VMware goes mainstream

Steve Hamm

VMware is a true tech-industry phenomenon. With revenues doubling year over year, it's on the same growth trajectory as Oracle was in its salad days--and Oracle was the fastest-growing software startup ever. So far, VMware's fans have been corporate software developers and their bosses. And no wonder. VMware's products make it easier to develop software programs and to get more use out of a corporation's servers. It sells virtual machine software that makes it possible to run several operating systems on a single computer server, or to move applications from server to server at will.

Now VMware is making virtual machines for the rest of us. The company, an independent subsidiary of EMC, just released two pieces of software that could make virtualization a household word. (Well, in very nerdy households, at least) The first is its VMware Player. This software allows you to download virtual machines onto your PC (running Windows or Linux) with applications inside them. To show people how useful the VMware Player can be, the company has also made available for download a virtual machine, which it calls the Browser Appliance.

Not too catchy. But just think of the VMware Player as a music CD player, and the Browser Appliance as the music CD.

The appliance, a combo of the Linux and the Firefox open-source browser, allows you to surf the Web within the VMware Player. That prevents any viruses or spyware from attaching themselves to your PC's "real" operating system. If your virtual machine gets a virus, you just delete it and download a new one. It's the throw-away society at its best.

If you're still with me, read on...

VMware President Diane Greene dropped by this week to explain the new software. She was happy to report that in just one month of beta release, the Player was downloaded more than 300,000 times. "This is a way to show the world the value of virtual machines, and to proliferate them. Also, it's just fun to have people create new things on your software," she said.

Already, IBM, Oracle, and Red Hat distribute some versions of their software products within virtual machines. That way, users can download them and try out applications, without having to do any complicated set-up or configuration. And, if users want to update the applications, they can just download a new virtual machine loaded with the improved program.

VMware is trying to build of community of developers who supply virtual machines for use on its player. So far, it has links to just three community-built virtual machines on its Web site. But another 15 or so are expected to be posted soon.

Where does this all go? Beats me. But it seems like the player is a compelling option for people who want the surf the Web without fear of malware. And the whole thing seems like an attractive distribution method for garage software makers.

(Updated with correct revenue growth.)

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