We have been using VMware Workstation to run several different operating systems easily on one computer using virtual machines. It has some nice features and it is fairly easy to use. However, there is a limitation of VMware Workstation (even in the latest available version) that we came across. VMware Workstation does not allow you to boot from a USB device. The VMware BIOS does not provide an option to boot from external media.
However, we have found a free tool, called Plop Boot Manager, that allows you to boot from USB if you are able to boot from CD/DVD using an ISO file or if you are able to boot from a floppy drive using an IMG file.
Download Plop Boot Manager from
Before setting up your virtual machine, make sure it is shut down correctly, either within the guest operating system or by using the Shut Down button, if it is configured correctly (configuring the power controls is discussed later in this post). Also, unzip the Plop Boot Manager .zip file you downloaded to a directory on your hard drive.
On the tab for your virtual machine, in the Command box, click the Edit virtual machine settings link.
The Virtual Machine Settings dialog box displays. On the Hardware tab, make sure the Summary for the USB Controller Device reads Present. If it does not read Present, select the Enable high-speed support for USB 2.0 devices check box in the Connections box on the right.
NOTE: If you do not see the USB Controller in the list of hardware at all, refer to the Add a USB Controller to a Virtual Machine topic in the VMware Workstation help to add one. You can look up USB in the index to find the topic.
Now, we need to set up the virtual machine so it boots from the PLoP Boot Manager ISO image file we downloaded. Select the CD/DVD (IDE) device in the list on the left of the Hardware tab.
Select the Use ISO image file radio button in the Connection box on the right side of the Virtual Machine Settings dialog box. Click the Browse button.
On the Browse for ISO Image dialog box, navigate to where you unzipped the Plot Boot Manager .zip file you downloaded, select the plpbt.iso file, and click Open.
The path to the Plot Boot Manager ISO file is inserted into the edit box. Click OK to accept your changes.
On the Devices tab, on the tab for your virtual machine, that the CD/DVD device is now using the ISO file you specified.
Now, you must configure the BIOS of the virtual machine to boot from the CD/DVD drive first so the Plop Boot Manager ISO image file is loaded. To get into your virtual machine’s BIOS, select Power | Power On to BIOS from the VM menu.
As your virtual machine powers on, you may see the following message if you do not have a floppy drive available on your host computer. We chose No, because the host machine we were using for this example did not have a floppy drive hooked to it. Choose Yes if you have a floppy drive hooked to your host machine most of the time and you want it to be available to your virtual machines.
In the PhoenixBIOS Setup Utility, use the right arrow key to select Boot on the menu bar. Then, use the down arrow key to select the CD-ROM Drive in the list.
Press the plus key on your keyboard to move the CD-ROM Drive to the first position.
Press F10 to save your changes and exit BIOS. Make sure Yes is selected (use the arrow keys to select it, if needed) on the Setup Confirmation dialog box and press Enter to accept.
You virtual machine boots using the Plop Boot Manager ISO image file and a menu similar to the one on the following image displays. Use the arrow keys to select USB and press Enter.
You will most likely see the following error, because you have not yet connected a USB device to the virtual machine.
To connect a USB device to the virtual machine, select Removable Devices | [Name of USB Device] | Connect (Disconnect from Host) from the VM menu. The [Name of USB Device] indicates the name of the USB flash drive connected to your host. The names on the list of USB Removable Devices will differ on your computer.
A USB device cannot be used by a host machine and a virtual machine at the same time. Therefore, you will see a message warning you that the selected USB device will be unplugged from the host and connected to the current virtual machine. If you don’t want to see this message every time you connect a USB device, select the Do not show this message again check box. Click OK.
We connected a Ubuntu Live CD USB flash drive created using UNetbootin to the virtual machine, so the UNetbootin boot up screen displays.
Here is an example of an Ubuntu Live CD running from a USB flash drive.
Before shutting down the virtual machine to return to normal boot settings, you might want to change the settings for your power controls, if you have not already. Select Settings from the VM menu.
On the Virtual Machine Settings dialog box, click the Options tab and select the Power setting.
The best way to set up the Power controls in VMware Workstation is as pictured in the following image. Selecting Shut Down Guest for the Shut Down button (the top button below) allows you to use that button to quickly shut down the virtual machine correctly.
This is like selecting Shut Down in the guest operating system. Selecting Restart Guest for the Reset button (the bottom button below) allows you to use that button to restart your virtual machine the same way you would from within the guest operating system.
Click OK to close the Virtual Machine Settings dialog box.
Click the Shut Down button to shut down your virtual machine.
A confirmation dialog box displays to make sure you really want to shut down your virtual machine. If you don’t want to see this message every time you shut down a virtual machine, select the Do not show this message again check box. Click Shut Down.
To set the CD/DVD drive to not use a specific ISO image file when booting, open the Virtual Machine Settings dialog box one of the ways mentioned earlier in this post. On the Hardware tab, select CD/DVD (IDE) device on the left side of the dialog box and select the Use physical drive radio button in the Connection box on the right.
Boot into BIOS as mentioned earlier and move the CD-ROM Drive on the Boot screen back down to its original position in the boot order using the minus or dash key.
To disconnect the USB device, select Removable Devices | [Name of USB Device] | Disconnect (Connect to host) from the VM menu. Again, select the name that corresponds to your USB device on the menu. The USB device is automatically reconnected to your host machine. You do not need to unplug it and plug it in again to have access to it on your host machine.
Booting from a USB flash drive is useful for such tasks as managing partitions, repairing, backing up, and recovering your system, removing malware from Windows installs, and recover or reset Windows passwords, or installing an operating system, such as Ubuntu. The Ubuntu Live CD we use in this example can perform these tasks.
See our post, Create an Ubuntu Live CD on a USB Flash Drive, for information on creating an Ubuntu Live CD using UNetbootin. Using a virtual machine is a good way to test booting from a USB drive into something like an Ubuntu Live CD before doing so on your host computer.
by Lori Kaufman