For some time VMware Player has been a free option for people to run pre-built VMs, perhaps supplied to them by their employer, or by an ISV. To construct a VM it has been necessary to use a more functional product such as VMware Workstation.
However, the new version of VMware Player, currently in Beta, is expected to allow you to create your own VMs, thus allowing an individual to download VMware Player and Ubuntu and within a few minutes have a LAMP stack running on their Windows PC. The process is quite streamlined and the product is neat, simple to use and well-documented.
Microsoft is, of course, offering Virtual PC to run XP on Windows 7, and there are clearly a range of Windows incompatibilities that can be most-easily sorted through virtualization, but the current volume use-case of the low-end desktop virtualization tools on Windows is the student, hobbyist or micro-business who needs the Windows desktop operating system he or she uses to view and edit web documents (e.g. html, css, images etc) to co-exist on the same box as a server environment, typically based on Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl (LAMP) that is used to server them up. In this case they would typically expect to install the LAMP stack in a VM running under Windows.
In the Mac world, the same use case exists (LAMP in a VM on OS/X) but other big use case is installing Windows XP in a VM to test your web site in Internet Explorer. 80% of people viewing your website will use a variety of IE, which behaves very differently from any of the Mac Browsers (e.g. Firefox Opera or Safari) which you have on your desktop, and IE hasn’t run on the Mac since IE5.
Currently the market is mainly served by one free product (VirtualBox) and two low-cost products (VMware Workstation and Parallels for the Mac). Microsoft Virtual PC doesn’t get used a lot to install LAMP on Windows because people find it too hard to set up (for example you have to change the screen depth from 24 bits to 16 bits on a standard Ubuntu X11 install).
So, what is likely to be the impact on the market of VMware Player’s new features? First, there are still some extra features in VMware Workstation that make it sensible to pay the extra (notably snapshots), but it is noticeable on VMware’s website that it has a “special” on Workstation at the moment, and it may be that prices will change and/or features get added in the near future to maintain a differential. Second, Parallels is not impacted because VMware player does not run on OS/X, so we are left with the impact on VirtualBox.
We’ve written about VirtualBox as a slight “orphan” inside Oracle, and a truly Open Source offering with the potential to leverage it’s substantial community, but only if given the freedom to move forward. Does the free VMware Player, the strength of VMware’s marketing machine and the slickness of the product signal the end of VirtualBox? The answer is probably not.
The reason is that whilst VMware means something significant to Enterprise IT, it has almost no marketing presence amongst the general public, the Web Designers and the LAMP stackers who make up the dominant user group for this kind of tooling. Without significant marketing effort, the current usage patterns (which are set through word of mouth, twitter and in the blogosphere) will persist. There doesn’t seem much benefit to VMware in making the effort, because it only really cares about competing with Microsoft, and Microsoft isn’t going to be putting out a consumer marketing pitch on using Virtual PC to install Ubuntu on your PC.