Memories from VMware’s Hosted UI

I wrote a tribute last week to my old team at VMware, the Hosted UI Group (aka HUG). These people were like family, and through their hard work and dedication, mutual respect and insane depth of knowledge, they built some amazing products, Workstation and Fusion being just two of them. I was so proud to be part of this team and so sad when I heard their group had been axed.

I shared my point of view on just a few of the things that made the team great. Tried to keep it short, and didn’t know who would read it, but as I write this, over 57,000 people have read my tribute, and many have shared their thoughts on the team.

Since then, our team, what we’ve been referring to as Ghosted-UI, has been out for a couple dinners, drinks, trying to figure out where everyone will end up, trying to figure out where poker’s going to be next, when the next good movies will be out, and, actually, still discussing bugs and thoughts around Workstation and Fusion. Okay, maybe we haven’t let go yet.

So here’s what I’d like to do now. I’d like to share some thoughts and pictures from a few people in our team about what made our team great, and share some comments from some of our users. Keeping it positive here.

Hosted UI Musings

Jocelyn Goldfein

Before Jocelyn left for Facebook in 2010, and then got to branch out on her own, she was the manager of Hosted UI. In fact, she’s the one who hired me back in 2004, and remained a mentor to me. My first job out of school (actually, hadn’t finished yet), and she took a chance on me, bringing me on board and helping me learn the ropes, learn to build myself up. Even paid for some driving lessons (I didn’t have a license back then).

There was a part of that that I never thought she’d have remembered, which she shared with us on Facebook:

Ok, I can add *one* thing. What Christian doesn’t mention about his aforementioned first day of work is that he anxiously showed up at 8am, in a collared shirt and slacks, nervous for his first, grown-up, corporate job.

He then got to cool his heels in the lobby for an hour waiting for the next person on his team to arrive (which was probably me around 9 or 9:30).

He immediately bonded with the team, came back the next day in jeans at a reasonable hour like 10am, and the rest, as we say, is history. 🙂

Jocelyn, with a real family of her own, shared her thoughts on what made us a family.

I 100% experienced the team as family.

To me, video games were the least of it. We were united by our shared sense of mission and care for what we were building and the community of developers and admins who used it. Our commitment to the kind of software we wanted to build and the way we would build it. Gamely celebrating each other’s lifecycle events whether that was a 21st birthday or a surprise baby shower for me which was the first event of its kind for most of the attendees. 🙂 while I haven’t stayed in close touch with everyone in the 7-8 years since I became less involved w/ the team, I’ve attended weddings, doled out career advice, helped with job hunting, new parent advice, you name it. IOW, I haven’t been there all the time, but I’ll absolutely be there when I’m needed.

For me, this team emphatically represents the possibility that you *can* form very close and lasting relationships with work colleagues, without them HAVING to also be social connections. For Christian it was both, but I don’t think I was the only one for whom it was not friendship… but still family.

When I asked for additional thoughts for this post, she brought up part of what made our products so consistently high quality, even 12 major versions in:

I feel like some of our long term rearchitecture/cleanup efforts deserve highlighting. It’s hard to have the discipline to do those. It’s not sexy or fun for the engineers, and marketing could care less b/c it doesn’t drive sales. But we pulled off some big ones b/c we had the team commitment and will to do it.

James Farwell

James (LinkedIn) joined Hosted UI in 2007, and spent most of his years since working on Fusion. He’s still with the company, just in another role, but is very much a part of our team. In a Facebook post, he shared some of his thoughts that kind of summed up our work days:

The simultaneous technical breadth and depth of this team was always stunning. You could walk past an office where 3 people were having a design discussion about how to do some complex asynchronous task while respecting the quirks of the OS X and GTK run loops and Win32 message loop. Or have a debate with someone about how best to model and manage modal dialogs in a generic fashion while still having the application “feel” like it was supposed to on each respective platform. I can’t stress that enough, so much love and care was put into having each application “feel” like a Windows app or “feel” like a Mac app despite having so much shared code. And as much ribbing as we gave each other about the other platforms, there was always so much respect.

And then you’d all go out to dinner and talk about video games.

Lee Ann Rucker

Lee Ann (LinkedIn) also joined Hosted UI in 2007, working on Fusion. I remember giving her an interview, poorly (that is, I sucked at it — I was pretty new to interviewing). She was a fantastic member of the team, really knew her stuff.

When I asked for thoughts on the team, she shared why she stayed with this product so long: Our users.

This is why I did it – because our users appreciate it. I dropped a line to the blind Fusion user [who she heard from after the news broke last week — Christian] and got this answer:

> “Hi Lee Ann. Thanks for taking the time to write, and I’m sorry to learn that you and others who have done such a good job with Fusion have been let go.
>
> It sounds like VMWare has lost a lot of institutional knowledge, and Fusion is the only accessible VM solution there is.
>
> Thanks for thinking of your blind users, many of us really appreciate all you have done.”

Jason Kasper

If you’ve used Unity on Linux or Mac, you’ve used Jason’s (LinkedIn) work. He was a remote employee, so we didn’t get to see him as often as we liked, but we chatted on IRC daily.

I did not grow up with nerd friends who were like me. I spent the first period of my life working whatever I could find in retail stores and then in corporate IT, and I definitely didn’t fit in there. But you guys… you’re all like me! Like, there’s no pretense and there’s no trying to fit in. It’s just always felt like home and family when I’ve been able to spend time with you guys.

I know it’s going to sound sad and sappy and whatever, but I just wanted to tell you guys how much you have meant to me and how much you continue to mean to me. You all have been the best 8 years of my life, personally and professionally. I love each and every one of you. And I’m going to miss being able to hang out with you in person immensely. *hug* =:)

We’ll miss it too, Jason, but are going to drag you out here kicking and screaming, one way or another.

