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Free VMware Player Ready to Go

In a big play to seed its virtualization technology to a wider audience, VMware today announced general availability of the free VMware Player, previously in beta.

The Palo Alto-based company also announced it has partnered with the Mozilla Corporation on a "Browser Appliance" that uses VMware technology and the Firefox browser.

VMware, an EMC company, is a provider of virtualization technology typically used in servers where, for example, it allows users to run multiple operating systems or applications on a single hardware box.

On the desktop, VM Player installs like a standard desktop application and runs full 32- and 64-bit applications and operating system environments, known as virtual machines, in a secure, separate environment from the rest of a PC. It's available for free download.

For business and corporate users, software companies including BEA Systems, IBM Software, Novell, Oracle and Red Hat have developed pre-built VMware environments, which VMware makes available for free at its Web site.

"This is great, because, if you're thinking about buying, for example, Oracle database, it can be too much of a pain to install and try out," Thomas Deane, an analyst with Illuminata, told internetnews.com. "This is a very viable way to test new applications."

Mozilla's free VMware virtual machine for Firefox, called the Browser Appliance, is being touted as an extra layer of security, because it lets you run Firefox in an isolated partition that prevents malware and other malicious code that might be downloaded from finding its way to other parts of the desktop environment. The Browser Appliance can also be configured to automatically reset itself after each use, so personal information, such as passwords and account numbers, is never stored permanently.

"The Firefox browser on top of VMware's virtual machine technology offers a more compelling, secure and private online experience," said Christopher Beard, vice president of products at Mozilla, in a statement.

Deane compared VMware's strategy with how Adobe made its PDF portable document format popular by making the Adobe Reader free, but charging for the tools to create PDFs. "Potentially, this is going to increase the sale of other VM products," said Deane. "Once it's ubiquitous and people want to do more with it, you'll have to go to VMware to buy the tools."

Deane was particularly impressed by the ability of VM Player to move a desktop environment to one of the tiny USB keychain drives. "The performance is going to be slower, but the ability to 'hot desk' your apps and data to one of those devices and run them elsewhere is pretty neat."

At VMware's virtualization conference in October, company president Diane Greene used a beta version of VM Player to show its versatility, connecting an Apple iPod Nano to a PC. She then accessed her desktop, stored in a virtual machine on the Nano.

"This a way to take your work to any PC, plug in the environment you're familiar with and safely unplug, because you've left nothing behind," Srinivas Krishnamurti, group product manager at VMware, told internetnews.com.