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.

WSX 1.1 beta is released, with bookmarkable VMs!

WSX

I’ve been pretty quiet on the WSX front since the release of WSX 1.0. A lot of work has been put into taking this from a prototype to something more solid, more functional.

Yesterday, we released a beta of WSX 1.1, which takes a big step in that direction, improving the reliability and access to your VMs, with a couple new features. Let’s go through them!

 

Bookmarkable VMs

To get to your favorite VM before, you’d have to connect to WSX and navigate to it every time, which was.. kind of a pain. No more, I say! Each VM now has its own URL, and that URL is bookmarkable. Place a bookmark in your browser’s toolbar for quick access, or bookmark to the home screen on your iPad.

Sure, you’ll have to log in if it’s been a while, but you won’t have to navigate all the way to your VM every time. As for the annoyance of constantly logging in to your servers…

 

Persistent Server Connections

Every new tab or reload disconnected all your server sessions before, due to how we mapped a browser’s connection to a server’s connection. That’s been made a lot smarter in 1.1. Now, once you connect, you can open as many other tabs/windows to WSX as you want and they’ll share your server sessions. You can even close all your tabs, and so long as you open WSX again within 5 minutes, you won’t have to log in again.

That means you can log in to a server and open each VM you want to work with in their own tabs without logging in more than once. Cool, right? Really handy for bookmarkable VMs.

 

Other Enhancements

Those were the two big features, but there were lots of other enhancements and fixes. In general:

  • New icon!
  • Various cursor and key fixes for Internet Explorer
  • Faster graphics performance
  • Key repeat now works
  • Caps Lock improvements

 

Get it while it’s hot!

VMware WSX 1.0.1, and the new Community Page

Last month, we released WSX 1.0. Those following along with the beta knew what to expect, as it was largely our latest Tech Preview release with some more fixes thrown in.

Unfortunately, we also threw in a regression that we’ve since been working to fix. The console would, at times, stop displaying anything, just appearing black. Clicking the little Refresh button would fix it, but it was annoying and, to me personally, quite embarrassing.

Today I’m happy to announce that we’ve released WSX 1.0.1, which has fixes for the black screen issue, and also support for Windows domains in usernames (indicated by “MYDOMAIN\username”) when logging in.

Along with the release, we’ve also introduced the new WSX Community Page, where you’ll be able to find the latest releases, documentation, and discussions on WSX. I’ll be on there, as will some of our QA, to answer questions.

VMware WSX July Tech Preview Release

A month ago, I announced the release of the June VMware WSX Tech Preview. In it, I covered our awesome new Retina support for MacOS X and iPad, voice input, Windows support, and more. We had some great feedback and worked to address some of the key issues, while putting in a few new things.

Today I’d like to announce the WSX July Tech Preview, which is chock full of improvements. Let’s go over them, shall we?

Improved Home Page

The Home page on WSX was a bit.. barren. Completely blank and useless, in fact, but no more. Now the Home page serves as a jumping point to get to your servers and to configure your server list. This replaces the Configuration page. In the future, I’d like to further improve this by giving quick access to your most recently used VMs.

Improved Server Page

The Server Page was a jumbled mess of links to VMs. Now it’s a nice, filterable, alphabetical list. Search for your VMs by typing part of their name, or filter them by power state. It’s much easier now to find what you need. Oh, and the VM icons now show the power state as well!

Big Honkin’ Power Button

Much like VMware Player and Fusion, we now show a Power On button on top of the screen when the VM is powered off or suspended. This gives you both a nice visual showing what state your VM is in, and a big, easy to hit target for powering it on. Particularly great for touchscreens.

Better Touch Input

Working with your VMs on an iPad is now much, much nicer. We map a bunch of gestures to mouse events, giving you support for right-click, middle-click, and scrolling.

To right-click, just tap-and-hold part of the screen. Or you can press with one finger and tap with a second. Pressing instead of tapping with the second finger is equivalent to holding down the right mouse button, letting you drag around the screen. The actual click will take place where you pressed the first finger.

Just add a third finger to the mix to work with the middle button. That is, press with one finger and then tap (or press) with two more fingers.

