VMWare Server installation notes

After using VMWare for various purposes for many, many years now, I've moved my development environment to virtual machines two years ago. These are mostly Windows XP and Windows Vista clients with around 1 GB of RAM. I stored and executed them on my main development laptop. While using the laptop provided various advantages one disadvantage became more and more prevalent: Notebook hard drives simply can't deal very well with multiple requests at the same time.
Suspending one machine, a virus scan, Windows swapping memory, Lookout indexing Outlook: Whenever the hard disks where spinning performance went downhill.

At the same time one advantage of using a notebook diminishes. Three years ago basically being able to take the office with me was a big plus. Since then connectivity has more and more become a commodity. Fast internet access (we used to call it high-speed internet not long ago) is available in more and more places. Fast mobile internet access such as UMTS has become downright cheep with unlimited data transfer for less than 50 Euros/Dollars a month.

Therefore I moved some of my development machines onto a new server and use a combination of VMWare Remote Client and Windows Remote Desktop to connect from the laptop to the server. The following are a few notes I took during the installation.

The mouse pointer can be a source of frustration if you move to a remote server. By default Windows displays a tiny shadow beneath the pointer. There's no doubt that this increases the discoverability experience of the mouse pointer. It seems, though, that drawing a mouse pointer with a shadow is significantly different from drawing one without shadow.

If the mouse pointer jumps around and there is a delay between moving the mouse and updating the mouse pointer, pointer shadows are most likely activated. Go to Control Panel > Mouse > Pointers and uncheck the "Enable pointer shadow" option. Sometimes this isn't sufficient and additionally you need to change the scheme to "Windows Default (System scheme)".

Installing VMWare server automatically adds VMWare to the list of exception in the Windows Firewall. Windows 2008 and later support multiple profiles, one each for public, private and domain access. It seems that VMWare only enables the public profile. If you server is connected to a private network, you can't access VMWare VI Web Access to configure the virtual machines.

To change this, open Server Manager.If Server Manager doesn't come automatically when you log onto the server, right click Computer in the Start menu and choose Manage. Expand the node Configuration > Windows Firewall with Advanced Security > Inbound Rules. Locate the "VMWare Hostd" and "VMWare Authd" rules. Open the properties dialog for each rule and on the Advanced page check the "All profiles" checkbox, or pick profiles individually.

Choosing the right client is difficult. I switched back between VMWare Remote Client and Windows Terminal Services. In between these I even experimented with using VMWare Workstation instead of VMWare Server on the server. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages:

VMWare Workstation

On the pro side: The network can be connected and disconnected right from the client. It also much easier to boot Windows into safe mode since the virtual machine appears immediately with the BIOS screen. Of course, VMWare Workstation also has more features and better hardware support.

There is one disadvantages of using VMWare, though. You always have to use Remote Desktop to connect to the server before you can run VMWare Workstation. Unfortunately, you cannot have WMWare Workstation and VMWare Server installed on the same computer.

VMWare Remote Client

Remote Client has a quite simplified interface. You can control the power for the virtual machine (reset, stop and suspend). Additionally you can disconnect CD drives, floppy disks and the audio device. USB devices connected to the client computer appear in a list, but the connect option is grayed out. The same applies to the Network symbol.

As my friend Peter Steinke pointed out to me, the easiest way to connect to a virtual machine with the Remote Client is by creating a desktop short cut to the virtual machine from within the web interface (it's the last option in the list of machine's action). There's no need to use the web interface every time you want to access a virtual machine.

The remote client has a few advantages. If you connect to a virtual machine that is powered off, it will automatically power on. That means you can minimize the number of machines that running on the server without having to use the web interface to start them manually.

The VMWare Remote Client also provides direct access to the CD drive on the client. If you want to burn a CD inside a virtual machine, you can use the CD writer on your client machine instead of having to put the CDs into the server CD drive. Nonetheless you need a good network connection, since otherwise you get errors when burning the CD.

The catch with this feature is that it only works when you launch the Remote Client as a local administrator on your client machine. If you have a desktop short cut, you can right click and pick the "Run as administrator" option. If you use the web interface to launch the Console, you have to run the browser as an administrator first. As a regular user you merely get the following error message when you attempt to connect the CD drive:

Failed to connect device to remote :
Could not connect to "D:". It is being used by another virtual machine or some other program.
Whenever you change the windows size of the Remote Client, the screen size in the virtual machine is adjusted accordingly. So you never get scrollbars and always see everything on the screen.

Sound is a disadvantage for the Remote client. With VMWare Server you can only connect audio devices that physically exist. If the server doesn't have audio (and why should a real server have audio?), you won't be able to forward audio to the client machine.

Logging onto the client is more annoying that with the other two options because you have to enter the user name and password every single time. The user name and password are supposed to be configurable with the -u and -p command line arguments in the shortcut. But I never could get those to work. No matter what I entered for the user name (user, .\user, server\user, user@server, user@, .\\user, server\\user, and a variety of combinations), I always ended up with the error message:

Error opening the remote virtual machine servername:5000\8:
Login failed due to a bad username or password.

Remote Desktop

Connecting to a virtual machine with the Remote Desktop client provides the closest experience to the native desktop experience. When the client and the guest operating system are both Windows Vista or Windows 7 and the client computer is Aero compatible, you even get the Aero interface on the remote virtual machine including glass effects and three dimensional task switching.

Microsoft's Remote Desktop is also the only possibility to get audio from the remote machine onto the local machine. The play back quality is way below what you have with local access from VMWare Workstation or natively, but at least there is audio. Recording isn't possible, though.

One drawback of Remote Desktop is that you can't connect or disconnect any of the hardware. VMWare Tools provide access to some of these features from within the virtual machine, but it's far from being as convenient as in VMWare Workstation or Remote Client. You also don't have access to the power options. To suspend the machine you need to access the web interface from the client. The same is true for machines that are powered off. You first have to power on through the web interface before you can connect to a virtual machine.

There's no way to boot into safe mode or make any BIOS changes through Remote Desktop. The virtual machine must be working and properly configured for Remote Desktop to work. For anything else you need VMWare's Remote Client and the web interface (when using VMWare Server) or the VMWare Workstation interface (when using Workstation on the server).


Right now it seems the best approach to use VMWare Remote Client and Remote Desktop together. Remote Client is used for maintenance tasks, everything that requires access to local devices and to start up the virtual machine if it's not running. Day-to-day jobs are done in Remote Desktop.