VMware AppCatalyst First Impressions

As previously mentioned in my DockerCon 2015 Wrap-Up, one of the more practical
announcements from last week’s DockerCon was that VMware announced a free variant of Fusion called AppCatalyst. The availability of AppCatalyst along with a corresponding plugin for Vagrant written by Fabio Rapposelli gives developers a less buggy and more performant alternative to using Oracle’s VirtualBox as their VM provider for Vagrant. vmware_cloud_logo

Here is the announcement itself along with William Lam‘s excellent guide to getting started w/AppCatalyst & the AppCatalyst Vagrant plugin.

Taking AppCatalyst for a Test Drive

One of the first things I did when I returned to work after DockerCon was to download AppCatalyst and its Vagrant plugin, and take them for a spin. By and large, it works as advertised. Getting the VMware Project Photon VM running in Vagrant per William’s guide was a cinch.

Having gotten that Photon VM working, I immediately turned my attention to getting an arbitrary “vmware_desktop” Vagrant box from HashiCorp’s Atlas working. Atlas is HashiCorp’s commercial service, but they make a large collection of community-congtributed Vagrant boxes for various infrastructure platforms freely-available. I figured that I should be able to use Vagrant to automatically download one of the “vmware_desktop” boxes from Atlas and then spin it up locally with AppCatalyst using only a single command, “vagrant up”.

In practice, I hit an issue which Fabio was quick to provide me with a workaround for: https://github.com/vmware/vagrant-vmware-appcatalyst/issues/5

The crux of the issue is that AppCatalyst is geared towards provisioning Linux VMs and not other OS types, ex. Windows. This is quite understandable as VMware would not want to cannibalize Fusion sales for folks that buy Fusion to run Windows on their Macs. Unfortunately this OS identification logic seems to be coming from the “guestos” setting in the box’s .VMX file, and apparently many of the “vmware_desktop” boxes on Altas do not use a value for that VMX key that AppCatalyst will accept. As Fabio suggested, the work-around was to override that setting from the VMX file to a value that AppCatalyst will accept.

A Tip for Starting the AppCatalyst Daemon Automatically

Another minor issue I hit when trying AppCatalyst for the first time was that I’d forgotten to manually start the AppCatalyst daemon, “/opt/vmware/appcatalyst/bin/appcatalyst-daemon”. D’oh!

Because I found it annoying to launch a separate terminal window to start this daemon every time I wanted to interact with AppCatalyst, I followed through on a co-worker’s suggestion to automate the starting of this process on my Mac via launchd. (Thanks Dan K!)

Here’s how I did it:

$ cat >~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.vmware.appcatalyst.daemon.plist <<EOF
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

After logging out and logging back in, the AppCatalyst daemon should be running and its log file will be at “/tmp/appcatalyst.log”. Ex:

$ tail -f /tmp/appcatalyst.log
2015/06/30 09:41:03 DEFAULT_VM_PATH=/Users/dtehranian/Documents/AppCatalyst
2015/06/30 09:41:03 DEFAULT_PARENT_VM_PATH=/opt/vmware/appcatalyst/photonvm/photon.vmx
2015/06/30 09:41:03 DEFAULT_LOG_PATH=/Users/dtehranian/Library/Logs/VMware
2015/06/30 09:41:03 PORT=8080
2015/06/30 09:41:03 Swagger path: /opt/vmware/appcatalyst/bin/swagger
2015/06/30 09:41:03 appcatalyst daemon started.

Since AppCatalyst is still in Tech Preview, I’m hoping VMware adds this sort of auto-start functionality for the daemon before the final release of the software.


If you or your development team is using VirtualBox as your VM provider for Vagrant, go try out AppCatalyst. It’s based on the significantly better technical core of Fusion and if it grows in popularity maybe one day it could be the default provider for Vagrant! 🙂


4 thoughts on “VMware AppCatalyst First Impressions

  1. Thanks Dan for the honest review 🙂

    We’re trying to address both issues in the next Tech Preview release.

  2. Dan,

    Your launchd plist has some typos:
    /tmp/appcatalyst.log</string StandardErrorPath


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