The pocketable Virtual Machine – Part I VMware Ace

I’ve been taking a look at Pocket Ace as a way of taking an operational computing environment with me on a USB key.

Pocket Ace allows the creation of a VM that can be run from a USB key without prior installation of VMware products.  The key contains an installer for VMware Player & uses that to run a VM.  Naturally since it’s part of ACE there are use and maintenance policies around the VM.

Of course the first question is how much USB key do you need to run a usable VM?    Since I use Windows XP as my desktop environment that’s what I want to run, I also need an office package and Microsoft Outlook 2003 to talk to my Exchange server using RPC over HTTPS.

To shrink the XP install I have used NLite to remove as much as possible, allowing the install to get down to under 1GB after the install and with Outlook 2003 and some office viewers installed and updated.  I allow 1.8 GB of disk for the VM so the basic system will fit on a 2GB key.  I use a 4GB key so I can put more on the key and have more versatility.

Since I’m planning to use the ACE package from a USB key I then allow access to drive letters using folder redirection & put a startup script into the VM that connects drive letters. 

I use a Portable Apps install in the VM, this in turn contains Open Office to allow the viewing & updating of documents.  I tried to use the redirected folders with the USB key’s copy of Portable Apps, but the launcher wouldn’t work from the redirected folder so I put it inside the VM.

So what’s it like?

The main drawback so far is that the install of VMware Player isn’t seamless or silent.  On a kiosk PC I was unable to install since the kiosk user isn’t an administrator.  On a standard PC the Player install ran OK but had all of the usual dialogues for the player install, a non-IT user wouldn’t be comfortable with that. 

Once Player installed the VM started.  When the VM was up it was quite good to use, but the effort of getting the player installed made the whole process less useful.

I’ll have to look at other ways to get my portable computing environment in my pocket.

© 2007, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.
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