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Cool VMware Workstation 7.1 features: Unity and Capture Movie

Inspired by a recent snowboarding trip, a VMware expert breaks free of his VMware Workstation 7.1 rut and explores its Unity and Capture Movie features.

Despite my experience as an avid skier, I've never been good at snowboarding moguls. So I recently decided to push myself. Once you make the commitment to a difficult slope, you may experience exhilaration and fear in knowing that you cannot go back up and there's only one way down.

But after a few face plants and even a backward cartwheel, I enjoy the steep angles, the huge bumps, and the solitude. I learned that only by pushing beyond the comfort zone can you really advance.

In that spirit, I decided to see whether VMware Workstation 7.1featured new territory that I could explore and could perhaps take me in a new direction. For several years, I've used VMware Workstation as a desktop virtualization platform for testing and development. Perhaps you have a similar habit of using a tool for the same purpose without realizing its other capabilities.

As I delved into the functionality of VMware Workstation 7.1, I came across two features that I had never used, though they were in previous versions: Unity and Capture Movie. Here's an overview of both features.

Unity in VMware Workstation 7.1
Unity integrates the applications running in guest virtual machines (VMs) with your host, allowing programs to behave as though they were native applications. If you run OpenOffice on your host machine and type code in a text editor within a guest VM, for example, you can go to the Workstation menu, select View and then Unity. Your text editor opens as a new window on your host machine.

This capability also enables greater management flexibility on your desktop and lets you launch additional programs from a guest VM's Start mMenu by typing Ctrl + Shift + U. Unity in VMware Workstation 7.1 provides much of the flexibility of native application management and data sharing while maintaining guest VM isolation. But for Unity to work properly, you must have VMware Tools installed in the guest VM.

The usability of Unity is well thought out, and it prevents you from getting bogged down with complex window-management tasks. Unity windows have a VMware badge in the title bar to identify that they are running within a guest VM, and the windows are color coded to help you keep track of which guest VM they are associated with.

The window's border color also matches the color of the title-bar badge and the start menu option (accessed by the Ctrl + Shift + U sequence). The border and Start Menu colors are customizable by selecting VM > Settings > Options > Unity > Unity Window Decorations. I found the native colors difficult to see with the standard Windows 7 Professional color theme, so I choose brighter colors to make them pop.

Also, I like the seamless window management between Unity windows -- including the old standby Alt + Tab -- to cycle between applications.

Capture Movie in VMware Workstation 7.1
The first time I tried recording Windows activity was in Windows 3.1. It seemed pretty amazing at the time, although I had no use for it. It is nice to see that VMware Workstation 7.1 still has that basic functionality with Capture Movie. It records what's happening on a guest VM's screen and saves it as a .avi file, which can be useful for training purposes.

On my first attempt, I recorded a video in a Windows XP guest VM. The 30-second video, recorded at Medium quality, was 4.5 MB. But it was difficult to see the mouse pointer. To fix that problem, enable Display Pointer Trails in Control Panel > Mouse Properties > Pointer Options.

There is also an option to omit frames in which nothing occurs, which records only when something happens in the guest VM. This capability ultimately reduces the length and size of the video file. I recommend enabling this feature, because you can take your time during the recording. And viewing the video becomes much easier, because there are minimal random mouse movements.


Mak King has been in the IT industry for 14 years, progressing from his blissfully green days of DOS and sneakernet to VMware and storage area networks. He has certifications from NetWare (CNE), Microsoft (MCP), CompTIA (iNet) and VMware (VCP Virtual Infrastructure 3). He is the virtualization and directory services subject matter expert for NYCE Payments Network LLC (an FIS company), where he has been employed for more than 10 years.

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