Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together

VMWare Workstation 6.5 Beta – Run Multiple Copies of Outlook/Exchange via Unity

 

I use a single laptop for my day-day use, it has all the stuff i need, I run Vista and Office 2007, for our corporate mail we use Exchange like everyone else and I use Outlook Cached Mode to work online/offline..

My own personal email is also an Exchange mailbox – provided by fasthosts (why – well, because..ok?) the problem with this is that I can’t have a single copy of Outlook connected to more than one Exchange server at the same time or run multiple instances of Outlook (I’ve tried all the hacks and Thinstall etc.), and to be honest even if I could it would probably violate the security policies of all the involved organisations as it would be quite simple for an Outlook-aware worm to try to propagate itself across multiple organisations or harvest confidential details.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that I often work on long-term customer projects and have to have a mailbox on their Exchange system as well… which leads to multiple diary sync nightmare, maybe I’ll blog about that some other time).

So at present I have 4 Exchange mailboxes that I need to keep track of, auto-forwarding mail between them is a no-no, I used to be an Exchange admin and I’ve lost many bank holidays due to corporate->Hotmail NDR mail loops!

So, up until now I’ve had to run one full Outlook client and multiple OWA clients in a browser, which is ok as long as I’m connected to the Internet, but no good if I’m on a train unless I want to close and restart Outlook with multiple profiles, which is a pain especially when you are collaborating on a project between multiple organisations. To be honest as good as OWA 2003 is it’s no substitute for a full outlook client. (still waiting for Fasthosts to go to Exchange 2007, oh and enable EAS!).

So, anyway a solution – VMWare Unity, this is a feature like Parallels for the Mac which lets you “float” an application window out of a guest VM to the host desktop meaning you can use the applications without working within a single VM’d desktop window.

VMWare Fusion also has the same feature, but Workstation 6.5 is the 1st time its been available on the PC platform.

To use Unity you need to have upgraded the virtual machine to 6.5 “hardware” by right clicking on the VM in the sidebar pane (below) and install the latest VM Tools – it also only seems to support XP at present, or at least it didn’t work on the Server 2003 VM I had.

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Boot the VM… and install the latest VM tools.

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VM Workstation Screen – note VM is set to “Unity mode”

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My Vista desktop (yes, I have the start bar at the right hand side – widescreen laptop!) with the popup menu for the VM, showing all the start menu for applications installed within in it.

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the following screen shot is Calculator running from inside the XP VM but in a single window on the Vista desktop – note the red border and the image icon, denoting that its presented via Unity.

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It even shows up on the start bar with the correct icon; although this doesn’t seem to work until its been run a couple of times; I assume it needs to cache an icon or something.

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it also seems to respect the window snapshots you get whilst Win-Tab between applications, even for pop-up windows

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Technically I can use this to run n x Windows XP/Outlook 2003 VM’s presenting Outlook through to my Vista desktop and comply with all organisations security policies, as each VM and its respective copy of Outlook runs in isolation from each other with the relevant company-specific AV client (or at worst, the same level as if I were using a machine connected to a public network in that they all share a vm network) – I don’t enable shared folders between the VMs.

It’s still a beta feature at the moment, and there seem to be a few bugs particularly when resizing windows sometimes it doesn’t work properly and double clicking to expand to full screen overlays the start-bar on my vista machine.

And it does seem to get confused sometimes and not allow keyboard input, so you have to flick back to non-unity mode and then back to continue, and sometimes a reboot of the guest VM but it is an early build so I would guess this will be resolved.

As an added bonus VM Workstation seems to allow the Vista host OS to go into sleep mode even whilst VMs are running, this is something I’ve not had much luck with in the past – it would generally refuse to sleep when I closed the lid (but thats not a scientific comparison… it may have just been bad luck!)

So, the pay-off – 2 copies of Outlook (2003 and 2007) seemingly running on the same desktop, alt-tab works ok and you have access to all the functionality of both without having to switch between or run multiple OWA sessions and from a security perspective it’s not really any different from having 2 physical PCs in front of you (slight memory overhead, but my laptop has 4Gb RAM, so not a huge issue).

Opening attachments is obviously going to be a bit of an issue, as you’ll technically need an individually licenced instance of Office 2003 in each VM as they can’t (yet) exchange data between them… and that would compromise the security principal.

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5 responses to “VMWare Workstation 6.5 Beta – Run Multiple Copies of Outlook/Exchange via Unity

  1. Dmitriy July 10, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Nice! Exactly what I needed. Thanks for the detailed write-up!

  2. Garry August 10, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Great article, but for people not willing to use beta s/w not the best option. Here’s another suggestion, likely costing less memory as well.

    Create a VM running a version of Windows Server with Terminal Services installed and enabled for user logins.
    Be sure to use the Enterprise Editions of the server OS, as they only support the Terminal Services where more than 2 Remote Desktop users are allowed. This can be anything from Windows Server 2000 and newer, but Windows Server 2008 allows you to use Seamless Remote Desktop Applications, just like Citrix Presentation Server.

    Enter the “Install” mode and install Outlook onto the server in the VM. Do any other configuration you may want, then switch back to “Execute” mode.

    Create as many user accounts as you need for the different environments you log in to on your Terminal Server. Log in with each user and create the appropiate Outlook settings. Log out of your server in the VM after creating each user.

    Now you can log in to the server using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) using the appropriate user account. Before you hit connect, configure the Terminal Services Client to start the application Outlook. Don’t forget to save the connection in a *.RDP file.

    Now you can directly connect to an appropiate Outlook connection and have them active at the same time. By logging in with the correct user account, the proper Outlook settings are loaded for that user.

    The great thing is that you can start many sessions from one VM, saving some memory.

    Hope this was useful,
    Garry

  3. vinf August 11, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Interesting alternative.. although if you actually had to pay for the server OS licencing you’d be spending a fair chunk of money.

    I’ve used a similar approach in the past to run management tools that won’t install on XP/Vista.

  4. Johnny January 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks a lot for sharing this information has really proven to be helpful. I really enjoy reading easy articles leading straight to the point.

  5. Pingback: Using Outlook 2010 with More than One Exchange Account Crashes Regularly « Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

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