Drag up or down with two fingers to scroll. This works just like the mouse wheel.

Mouse Wheels

If you’re using WSX from a PC or Mac, your mouse wheel should now work! Scroll to your heart’s content.

(Note: Mouse wheels events work a bit differently across different browsers, so depending on which browser you use, the sensitivity may be off. It works pretty well in Chrome and Firefox.)

Better Retina Support

Retina was cool and all, but reconnecting to a VM would put that VM back in non-Retina mode, moving all your windows and icons around. No more! Now if your VM was in Retina mode before, it should be in Retina mode when you connect next.

You can pretty easily live in Windows 7 with high-DPI set in Retina mode on an iPad 3 now.

There’s also new Retina icons on the action bar below the screen.

SSL

WSX can now (optionally) encrypt all the traffic between the WSX server and your computer or mobile device. You only need to generate or purchase an SSL certificate, name the files wsx.crt and wsx.key and place them in your /etc/vmware/wsx/ssl/ directory (on Linux) or Application Data\VMware\VMware WSX\SSL directory (on Windows).

Why isn’t this the default, you may wonder? Of course we’d love to just generate self-signed certs by default and encrypt everything, but it turns out there are some browser compatibility issues with self-signed certs and WebSockets, which we use for all our communication. iOS, in particular, is currently broken in that regard.

There are many places on the web where you can get free or cheap certificates that should work fine for you. We highly recommend installing an SSL certificate to enable HTTPS for WSX. Another option is to require access to WSX through a secure VPN.

Easier Installation

Some Windows and Linux users hit problems with our installation in the previous release.

A few Windows users had a crash at startup. This was due to a naming conflict causing an early failure, which we’ve fixed.

Linux was a bit more of a complicated story. We required a specific version of Python on the system, and while not an uncommon version, it proved to be too hard to get going on many systems. This is no longer a requirement! You don’t even need Python installed. We run completely independently now.

So give it another try!

Smarter Defaults

New installs would come with a “Shared VMs” server pre-configured. The intent was to make it easy to get to your Workstation Shared VMs. Some people, though, had changed the port for their Shared VMs, which confused WSX and caused some problems. We’ve improved the smarts to only add this server if it’s installed on the same system as Workstation, and to grab the port from that configuration.

Performance Tweaks

  • Connecting to the VM should be a bit faster now.
  • Resizing the browser window no longer causes the VM to take forever to update its resolution. We were spamming it with resolution change requests.

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed a crash when accessing some Linux VMs that had Tools but didn’t support switching resolutions.
  • Fixed the styling of some parts of the UI on some browsers. The Log In page, in particular, looked pretty broken on the iPad.

Known Problems

  • Connecting to vSphere will still only show VMs in the root VM folder, and not in subdirectories or datacenters. Work is still needed here.

Feedback

As always, please let us know if you hit any problems or have any questions!

VMware WSX TP2: Faster, Shinier, and Less Broken

A few months back, I introduced VMware WSX, a new product I’ve been developing at VMware to access virtual machines in any modern web browser without plugins. The response blew me away. News spread to Ars Technica, Engadget, Windows IT Pro, InfoWorld, and many other publications and sites.

I’m happy to announce that we’ve released another build today: WSX Tech Preview 2. You can get it on the Workstation Technology Preview 2012 forum. Just click “Downloads” and download either the Windows or Linux installers.

Like the first Tech Preview, this is a prototype of what’s to come. I’m actively working on a rewrite that will prove much more reliable, with better compatibility and room for future growth. We have a pretty good release, here, though, and I’d like to break down what all has changed.

Windows Installer

The first preview of WSX was only for Linux. I work primarily on Linux, and as such, this was my priority. While we weren’t able to get a proper Windows build ready for TP1, we now have it for TP2. So Windows users, if that’s been holding you back, give it a try now!

Better Performance

We’ve optimized the rendering to the screen. This should result in faster updates, making things much smoother, particularly on iOS. We’ve added some mobile (and specifically iOS) rendering improvements, and they really help. As we continue to evolve WSX, expect the experience on mobile to only get better.

