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VMware expands to 64-bit realm

New version of company's workstation software lets multiple virtual machines share the same memory in some situations.

VMware, which makes tools that let computers run multiple operating systems at the same time, has released a new version of its workstation software that supports 64-bit x86 processors and operating systems.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices now both ship x86 processors with 64-bit extensions, a feature that makes it possible to easily accommodate more than 4GB of memory. Versions of Linux from Red Hat and Novell support the feature, Microsoft Windows is on the brink, and now VMware Workstation 5 is following suit.

The software, announced Monday, supports 64-bit versions of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux and Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, including the latest versions of those products. The new VMware Workstation also has experimental support for 64-bit versions of and Windows Server 2003 SP1.

Additionally, VMware Workstation 5 includes experimental support for Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 operating system.

The 64-bit support isn't complete, though. It works so far only for the operating system that hosts the virtual machines. In addition, Solaris is supported only as a virtual machine, VMware said.

Supporting more memory is useful for VMware users because running multiple virtual machines quickly consumes the perpetually scarce resource. Workstation 5, however, also introduces a memory-efficiency feature that lets multiple virtual machines share the same memory in some situations.

VMware, a subsidiary of EMC, has had the market to itself for years but now faces competition from Microsoft's Virtual PC and Virtual Server products. And an open-source project called Xen, backed by start-up XenSource, has an approach that's being extended .

For servers, this virtual machine software is useful when running multiple tasks simultaneously. VMware Workstation, on the other hand, is useful for programming, technical support and training. For example, a programmer can use a single computer to develop software that in the real world will run on a combination of interacting computers.

The new version of VMware includes a feature called "Teams" that lets developers simulate slow or unreliable network connections among virtual computers.

It also adds the ability to take multiple "snapshots" of the virtual machine, letting a user revert back to any of previous states where a snapshot was taken. In addition, a template virtual machine can be stored and shared with other VMware users.

The software costs $189 to download and $199 for a boxed version.