VMware Lets Systems Operate Side by Side

November 3, 1999 This coverage originally appeared on USA Today Online:

Diane Greene has spent years trying to make warring computer systems compatible. But the 44-year-old CEO of VMware never had to reconcile squabbling Buddhist monks in Thailand. Until recently, that is, when one of the spiritual combatants e-mailed her for help. Tempers were rising in the far-off monastery, which has a single PC, because one group of monks wanted to use the Windows operating system, and another favored Linux.

Greene won't win the Nobel Peace Prize, but she did tamp down the tension by suggesting that the cyber monks download VMware, a breakthrough software solution that exponentially expands a desktop computer so it can run up to five different operating systems at the same time."When we first put together the business plan for VMware in 1998, we never thought Buddhist monks in Thailand would be part of our consumer base," Greene says. "But it's certainly intriguing to be this global."

It's lucrative, too. With more and more software coming out of the box and moving onto the Web, VMware products have garnered 200,000 users in 100 countries after only five months.

Greene, who leads VMware with her husband, Mendel Rosenblum, also receives more than 100 e-mails a day from enthusiastic users. One German fan wrote: "VMware is wonderful! Your brains must be as big as Volkswagens!"

The bottom line? Silicon Valley-based VMware expects to report 1999 revenue of about $5 million. Not bad for a start-up funded almost entirely by Greene and Rosenblum.

VMware has succeeded because the five "virtual machines" it creates inside one desktop solve a number of problems confronting PC users:

  • You can download any application from the Internet without fear of trashing your computer. Simply put the application from the Net on one of the virtual machines, which will safely wall it off from the rest of your PC.
  • If you want to try a different operating system, such as Linux or Windows 2000, run it on one of the virtual machines while Windows NT runs on you desktop. If you like the new OS, it can remain on the virtual machine and become part of your new -- and enriched -- computer scheme.
  • VMware also lets you check a PC for Y2K bugs. Replicate the contents of your desktop on one of the virtual machines and push the date and time forward to January 2000. If things go haywire, your desktop system is protected, because the glitch is taking place in the confines of the virtual machine.

"This is a compelling product, because it allows flexibility," says Stacey Quandt of the GIGA Information Group."There's nothing else like it out there," adds Paul Mielke, director of engineering at the Kroll-O'Gara Information Security Group. VMware "definitely has a market opportunity here."

Brian Birch, senior information technology director at a major health care company, agrees. Birch envisions using VMware to insulate a critical computer application that calculates the proper pharmaceutical dosage fo patients. "The desktop ecosystem is fragile," Birch says. "If you add the wrong thing, applications like this could be negatively affected. Then there's a problem."

Downloading Greene's software from www.vmware.com <http://www.vmware.com> isn't a problem.

There's no need to add power or reconfigure your desktop. VMware runs on all Intel x86 PCs, although Greene recommends a Pentium processor running at 266 megahertz or faster and a minimum of 96 megabytes of RAM. And users can flip between applications and operating systems running on all the virtual machines with a single keystroke.

The commercial version of VMware for Windows NT/2000 sells for $299. The non-commercial version for hobbyists and students sells for $99.

Selling software wasn't part of Greene's original career plan. After growing up on the Chesapeake Bay and racing sailboats, she studied mechanical engineering at the University of Vermont. Then it was on to MIT for a degree in naval architecture.

Greene's first job was designing offshore oil rigs. The oil industry proved confining, so she went to Hawaii to design windsurfing gear. Returning to the mainland, Greene studied computer science at the University of California at Berkeley. But the sea lured her back, and she returned to the Pacific to dive fo treasure near a sunken Spanish galleon.

Greene surfaced and started focusing on her high-tech career. She began at Sybase in 1986, then moved to Tandem and Silicon Graphics, where she worked on a project involving set-top boxes. Once she left Silicon Graphics at the end of 1995, Greene immersed herself in VXtreme, a start-up that delivered streaming video on the Web. The company was sold 18 months later to Microsoft for a reported $75 million.

Energized by that success and excited by Rosenblum's latest research, Greene launched VMware. She had good reason for enthusiasm. Adapting an old concept from IBM, Rosenblum wedged a layer of software between the desktop's hardware and operating system to create VMware's virtual machines.

Now that VMware is on the map, its users are clamoring for a product that will expand servers. Greene and Rosenblum say their technology is well suited to the vast server market. But for now, the Buddhist monks in Thailand will have to make do with VMware's software for desktop PCs.