More thoughts on Windows 2008

Hyper-V is Windows 2008’s answer to VMware’s ESX Server. That is, it’s ‘bare metal’ virtualisation and adding it as a role to a Windows 2008 Server is supposed to ‘lift up’ that installation so that it sits on top of a virtualisation hypervisor. In effect, your Windows 2008 install becomes a virtual 2008 install. Once that’s happened, you can use standard Windows management consoles to create additional virtual machines and manage them from within that new, virtualised, ‘parent machine’.

It’s a great idea in theory, and it’s certainly only a matter of moments to add the Hyper-V role to the server, plus an inevitable reboot. But things went downhill for me pretty rapidly after that. Yes, the management interface is pretty darned sexy, and I was able to create new virtual machines very easily, running XP and Centos 5. But they both took a long time to install, much longer than they would have in VMware Workstation. When they’d been built they seemed to run at a reasonable pace, but certainly not as fast as I would have expected. To be fair, Hyper-V can run “suitable” operating systems (i.e, Vista, 2008 itself and Suse Enterprise Server) at near-native speeds because they have the necessary code built in to enable effective interfacing with Hyper-V’s particular way of virtualising things, whereas non-enabled OSes (of which XP and Centos are both examples) are merely ’emulated’, and therefore inevitably run slower. But still: the two most important OSes to my current needs run worse than they would do in good old VMware.

What’s even worse is that, immediately after I enabled the Hyper-V role, my multimedia playback in the ‘parent’ OS (that is, my original and -to my eyes- very physical 2008 Server installation) went down the plug-hole, big time. I already mentioned how to cure audio ‘stuttering’ in the last post -but as soon as Hyper-V was installed, it was as if that step had never been taken. Without any virtual machines running at all, the mere typing of “www” into the Firefox address bar had audio playback coughing and spluttering uncontrollably. Trying to resize a window caused Foobar2000 to lock up for a good five seconds or more. Clearly not an acceptable mode of operation -especially given the fact that it was running like this on a Quad Core with 4GB of RAM. Not exactly resource-starved, in other words!

Removing Hyper-V immediately put audio playback back to the happy state it had been in before. You can, therefore, pretty much imagine that Hyper-V has gone and VMware Workstation is back. My “legacy” OSes virtualise better and faster in that anyway, and I can still listen to music and watch movies, even with two virtual machines running at the same time.

That said, I liked Hyper-V as a concept, and its implementation looked excellent. It’s just that functionally, as far as a desktop/workstation experience was concerned, it was totally unworkable. In a proper server environment, I’d expect it to be much more suitable. On the other hand, I would point out this article, which explains the inherent limitations of Hyper-V, even in proper server environments, better than I can, and in great detail, to boot.

So, no Hyper-V in a ‘workstation’ version of 2008, not if you fancy playing multimedia properly, anyway.

I had a couple of other gripes about 2008 as a desktop OS: as someone who doesn’t mind the odd game of Solitaire, the fact that no games whatsoever get installed with 2008 was a bit of a shock, albeit not exactly a show-stopper. Flight Simulator installed without fuss on TOH’s machine, and worked fine straight off the bat: better and smoother than in 64-bit XP, that’s for sure -so a definite thumbs-up from that quarter. Civilization IV fared much less well on my machine, though. First off, I declined to install DirectX 9 (as the Civ 4 installer starts off by trying to do), because Win2008 ships with DirectX 10. Big mistake: you have to add the DirectX9 libraries to Windows 2008 otherwise you just get lots of ‘direct X library files missing’ errors when you try running the program. Fortunately a re-install without skipping the DirectX9 stuff fixed that problem, though I also had to run the thing in Windows 2000 compatibility mode before anything would work properly.

Having triumphed so far, I then installed the 1.74 Civ 4 patch… which promptly made everything non-functional again. But by reinstalling DirectX9 (from here), I was actually able to get things working again even without the Windows 2000 compatibility mode. So it ended up being possible to run it “natively” and with zero glitches of any sort.

I am still Solitaire-less, but I’ll settle for rock-solid and bloody-fast with lots of eye-candy. With VMware Workstation.