Wouldn't it be useful to access a mobile phone or USB device connected to your computer from within a virtual machine? If you're using VMware Player or VMware Workstation, an on-board utility makes this possible.
Desktop virtualization software comes in many shapes and sizes. With Windows Virtual PC from Microsoft, the open source VirtualBox and the popular VMware tools are all used in a number of different scenarios for many varying purposes.
As you may have already seen in one of our previous articles, VMware can be used successfully for any number of purposes, but once you’ve created a virtual machine and installed your operating system, how can you enhance it? Is there a way of introducing new hardware, or plugging USB devices or inserting discs into your host computer so that they can be accessed by the guest operating system?
Well, yes there is. These functions are all available via the VMware Tools utility which will be available to you after installation of a guest OS. Many users tend to ignore this feature once the virtual machine is created, but in truth it is pretty difficult to get the most out of any VM without it.
How to Activate VMware Tools
Although an incredibly useful aspect of VMware Workstation and VMware Player, the VMware Tools utility isn’t actually available when you first setup your VM and install the guest operating system.
What will happen is that as the installation proceeds, a box will appear at the bottom of the window, advising you that VMware Tools can be installed after the operating system is setup. This is done by working your way through the setup process and then confirming that the guest operating system is now installed.
It shouldn’t be too long before you have access to VMware Tools and have the power to add and remove devices to your guest OS.
There is another way to install the utility, however. For instance, you might have rushed through the installation of your guest OS and ignored or cancelled the box, only to realize later on that you needed to have the tools installed. Fortunately, this is only a small problem, an one that can be resolved by using the VM > Install VMware Tools menu option, and following the on-screen prompts.
Advantages of Installing VMware Tools
When you use VMware Player or VMware Workstation, what you are getting is the facility to create a virtual computer and a framework with which to install a guest operating system upon it.
Much like a basic OS install on a physical computer, this installation is without all of the necessary drivers, thereby restricting access to USB devices, graphics, sound and some mouse options.
VMware Tools adds the missing drivers to your virtual machine (whichever one you have installed or a downloaded image), enabling you to use the VM just as you would the host operating system. For instance, plugging in a USB flash storage device under normal circumstances would result in no response from the VM, but by using VMware Tools you are able to browse the contents of the device and access it as you would on your host computer.
Additionally, VMware tools enables you to share documents between guest and host operating systems.
Sharing Data Between a Guest and Host Operating System
One of the most common actions you might like to perform when using VMware Workstation or VMware Player is copying data from host operating system to your guest OS, or vice versa. Without VMware Tools this isn’t possible, but with the utility installed it is made ridiculously simple.
For instance, you might have a Microsoft Word document that you want to open in LibreOffice on an Ubuntu 11.04 virtual machine. Copying this from the Windows host operating system to the Ubuntu guest operating system should simply be a task of dragging the item from your folder view in Windows onto the VMware window on your desktop where you will be able to “drop" the item into the new environment.
Similarly, using the standard cut and copy commands in Windows and the Edit menu in VMware Player or VMware Workstation will enable you to Paste the item onto the current folder view on your guest OS. These options are all possible with Linux, Windows, FreeBSD, Solaris and Novell Netware operating systems, as is utilizing a shared disk drive between the host and guest operating systems.
How Do I Add a Device to my Guest OS?
Adding a new device to any guest operating system is simple – all you need to do is plug it in! For instance, a USB printer should be instantly detected by VMware Player or VMware Workstation, and the VMware Tools will be launched to assist with the installation of necessary drivers for the device.
The same is true for external hard disk drives and USB flash storage devices, card readers, MP3 players and pretty much any piece of hardware you connect to your host computer!
Note, however, that if you are using a Mac OS X virtual machine, the same level of external device support will not be available, and it is also not possible to copy or share data in the same way.
Author's own experience.
Screenshots provided by author.