Retina on iOS

When you go to WSX on an iOS device, you’ll see some changes. First of all, the icons will be more crisp and Retina-friendly. Second, there’s a new “Retina” button for switching the  VM into retina mode. I blogged about this a while back, and it’s finally ready to be played with. (Note: There are some occasional rendering bugs to work out.)

But wait! MacBook Pros have Retina displays too!

Speech-to-Text on iOS

You know that little microphone button on the iOS keyboard on the latest iPad/iPhones? Pressing that allows you to “type” with your voice on native applications. Now, we support it as well.

Open up an application in the VM (Word, for example), pop up the keyboard, and hit the microphone. Begin speaking, and your words will appear automatically in your application as if you were typing them. It’s fun!

Beginnings of Android Compatibility

I will warn you, this is not fully baked yet.

The main problem with Android is that most browsers, especially the stock Android browser, do not support the modern web features we need. WebSockets and fast Canvas rendering being a couple of the key issues. Those that do, like Firefox, suffer from other glaring rendering problems that make for a bad experience.

Work is being done here, though, and if you’re running on an Android browser without WebSockets, we now attempt to use a Flash shim that communicates with the server. This makes WSX semi-usable on the Android browser. However, it’s not fast, and there are input problems. In time, I hope to improve this.

Better iOS Compatibility

  • Input is much improved. Capital letters and most special symbols now work. There are issues still with international characters, though. Backspace key repeats now work, too.
  • Various fixes for things like question dialogs not appearing, username fields having auto-capitalize/correct on, and other little issues here and there.

Better Feedback

  • When a login attempt fails, you’ll see an error saying what went wrong, instead of seeing it wait forever.
  • We show a spinner now when attempting to connect to the VM’s display. This provides some feedback, especially over slower connections, and mimics what we do with Workstation.
  • Attempting to change the power state of a VM now shows a spinner on the appropriate power button. So, press Power On, and the button will spin until it begins to power on.
  • If the connection to a server drops, you’ll be notified and taken back to the Home page.

UI Improvements

  • Login pages aren’t so bare anymore.
  • The giant useless margin on the left-hand side of most pages have been removed.
  • Added a logout link! (One of our most heavily requested features.)

Bug Fixes

  • Connecting to vSphere no longer totally fails. Many users were having some problems with that, and I’m happy to say it should work better now. It’s still not meant to handle thousands of VMs, though.
  • Pressing Control-Alt-Delete now actually sends that to the VM. Sorry for all of you who couldn’t log into Windows.
  • WSX no longer disconnects when updating the screen resolution fails.
  • If you connect to multiple servers, the inventories should be correct on each. Previously, they’d sometimes show the wrong server’s inventory.

New Bugs

  • Occasionally, the screen may stop updating. We’re looking into that. In the meantime, there’s a Reload button you can press to re-establish the connection to the VM’s display.

What next?

I can’t give away all my secrets, but we’re looking into better ways of handling input in the guest (especially with touch devices), and making WSX a bit more scalable. We’ll continue to put out Tech Previews of WSX while it matures.

In the meantime, let us know how it’s working for you.

WSX, Meet Retina.

On Friday the 16th, an angel in white, glowing robes delivered a shiny new iPad to my desk, as heavenly music played softly in the background. (I may be misremembering the details.)

The most talked about feature of the new iPad is, of course, the shiny new retina display (a 2048×1536 resolution). A few apps really show this off, and text is certainly crisp, but a few people wondered aloud, “Is it really that big of a difference?” Yes, it is.

Naturally, I had to play around with getting WSX to show a retina-friendly desktop. See, by default, everything is scaled up 2x to simulate the resolution of the original iPad (1024×768), but they have some support in there for loading higher-resolution images. Turns out, with some tricks, you can also make the canvas retina-friendly.

So let me show off what my desktop here looks like with some apps open on the iPad 1.

Okay, that’s a bit crowded, but it’s only a 1024×768 resolution (minus some UI at the top of the screen). How about with the retina display?

Wooo. Looks pretty awesome, right?

Of course, the problem is that everything is very tiny. This is usable if you increase the DPI a bit, but I’m thinking about some magnifying support now. Still, pretty cool.