follow standard installation prompts to install the guest OS.

If you've set up the VM to operate on an existing partition, the VM will start and the OS will boot. Then, you need to be patient. On my system, Win98 ran through a long series of messages saying the OS had found new hardware. On the first boot, the OS needs time to figure out its new environment.

VMware Tools
Whether you set up a VM on an existing dual-boot partition or create a virtual disk for a clean installation of your guest OS, you'll also need to set up VMware Tools. In addition to providing a video driver for better performance, VMware Tools lets you share Clipboard data between applications in the guest and host environments and change the mouse pointer's focus as it passes into or out of the VM window (without the tools, you need to click the window and press Ctrl+Alt+Esc to transfer control outside the window). VMware Tools makes the VM's operation more seamless with the host environment.

VMware is a joy to use. Instead of the clumsy process of logging off Win2K Pro and dual-booting Win98 or another OS, you simply launch VMware from Programs/VMware on Win2K Pro's Start menu and select the guest OS you want to run. The guest OS promptly starts in a window on the Win2K Pro desktop, which Figure 1 shows. You don't even need to wait for the long boot-up that occurs after you start a guest OS; VMware supports a fast suspend-and-resume function that lets you return to a VM almost instantly.

Trying VMware won't cost you a dime. You can download a 6MB 30-day trial version from http://www.vmware.com/download. If you decide to keep the program, $299 will buy you a full license ($329 if you want the packaged version with a printed manual and the ready-to-run CD-ROM). That price is steep—it's more than what Microsoft charges for Win2K Pro. But if you regularly dual boot between Win2K and another OS, VMware might be worth the money to you.