Sujit Polpaya

Sujit (LinkedIn) was a newer member of the team, and moved to the team after I left. I’ve gotten to know him through team outings, and am glad I had that opportunity.

My tenure in the Hosted UI team is significantly less than many of you guys, but I share the pain. By far this is best team I have ever worked with – amazing people and products. I would have completed 4 years at VMware on April 30, which is just about a month after my termination date. I was looking forward to this 4-year milestone. Oh well…

Richard Bailey

Richard started off as an intern in Hosted UI, and then became a full member of the team. He left a few years back, but like many from Hosted UI, we still keep in touch on IRC, Facebook, and Twitter. He had some really nice thoughts to share with us:

The Hosted-UI Group set the gold standard by which I have judged all the teams I’ve worked with since I left (2012). We built an open environment that celebrated individuals’ strengths and supported each other’s weaknesses. We weren’t all hanging out on the weekend together (though many were) but it didn’t matter because we all cared for the product and wanted to see it succeed.

There was a dramatic breadth of technical skill (from deep kernel hacking to amazing UX intuition and user focus) and very little ego. It was an amazing place to learn post college and the best introduction to industry I could have imagined. I’m devastated to see the team disbanded but hope that the core of how that environment functioned follows each of the team as they spread out to whatever amazing things they decide to pursue.

On a more personal level I owe a lot of my adult life to the situations that arose from taking the full-time offer. Without coming to HUG I would have not met many of those who are now my closest friends, would not have started rock climbing (which was key for me to *finally* get healthy), and would not have made the connections necessary for my subsequent jobs which I have also loved. It would be an understatement to say that this team, and the internship that pulled me in, significantly altered the course of my life.

For those that were laid off you can pretty much call on me for anything and I’ll do what I can to help regardless of whether or not we overlap: that’s how family works. I’m sorry this happened but I trust you’ll be okay.

James Lin

James (LinkedIn) was one of the first people I met when I joined VMware. He’s a legend. The guy knew the codebase inside-and-out, probably better than most of us, and plowed through bugs and features like nobody’s business. He worked on the Windows side on Workstation and Player. He saw a lot of change in the company and even in the team, and I always pictured him single-handedly holding the products together until the very end, if it came down to it.

He shared his view of what made the team great and how he saw his work over his time at VMware.

I’ve been in VMware’s Hosted UI group (“HUG”; could there be a more appropriate name?) working on Workstation for almost 12 years.  I’ve seen a lot of people in HUG come and go (although I think not quite as many as in other groups), and while some of them tried to pull me away to join other companies, I never really wanted to leave.  I loved our product.  Even after nearly 12 years, I never got tired of fixing bugs; I saw each bug as a usability problem for customers.  Repetitive bugs challenged me to try to prevent future recurrences.  At VMware, there was always something for me to work on and always something new for me to learn, and it never got boring.

And I loved my colleagues too.  I tried my best to help them when possible (by answering questions, offloading bugs, reviewing their code, implementing helper functions they needed, writing scripts to simplify drudgery, buying unhealthy snacks for them from Costco) to make their lives a little bit easier and so that they’d have more time to work on things that they found interesting.  I never wanted them to leave (and jokingly threatened to kill some of them if they ever tried).

People in HUG helped me buy a car for the first time.  HUG filled two tables at my wedding.  HUG was a family, and our products were our babies.  I don’t know how I’m going to bear seeing them in the foster care of complete strangers.

Tony Fregoso

Tony (LinkedIn) was a member of our amazing QA team (a team that suffered its own layoffs a couple of years ago).He had both QA engineering and management roles during his time with us. QA was important to us on a personal and professional level. They kept the quality of our products high, and knew the products and their history inside-and-out.

Tony shared his memories and thoughts with us:

When I look back at my time at VMware the one word that always comes to mind is family. Beyond all of the incredible technical feats the teams achieved it is all dwarfed by the shear strength of the bonds that I formed and saw formed with the people that I worked with at VMware.

Even as the company grew and changed HUG, Desktop QA and the greater Desktop Business Unit retained much of its core identity because of the people who worked within it. The passions that were shared for the products was equally shared for the people. In the valley where it is the norm for people to change jobs ever 2 years we had a team that clearly pushed against this. Between the Dev and QA teams we had some of the most tenured members in the entire company. This happened for many reasons, a shared passion of quality, love and dedication to the products we worked on and the close bonds we had with each other.

I am thankful to VMware for bringing us all together in the way that it did, regardless of how things ended. The fact is that the strengths of the bonds that we formed are far greater and are something that will always exist.

Family

Our users had a lot to say

I was surprised by the outpouring of love from our users. I want to share a few select comments from my earlier blog post:

Bruno Kerouanton said:

I just wanted to congratulate you and all the team on the fabulous work you did. I bought my first license for VMware Workstation Linux 2.0, back in 2001 ! And use Workstation and Fusion on a daily basis (See my latest blog article on http://éé.net/ak6), it’s just a critical part of my infrastructure!

So I’m sad for you. And I just wanted to say I love you for what you made available for so many people worldwide 😉

jorgedlcruz said:

I’m a VMware vExpert because I did my Home Labs using Workstation, or even Fusion sometimes, you helped so many Companies out there, not just power users, I saw some environments using Workstation at really high scale, insane but working!

You guys did just amazing job all this time. I just can say, thank you and good luck!

