VMware Player goes virtual
By Jeremy Pollard
My customers use a lot of Rockwell Automation products. As with most industrial sites, and processes, the equipment is older and uses less-than-recent software revisions. Microsoft and Intel have continued to provide us with development and maintenance platforms that are awesome for what we do, but as always, we have no way of going back. The compatibility issue is huge since we may be using software from the ’90s.
With Windows 7 on just about every desktop and laptop, if you thought you couldn’t upgrade your hardware because of the software you use – you’d be wrong. Man, this thing is cool! I, too, was in the same boat regarding legacy software, and recently bought an Asus All-in-One PC. The only reason I did this is because of the VMware Player.
VMware Player is a virtual environment that allows you to run any operating system on any host running anything. Downloading and loading the player from the company’s site is painless. Start the application by selecting the software in the Start Menu.
Now you are then entering Pandora – another world.
I have installed the player on an XP host machine as well as a Windows 7 host. Its behaviour is not the same, but it’s equal.
The benefits of using a virtual environment may not be obvious to some. Imagine having a Windows 7 host machine and software that only runs on Windows 98. As well, you have a machine you’ve been using for four years, which is XP, and some applications that you can’t reinstall (for whatever reason).
VMware Player allows you to install Windows 98, and all of the software you need and want, and converts your existing XP machine into a virtual computer you can run on the Windows 7 host as if you’re really using your old XP machine.
This works well – and is necessary since Rockwell’s legacy software does not run on Windows 7.
The initial player screen allows you create a new virtual machine. Use this option if you have a legal CD with any operating system. You can also use a backup image file of any computer you have backed up. Install the operating system of choice onto the virtual machine, and then the fun begins.
All of the host hardware is available to you in the virtual machine. I did not test the player on a laptop with a PCMCIA slot, but I suspect it would work.
This means you can install XP, install your legal copy of RSLogix 500 or Schneider Concept, and run either using the host’s serial ports or Ethernet. That I have tested, and it works flawlessly.
The virtual machine has all of the options you would expect with the ability to change the hard-drive size, amount of memory allocate and the network IP address. You can also take control of the USB ports and connected devices on demand. Network disk sharing is a breeze.
The conversion tool only works with version 2.5 of the player, so I would download both. Convert the existing hardware using an external USB drive, or the network by using version 2.5, then open it with version 3.0, and all is good.
There is a really cool option called Unity, which takes the virtual machine and makes it look like a window in the host operating system. It works very well on Windows 7 – but on XP? Not so much.
Imagine the possibilities. You can have four separate computers running on one where they look like a window, and you can be running different legacy software on each. It’s great for testing, too.
You could even install DOS 5.0, if you wanted.
I created multiple virtual machines in fewer than two hours, and now I can run any software regardless of vintage.
I review software, and installing this software on a "test" machine didn’t disrupt my working development machine. Another very cool consequence of virtualization is that I can take an image of my customer’s machines and access the environment virtually so I can test software as if I was in their network. While this may be a security and/or privacy issue for some, the intent is clear -productivity is enhanced big time.
And with the big hard drives and big memory possibilities with 64-bit systems, there are no limitations to what you can accomplish.
The older versions of virtualization software have had their issues, but VMware Player is solid and very functional. You have to try it.
Go ye to Pandora!
Jeremy Pollard is a 25-year veteran of the industrial automation industry. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and educator in the field. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.