VMWare recently released a freeware called VMWare Player that can play a pre-built virtual machine file. A virtual machine is an OS bundled with whatever the virtual machine creator put there. This is perfect for people to test-drive various operating systems and software, without going through the hassle of installing themselves. VMWare currently provides virtual machines preloaded with RedHat, Novell Suse, ubuntu, Oracle, MySql, and Bea, among others.
Memory used to be a bottleneck for virtualization software to take off. However, on the hardware side of things, both Intel and AMD are pushing 64-bit processors pretty aggressively now. With 64-bit architecture, the memory space the operating system can access increases exponentially (from 2^32 to 2^64). With the push towards 64-bit and the emergence of virtualization technology, I wonder what kind of impact this will have on the software landscape, like operating systems, database software, web server, and application server, etc..
Linux, MySql, Apache and other open source software have made great headway in enterprise server market, especially for large financial firms. I do believe there are still a big learning curve and intimidating factor at play for mid-size to smaller firms when it comes to learning and evaluating alternative software products like Linux. Maybe the combination of 64-bit and virtualization software will help. Using the cliche popularized by the book The World Is Flat, 64-bit and virtualization will help bring down barrier of entry and flatten the competitive landscape. With more memory and more powerful processor, virtualization software helps people test things out that they may not able to or too difficult for them to try otherwise. And that will be a good thing.
The current market leader in this arena seems to be VMWare, since it works on both Windows and Linux platforms. Microsoft’s Virtual PC and Virtual Server only works on Windows, and my limited testing in installing Fedora Core 2 on Virtual PC didn’t work out very well.
Software vendors, jump on the wagon. Oracle, MySql, IBM, Bea have created and provided virtual machine files for downloading at VMWare’s Virtual Machine Center. I think that is a smart move. Even Microsoft has something to gain in doing so. For example, it can team up with VMWare and distribute Sql Server 2005 for a wider testing via their distributing channels.
I have personally tried ubuntu Linux distro on my laptop and it worked pretty well. My laptop is Acer Aspire 3500 with Celeron processor and 512M of memory.