Jeff:

Its really no wonder now, why apps like VMware Player and Fusion just worked so well despite doing really complicated things. Kudos to your team for really being the best champions of your product and making the computing world a much better place (this is what happens, for anyone else interested, when keeping developers happy and engaged takes precedence over keeping salesmen happy and engaged).

skimans:

Big thanks to you all 🙂 I was one of those early users. This software changed life of many people for better. Sorry to hear bad news. it’s bad move to shut down this products and your team. This software is living ad for whole company, for many of us first step into virtualisation.

R Warder:

Great product that changed the way the world works – testing and development was different before VMWare. So slow. This article was great insight into the team that made our lives better. A sad announcement but best wishes to a talented group of people.

velviavelvia:

Thanks for this tribute. I was also at VMware for 9 years, starting on the Vmkernel team that built one of the first releases of ESX, and saw it grow from a team of 200 in Stanford Research Park, with personal introductions of every new employee, and pool dunkings for folks getting married, to a big corporation of over 10k. Your team was one of the most dedicated and legendary teams at VMware. So sad to see it go.

Eddie:

I’ve been a loyal Fusion user since 2008. Fusion is what convinced several colleagues of mine to go to the Mac when they got fed up with Windows machines. I proudly buy each and every new-release license(s) because of the phenomenal quality and support that was given.

When I had problems with Fusion/Windows, the engineers actually invited me to their labs in Silicon Valley and sit next to them to work the problem out. That was support (to me) that was unheard of. I was in awe at their commitment and pride in what they did.

Gary Jones:

Absolute legends , such sad / infuriating / inexplicable / perplexing news. I’ve used VMware since day 1 and never ever looked back. Without this software I’d never have progressed anywhere near as far in my career as I did.

Kermit Vestal:

Ooooh nooo! Say it isn’t so. I was jaw droppingly amazed when I saw 1.0 and could see the VM of everything was the future of everything. Its been one of my mainstay tools ever since. Many similar free and not free tools have followed since, but none compares to the feature qualities and reliability of Workstation. Its always been ahead of its time and now we know why. So sad its been stripped of its culture and I fear its future. Thanks for telling us the rest of the story.

Thank you, everyone.

Pictures speak a thousand words

We dug around and found a bunch of pictures from our time at VMware that I thought would be fun to share.

We liked food. We had our own “Unhealthy Snack Program,” where we’d keep our group stocked with candy bars, beef jerky, sodas, etc. Sometimes you need a little sugar and caffeine when you’re battling some crazy bug. I wish I had a picture of this, but it was glorious.

We once won a waffle maker at Dave & Busters, during a group outing. Here’s Keith, making some yummy waffles for breakfast. He never made me any…

 

Picnics were always a fun way to bring the team together. Often, former members of Hosted UI would take the opportunity to show up, eat some hot dogs and catch up with the rest of us. Great way to spend a day, though we ended up talking shop more than we probably should (except for that one time we climbed trees for hours, just because we could).

 

We’ve been playing poker for years. Just casual games, nothing fancy. We’d order a pizza and play for a few hours, share some laughs. Really, we were just like the pro poker players, except a 2/7 won way more often than it should have, and things like this kept happening:

 
The table won more than I did.

 

Not all of us were gamers, but a bunch of us got together most weeks to play games of some sort. Video games, card games, board games, what have you. Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Mario Wii U, Kirby, and the Rayman games were personal favorites of mine.

This was actually on the day we IPO’d! We just got a Wii and had set up the projector for some tennis action. Man, that was a long time ago…

 

If you were getting married, or just got married, you were going in the pond. It was an old VMware tradition that we fully embraced. We amped it up a bit, though, with the introduction of costumes. You know, because your clothes were all wet, so we helpfully provided new clothes!

 

 

 

 

Birthdays are something to be celebrated! Back in the day, we’d trick people by inviting them to a meeting and surprising them with cake. Eventually people came to expect it, so then it just became cake. Oh, and an amazing birthday candle that would shoot up fire like a torch for a minute, spin around, and sing.

True story: I had my first drink at VMware, in a surprise birthday meeting. And then my second. Jocelyn insisted. I’d never been so much as buzzed before. I remember Jocelyn coming in, asking me to do something, I don’t even remember, thoroughly enjoying watching me struggle to even understand what was going on. Good times.

 

There was that one time we all got dressed up, just because. It was kind of an inverse Casual Friday. To start off, here’s some great group photos of Lee Ann on Fusion Engineering, Roshini on Fusion Performance, and Jessica on Docs.

 

In order from left to right: Surendra, Roshini, Steve, Lee Ann, David, Michael, and James. (Shame we didn’t have the whole team in this shot.)

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Okay, terrible pun alert, straight from the Facebook post: “At VMware, our managers go APE for new releases!” (Another awesome win from Dave & Busters!)

 

Pets were always welcome in our office. This is Bodie (as a puppy — it’s been a while). We had other dogs, sometimes cats. A duck followed me into the building one day.

 

 

Can you ever truly leave the team? Might come at a price… DUN DUN DUN. (I found my entire office covered in this stuff, shortly before my last day at VMware.)

 

 

 

We once got these plasticy bookshelf things made from I think recycled milk jugs? Someone realized that they could be disassembled and reassembled, so our team, always eager to end the day on a productive note, set off to build Tetris bookshelves.

 

 

 

There was that time when we were trying to get into a company-owned pinball machine that accidentally got reset from free mode to pay mode. We weren’t about to pay $0.25! So, we spent about 3 or 4 hours trying to pick the lock with instructions from the Internet and good ol’ Hosted UI ingenuity! With the lights off. Using flashlights. Inside an office room. I swear, we’re usually smart people :/ (P.S., it did not work. We gave up and went home after 1AM. The following contraption is what we built to try to pick the lock.)

 

 

Oh, and that time we decided our IRC channel could really benefit from Microsoft Comic Chat. We had this up and running on a dedicated screen 24/7.

 

I’ll probably update this over time with more thoughts and pictures as we find them.

Thanks for walking down memory lane with me, and for all the support you’ve shown Hosted UI over the past week. 🙂

A Tribute to VMware Workstation, Fusion, and Hosted UI

Updated February 2, 2016: Once you learn about our team and who we are, come take a trip down memory lane with us!

Yesterday morning, the Hosted UI team, responsible for VMware’s Workstation and Fusion products, woke up to find themselves out of a job. These products, despite being award-winning and profitable, are probably not long for this world.

I was not directly affected, in this way at least, as I had already left VMware in 2013 to work on Review Board full-time. However, many of my closest friends were, and a product I spent 9 years of my life on may have seen its last feature.

I could talk all day about how I think we got here, losing this amazing team and these fantastic products. I could point fingers and lash out at those I blame. I could talk about how furious this all makes me.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the team and what we built — and I don’t just mean our products.

Let me tell you about our team

Hosted UI

I began working in Hosted UI on August 23rd, 2004, as a bright-eyed 20 year old freshly dropped out of college. Back then, it was a small team full of amazingly bright and passionate people, working days and nights to build a product they believed in.

The culture at that time within VMware was just so fun and energizing. People wanted to be there, and were proud of their work. Features were brainstormed over games of foosball or DDR, designs discussed over free lunches and beer bashes. In the evenings, we’d order dinner in and watch Simpsons, or whatever was on.

Company culture changed over the years, becoming more corporate and stiff, but not Hosted UI. We’d work all day, with the occasional interruption for YouTube videos or some laughs, and at night we went out and had some more. Poker nights, movie nights, video game nights. Dinners out together, sometimes several times a week.

Many people came and went over those years. The team changed, though, for a software company, a surprising number remained until the very end. Even those that left kept in touch, joining for poker nights or dinners here or there, coming to the dunkings (if you were getting married, you were going in the pond), birthday celebrations, and reunions. We formed alumni lists and kept in touch. We hung out on IRC outside of work.

Poker Night

Through deadlines and downtimes, stresses and celebrations, our team worked and played hard. We were dedicated, passionate, and if you’ll allow me, we were damn good at what we did.

I left this team two years ago, but it hasn’t really felt that way. I still saw them almost every week. Our team didn’t have to be in the same building or even the same company to stay a team.

Hosted UI may no longer exist at VMware, but that’s really VMware’s loss. They lost one of the most dedicated teams they could ever hope for, the kind of team you can’t just hire again.

We built some amazing products

Workstation

WorkstationVMware Workstation was the first VMware product (back then, it was simply known as “VMware.”). At a time when dot-coms dominated the Super Bowl and Amazon was all about books, VMware Workstation was letting pioneers in the Linux world virtualize their Windows desktop so they could run Microsoft Office instead of StarOffice.

This product evolved over the years with over 15 major releases, and more features than I can count, running on every flavor of Linux and Windows. It did this without falling prey to the bloat of most long-running products, as we focused not only on making it a more powerful product but also a more usable product.

Workstation made it easy to run complex development and testing scenarios, creating and working with several virtual environments all at once across any number of host computers. It integrated your virtual desktops with your host desktop. It let you take snapshots at different moments in the lifetime of your VM, and jump between them at will. It helped you catch defects in your software through remote debugging and CPU/memory record/replay capabilities, it helped you test complex network setups with virtual LAN devices, and it worked as a powerful front-end for VMware’s Server, ESXi, and vSphere products. And, in the end, it also helped you simply run your Windows programs on Linux, your Linux programs on Windows, or whatever you wanted.

Workstation

 

Internally at VMware, Workstation was also seen as an indispensable product, helping other teams test features and devices that would eventually become selling points on the more high-end vSphere product releases. With Workstation’s ease-of-install and ease-of-use, people could get set up in minutes and get right to work.

We loved our product. This was our baby. We took input from marketing, management, sales, customers, and so on, but in the end, we were given a lot of creative liberty over the features and design. We were also given time to address technical debt, helping to get our codebase in shape for future challenges.

Workstation with Unity

I don’t know how many awards we received, but I think it was a lot. I do know that we had so many users who loved the product we poured our souls into. That meant a lot, and kept us motivated.

It was, let’s say, a challenge getting some parts of the company to really care about the product. Workstation made a lot of money, but not the hundreds of millions the company would have preferred. This, I believe, ultimately led to yesterday’s sad outcome… Still, I’m very proud of what we built.

Fusion

Fusion

Workstation was a power user product built for Linux and Windows. In 2007, its sister product, Fusion for Mac, was released. This focused more on consumer usage, helping people run Office and other Windows apps on their Mac.

At the time, Apple had just moved to Intel processors, and were touting the ability to dual-boot between Windows and MacOS X, using a feature called Bootcamp. Fusion offered a better way by letting you run Windows and MacOS X at the same time. It was popular amongst students who needed to run Windows software for class on their shiny new MacBooks. It was popular amongst developers who needed to run or test Windows or Linux environments while on the go.

Fusion

Fusion was a very different product in some ways than Workstation, but it was also very closely related. While it didn’t focus on many of the power user features that Workstation offered, it did take many of those features and reimagine them for more casual users. It also shared much of the core code that Workstation used, meaning that features could more easily be ported across and bugs fixed just once.

Fusion was a reimagining of what Workstation could have been, built for a different time and a different audience. Like Workstation, it was also built by a group of very loyal, dedicated, brilliant people, the Fusion segment of Hosted UI.

While I never worked directly on Fusion, I did get to see features I built for Workstation make their way there, and watched as our users got to try them for the first time on the Mac. It wasn’t the product I devoted my time to, but it was one I loved, and one I still use today.

And all the others

Our small team has built quite a lot over the years. Along with Workstation and Fusion, we’ve also built:

  • Player: A slimmed-down product for simply running and interacting with VMs, without all the UI of Workstation
  • VMRC: Originally a browser plugin and an SDK for embedding virtual machines in your browser or other applications (which was transitioned to one of the teams behind ESX a couple years ago and reworked into a native VM console app launched from the browser)
  • Server: A free product built from Workstation that offered remote VM hosting and management)
  • WSX: A web-based service for running VMs natively in your browser from anywhere
  • AppCatalyst: A developer-focused, API-driven development and testing service that works with Docker

I’m pretty sure there’s more, but those are the highlights.

These, along with Workstation and Fusion, were built by a team typically no larger than about 20 people (at any given point in time).

We did good.

Time for the next adventure

VMware lost a lot of amazing people, and will be feeling that for some time to come, once they realize what they’ve done. It’s a shame. As for our team, well, I think everyone will do just fine. Some of the best companies in the Silicon Valley are full of ex-VMware members, many former Hosted UI, who would probably welcome the chance to work with their teammates again.

Workstation, Fusion, and our other products may survive in maintenance mode, or they may disappear. They may continue under a new team. It’s hard to say at this point what will happen. What I can say is that no matter what happens to them, they had an amazing run, and are something every one of us can be proud of the rest of our careers.

And we can be proud of the team, the friendships, and the strong bonds we built, now and through our next adventures.

Updated 27-January-2016 at 23:31 PM: Wow, this went viral. As of right now, we’re looking at around 40,000 unique viewers. I wrote this as a tribute for our team, and am amazed by the reaction it provoked. Everyone who loved our products and reached out to us to show your love, thank you. It means so much to us. Keep them coming!

I want to be clear that I have not worked there in years and do not have inside knowledge on what will happen to these products. I updated part of the post to make that a little more clear. VMware claims they’ll continue to exist, and I really hope that’s the case. I like to think what we built will continue to live on, and I hope VMware does it justice.

A new adventure begins

Act 1, Scene 1

August 23rd, 2004. A young kid, not even 21, freshly dropped out of college, passionate about open source and programming. He walks into his new office at his new job at VMware, his first job, ready to start the day, eager to impress and meet his new co-workers.

Nobody was there. Thumbs twiddled.

10AM starts to roll around, and finally, the first sign of life. Over the next couple hours, more people show up.

Over the next week, he’s set up and learning the ropes. Working on his first bug, soon his first feature. Attending his first team get-togethers. Making his first Bay Area friends.

Over the next few months, his first birthday celebration at work. His first glass of champagne. His first real responsibilities.

Over the next few years, bigger roles, leadership roles. He began to get a feel for where he’s truly going in this silly little world.

This, of course, was me, on my first adventure in the tech industry.

I was lucky to be placed in a fantastic team full of smart, hard-working, dedicated, and fun software engineers and managers. We’d discuss architecture, brainstorm ideas, joke around, watch YouTube videos, play poker, watch movies, go to events. The web of awesome people extended throughout the company as well.

Over the past nine years, I worked on a great many things.

  • Eight releases of VMware Workstation, including a three-year effort to build Workstation 8.0 (a major undertaking).
  • VMware Server 1.0. I was the primary Linux developer, pulling caffeine-fueled all nighters to meet insane deadlines.
  • Player and VMRC, which powers the VM console for our enterprise products.
  • The core foundation used in Fusion and other products.
  • Icons and artwork for the Linux products.
  • I introduced Unity to Workstation. (Sorry, guys…)
  • Helped in the creation of the current generation of the View client for Linux.
  • More recently, I developed WSX, an experiment in developing a pure web client and console for accessing remote VMs anywhere, from desktops and tablets.

Not a bad run.

This Thursday, August 1st, 2013, I’ll be leaving VMware.

Revision 1: “Add the reviewboard”

Several years ago, I began working with my good friend David Trowbridge on an open source project for keeping track of patches and easing the review process. We spent many years in the open source world looking at raw diffs on bug trackers and in e-mails, and things weren’t that much better at VMware. As Mr. Wonderful says, “There has to be a better way!”

So we slaved away in the late nights and weekends, iterating and iterating until we had something we could use. We named this product “Review Board” (or “the reviewboard,” as our first commit says). We put it out there for people to play with, if anyone was interested.

There was interest. Review Board is now used around the world at companies big and small. We’ve continued to improve and grow the product and turn it into something that developers actually want to use.

We later built a startup around this. Beanbag.

It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

Earlier this year, we met a local entrepreneur as part of a program we participate in. We quickly developed a rapport, and he offered to help and advise us in our efforts to grow our business. It wasn’t long after that we started discussing funding, and where that could get us.

We started pitching, and he reached out to his contacts. Before long, we had what we needed to give this a try for a couple years.

Step 3: Profit?

There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we’re up to the challenge. It’s both exciting and terrifying.

Leaving my team behind at VMware is hard, but everyone has been so supportive.

IMG_0720

Basically.

In the coming months, Review Board’s going to grow in exciting new ways. We’ll be gearing up for a new 1.8 release, releasing our first commercial extension to Review Board, and improving our SaaS, RBCommons. We have a pretty good idea where we want to go from here, and now we can better focus on making it happen.

It’s going to be an awesome adventure.

A Proud Moment: VMware Workstation 8

Today is kind of a career highlight for me. A moment I’m especially proud of. We just released VMware Workstation 8. Code-named “Nitrogen,” this release has been in the planning stages since around the time I joined VMware 7 years ago. It has been in active development for the past 3 years. Easily the longest development cycle we’ve had for Workstation, but also easily the best release we’ve ever done.

Previous users of Workstation will notice quite a lot of improvements to this release. We have a lot of changes, but I want to go into a few that I’ve worked on over the past three years, which I think are of particular interest.

Remoting

Remote Server Connection

This is the big one.

Workstation 8 can share VMs with other Workstation 8 clients. You can run a VM on one system (say, a beefy desktop machine in the back room) and access them from another (say, a light-weight laptop). All the processing happens on the machine running the VM. They can be made to start up along with the system, so you don’t even need Workstation running. You don’t even need X (on Linux).

Users of VMware Server or GSX should find this familiar. We’ve essentially succeeded the Server product with this release, with more features than Server ever had. For instance, one client can connect to multiple servers at once, alongside all your existing VMs.

That’s not all, though. You can also connect to ESXi/vSphere. As a developer, this is something I take advantage of nearly every day. I have an ESXi box running in my back room with several VMs for testing, and a couple for in-home servers. By running on ESXi, I minimize the overhead of a standard operating system, and gain a bunch of management capabilities, but previously I had to use vSphere Client to connect to it. Now I can just talk to it with Workstation.

Hear that, Linux admins? You don’t need vSphere Client running on Windows to connect to your ESXi/vSphere box anymore. That’s a big deal. (Unless you need to do some more advanced management tasks — we’re more about using the VMs, and light customization).

VM Uploading

We also make it easy to upload VMs to an ESXi/vSphere box. Connect to another server, drag a local VM onto it, and the VM will convert and upload directly to it. Super easy. Developing a VM locally and putting it up on a server as needed is just a simple drag-and-drop operation now.

No More Teams

Thumbnail Bar

Teams was a feature that we’ve wanted to rework for a long time. For those who aren’t familiar with them, Teams was a way to group several related VMs together (say, parts of a test server deployment) such that they could be viewed at the same time with a little live thumbnail bar. It offered some support for private virtual networks between them, with each NIC being able to simulate packet loss and different bandwidth limits.

We felt that these features shouldn’t have been made specific to “special” VMs like they were, so we tore the whole thing apart while preserving all the features.

Now, every VM’s NIC can simulate packet loss and bandwidth limits. Any VMs already together in some folder or other part of the inventory can be viewed together with live thumbnails, just like Teams. Any VM on the local system can be part of any other VM’s private virtual network.

It’s much more flexible. The restrictions are gone, and we’re back to using standard VMs, not special “Team VMs.”

Inventory Improvements

Inventory Filtering

You may have noticed the search field in the inventory in my screenshots. You can now filter the listed VMs by different criteria. Show the powered on VMs, the favorites, or search for VMs. Searching will take into account their name, guest OS, or data in the Description field in the VM. The Description searching is particularly helpful, if you’re good at documenting/listing what’s in a VM that you may care about (IE6, for instance).

Favorites

Favorites was reworked. It used to be that every VM in the sidebar was a “favorite.” Now we list the actual local VMs, and we don’t call them favorites. Instead, you can mark one of the listed VMs as a favorite (by clicking a little star beside it) and filter on that.

UI Improvements

Folder Thumbnail View

We’ve streamlined the UI quite a bit. All our menus are smaller and better organized. Our summary pages are cleaner and highlights the major things you want to see.

We have new ways of navigating your VMs, which is especially handy on large servers. You now get a tab for any folder-like node in the inventory showing your VMs in either a list view (with info on power states) or a zoomable live thumbnail view showing what’s happening on each VM.

And Much More

That’s just a few of the major things. There’s many, many more things in this release, but the official release notes will cover that better than me. (Honestly, I’ve been developing and using this release for so long, it’s hard to even remember what was added!)

Tip of the Hat

A lot of great people worked on this release. The engineers that developed the various components across the company. The QA groups who have provided valuable testing to make sure this was a solid release. The product marketing and management teams who kept us going and help draft the goals of this release and market it. The doc writers who spent countless hours documenting all the things we’ve done. Upper management who allowed us to take a risk with this version. Our beta testers who went through and gave us good feedback and sanity checks. And many others who I’m sure I’m forgetting.

I said this already, but I’m so proud of this release and what we’ve accomplished. More effort went into this than you would believe, and I really think it shows.

And now that we’re done, we’re on to brainstorming the next few years of Workstation.

Designing Unity: The Start Menu

Early on when we began to develop Unity for Workstation, we started to look at ways to give users access to the guest’s start menu. This seemed like an easy thing to solve at first. A month later we realized otherwise. We debated for some time and discussed the pros and cons of many approaches before settling on a design.

We had a number of technical and design restrictions we had to consider:

  • The UI should be roughly the same across Windows and Linux hosts.
  • Start menu contents must always be accessible regardless of the desktop environment on Linux.
  • Need to cleanly support start menus from many VMs at once.

Our chosen design

The design we settled on was to have a separate utility window for representing the start menu. This window can auto-hide and dock to any corner of the screen, or remain free-floating, and provides buttons for each VM. The buttons are color-coded to match the Unity window’s border and badge color. When you first go into Unity, the window briefly shows, indicating where it’s docked.

Unity Start Menu Integration

There are many advantages to this design.

  • You don’t have to re-learn how to use it between platforms or even desktop environments.
  • It’s pretty easy to get to and yet stays out of your way when you don’t need it.
  • All the start menus are easily accessible from one place.
  • The start menu buttons are color-coded to match the Unity windows.
  • Users can control whether the window is docked in a corner or free-floats on the desktop.
  • We have a lot of flexibility for feature expansion down the road.

Why not integrate with the Start Menu?

Since the first Workstation 6.5 beta, I’ve been asked why we chose the design we have instead of integrating the start menu into the notification area or into the existing Applications/Start menus. The idea to do so seems kind of obvious at first, but there are many reason we didn’t go that route.

Let’s start with the host’s Applications/Start menus. This seems the most natural place to put applications, as the user is already used to going there. We began going down this route, until we realized the problems associated:

  • On Linux, not everyone runs GNOME, KDE or another desktop environment with an applications menu supporting the .desktop spec correctly or at all. This means we’d be drastically limiting which desktop environments we could even represent applications in.
  • In the case of GNOME, it would add more clicks to get access to any application (Applications ? Virtual Machines ? VM Name ? Applications). This becomes tedious, quickly. Also, from my tests, adding entries three levels deep doesn’t always appear to work reliably across desktops.
  • In Windows, the situation is just as unclear. People tend to think that Windows only has one Start menu, but in reality, we’d have to support three (Classic, XP, and Vista). For quicker access, we’d need to add something to the root menu, and each of these start menus have slight differences in how we can do this. None of the solutions are even particularly good there, as entries may be hidden from the user to make room for other pinned applications.
  • In summary, where you go to access the start menu contents will be different not just on each OS, but across desktop environments and even different modes of the same environment (on Windows).

What about the notification area/system tray?

Another possibility that has been brought up is to use the notification area and to tie the start menu to an icon there. While this would generally work, it wouldn’t work too well.

  • On Linux, it’s frowned upon to put persistent entries in the notification area. A panel applet could work, but users would have to manually add it, and it would be GNOME or KDE-specific.
  • There’s no guarantee there even is a notification area or even a panel in Linux desktops.
  • On Windows, the icon may be automatically hidden in the system tray to make room for other icons.
  • The icon is such a small area to click on, making it annoying to launch applications quickly.
  • The icon is generally not too discoverable.

Tips and future improvements

While we’ll probably keep our current model, there are definitely improvements I’d personally like to make in some future release. One such possible example is to allow dragging an entry off onto the panel or desktop to create a shortcut/launcher. If you frequently access certain applications, you’d be able to put them wherever you want them for quick access. Clicking them while the VM is powered off would power the VM back on in the background and then run the application.

A lot of this exists already. While there is no automatic launcher creation, you can create your own that run:

vmware-unity-helper --run /path/to/vmx C:pathtoapplication parameters

This is not a supported feature at this time and may have bugs, but in the general case it should work just fine.

VMware Workstation 6.5 released!

I wanted to come up with some witty introduction here, but after a year of hard work on Workstation 6.5, I’m just too tired to come up with anything.

Workstation 6.5 is the latest release yet of our Workstation product, and continues in the fine tradition of being an awesome program. It’s also the first version to introduce Unity, a feature I’ve spent a lot of time on and will be blogging about in more detail soon.

So why should you upgrade to Workstation 6.5? Well, if you’re a Workstation 6.0 user, it’s free, which is a pretty good incentive. It also comes with a bunch of new and improved features.

Unity

Unity is a feature I’m particularly proud of, because it’s pretty much the only thing I worked on for Workstation 6.5.

Unity breaks down the walls between the host computer and the virtual machine. With the click of a button, application windows from the VM pop out onto the host desktop, allowing you to put your host and guest applications side-by-side. If you’re a Linux user but you need to use Outlook for work, this feature will let you just simply run Outlook alongside your other windows.

Unity isn’t just a Workstation feature on Linux or Windows. The free Player product can also run your VMs in Unity!

Unity works best with Windows guests right now but does support Linux guests as well. Linux guests are more experimental and I strongly recommend using a recent version of Metacity in the guest. For Linux hosts, you’ll have best results with Compiz, Metacity or KDE.

It’s a complicated feature and, while not perfect, is still pretty great. I’ve written a little about it (see Working outside the box with Unity and Workstation 6.5 Beta 1 – Now with 100% more Unity!).

In the coming weeks, I plan to write a small series of blog entries about the development of this feature, including some of the complications involved and design decisions we made.

Record/Replay

Workstation 6.0 introduced Interrupt Record and Replay, a feature enabling users to record on the CPU level everything that’s happening for a range of time in a virtual machine for later playback. This is a powerful feature for development and debugging, as one can record a session during the testing of an application and forever capture that annoying 1-in-100 crash.

Workstation 6.5 improves upon this by providing a much more flexible UI with the ability to skip around a recording, adding checkpoints for quick navigation, and just generally bringing the feature into a more mature state.

Improved Linux Installer

One of the main grumble points that users (and ourselves) have had with past Workstation for Linux releases is that the installation process wasn’t very smooth, and the vmware-config.pl script had to be re-run after any kernel upgrade.

We’ve fixed these issues by providing a new GTK-based installer that walks the user through the installation process, and by handling kernel configuration (if needed) during Workstation startup. The days of running a shell script to get Workstation running are over. Finally.

Virtual Machine Streaming

Ever want to preview a downloadable virtual machine without having to grab the entire zip file or tarball? VMs can be quite big and it’s a pain to download one only to find out that it doesn’t meet your needs.

The new VM Streaming feature gives users the ability to point Player or Workstation to a remote VM (if provided in the proper format). It will then download the bits as needed, and allow users to pause or restart the stream. It’s important to note that this will be slow at first until it has enough data to smoothly run files off the disk. When finished with the VM, the user can choose to keep what they have, or delete the cached VM from disk.

3D Acceleration with DirectX 9

Our hard-working team of 3D Code Monkeys have been working to bring support for DirectX 9 in the guest, supporting up to Shader Model 2.0. This means many more games are now playable, including one of my favorites, Portal.

Easier VM Creation

We’ve revamped the New VM wizard to provide a more streamlined VM creation process, complete with our new Easy Install feature. Simply put your installation CD in the drive or point the wizard to your ISO file and it will automatically determine the guest OS and default settings.

And lots more…

That’s just scratching the surface. We’ve made plenty of other improvements, listed in our release notes.

Some of us developers will be providing some support in the forums, and if you have a Linux Unity question, feel free to contact me directly.

Love,

Christian

Workstation 6.5 Beta 1 – Now with 100% more Unity!

I talked a little while ago about working outside the box with Unity. At that time I gave a sneak peak into what I’ve been working here at VMware the past few months. Well, now everyone can see.

We just announced VMware Workstation 6.5 beta 1, the first public beta for Workstation 6.5. Among many other awesome features is Unity, a feature we introduced in our Fusion product (for MacOS X) which allows you to run your applications from your virtual machine on your desktop without needing to be confined to a big box representing the VM’s monitor.

Unity is available in both our Linux and Windows releases of Workstation 6.5 beta 1, and there’s currently support for Windows guests (Windows 2000 and up). However, it’s a beta so you can expect some problems. To help people get started, here’s a rundown on what you can expect from Unity in beta 1.

Features Overview:

  • Shaped windows
  • Guest mouse cursors
  • Proper window types for most windows (Menu, Dialog, Tooltip, etc.)
  • Special effects with Compiz
  • Virtual desktops
  • Copy and paste between host and guest
  • Start menu integration
  • Window borders and badges

Seamless window integration

With the press of a button, the applications in your virtual machine will pop out and appear on your desktop, intermixed with all your native applications. These windows can stack in any order along with your native windows and will maximize, minimize, and close as you’d expect any normal window to. They’ll appear just like they would in the guest, aside from any borders or badges you have set to help identify the guest windows (more on that in a minute).

We do our best to set the window types on these windows to best reflect their type in the guest. This means that a tooltip from the guest will look and act like a tooltip in the host, as will a dialog, menu, etc. This is important for supporting the special effects provided by a window manager.

Special effects

If your window manager has any special effects set for the windows, they’ll apply to guest windows. For example, users of Compiz will be glad to know that their wobbly windows will work for such applications as Office 2008 or Minesweeper, and your guest menus will still burst into flames when they appear.

There are a few cases where the effect isn’t as strong as with native windows. Due to the way we receive window updates and events, the display of a window will often update before we receive open, close or minimize events. We plan to make this work better for some event types in the next beta, but for now, I recommend choosing special effects that modify a window in-place (fire, fade-in, etc.) instead of one that zooms a window to a location for opening/closing windows.

Wobbly Windows

Virtual desktops

Windows may not natively have virtual desktop support, but Linux does, so we felt it was important to make virtual desktops with Unity just work. You can place your guest applications across your virtual desktops. Maximize Office on one desktop, play a game of Solitaire on another, and reserve a third for your Internet Explorer debugging session.

Unity with Virtual Desktops

Copy and paste

Copy and paste is an important part of any user’s daily work. We currently have support for copying and pasting text between host and guest. You can’t yet copy and paste images or other data, though.

Start menu integration

Helper’s Head

A desktop environment isn’t useful without the ability to get to your programs. We provide a little tool called Unity Helper that runs automatically and provides start menu integration. Simply move your mouse to the top-left corner of your primary monitor and the menu will pop down, providing a start button for each of your VMs in Unity. Click the button and your start menu’s contents will appear.

The start button will match the color of the Unity badges and borders that are set to help you quickly identify your VM.

This functionality is pretty new so there are some kinks to work out. For example, if you don’t have a top panel or your top panel is larger than 24 pixels, you might notice the window in a wrong location. This is a bug that will be fixed in beta 2. We’re also hoping to add more options for the location of this window.

Applications Menu

Another useful tip is that you can use Unity Helper to launch applications in a guest via the panel or command line. Simply run:

 $ vmware-unity-helper --run /path/to/vm.vmx c:\path\to\program.exe arguments

This only works if your VM is currently powered on and in Unity or if the VM is not open anywhere. It’s not a supported feature at this point.

Borders and badges

In order to help identify a window belonging to a particular VM, we have color-coded badges and borders on the Unity windows. The border goes around the window and fades from corner to corner, and the badge is a little VMware logo sitting on your titlebar. Both are purely decorative and optional. You can turn them on or off in VM Settings or change the color. The color will also match the start button.

Badges and Borders

Known bugs (and workarounds)

As with any beta, there are of course bugs that you may hit. Pay special attention to the first item on the list.

  • Start menu problems after a crash. If there’s a crash, sometimes the start menu integration won’t work the next session. The trick is to exit Workstation (leave the VM running in the background), delete /tmp/vmware-$USER/unity-helper-ipc-*, and bring Workstation back up.
  • Occasionally Unity may crash. This is a known bug when a guest window changes its type when we don’t expect it. If you hit this, don’t worry! Your VM is still running in the background. Just re-launch Workstation or Player and go back into Unity mode.
  • Graphics glitches. Sometimes you’ll notice the background appearing when you close or minimize a window. We hope to fix this up for the next beta.
  • Multiple monitors are not supported in beta 1.
  • Drag and drop is not supported in beta 1.
  • Due to a recent regression just before beta 1, there are graphical glitches for applications not on the current desktop.
  • Some applications behave badly. Photoshop and Flash (the creation program, not the plugin) (ab)use windows all over the place, and so you’ll see windows where you wouldn’t expect them. Sometimes they don’t even get proper updates, making the UI unusable. We’re looking into solutions for this.

There’s more, but those are the main ones I can think of that people may hit.

Give it a try and feel free to report bugs in the user forums.