My VMware test environment runs on a host which I remotely control using RDP. I always found it strange that the Windows XP GUI is so slow within the VMware Workstation console with this setting. The same applies to VMware Server and most likely also to VMware GSX Server and ESX Server (I didn't test the latter two). Application windows open somewhat slowly and the mouse pointer is quite jerky even with a 100 Mbit connection. Since it is faster with Windows Server 2003, I was sure that this is not only a bandwidth issue. Now, I found some time to solve the problem. Some of the tips here can also be used on other guest operating systems like Linux, for example.
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Don't mistake this problem with the one I discussed some days ago. I am not talking about the VMware Server Console, that you can use to remotely connect to VMware Server machines. In my view this feature of VMware Server is more or less useless since it needs too much bandwidth. So if VMware runs on a Windows system, I recommend connecting thru RDP and starting the VMware Server console on the host. This works fine, as long as you don't use Windows XP as guest system.
However, there are several settings that will make the Windows XP GUI much faster. The tips, I give here, are ordered according to importance. So if you find your Windows fast enough, after changing some of the configurations, you might forget about the others. It probably will just cost some more bandwidth this way.
1. Install the VMware tools
These tools contain a graphics driver that is optimized for virtual machines. In my test, I did not experience a difference in the performance of the Window GUI though. But the effect of some settings I discuss here might be dependent on the VMware tools. So I recommend installing them first. To install them, click on the "VM" menu point and then on "Install VMware tools".
2. Disable the mouse pointer shadow
The change of this setting will make the annoying jerkiness of the mouse pointer go away. Go to the Windows Control Panel to change your mouse settings. Uncheck "Enable pointer shadow" on the pointers tab. It is also recommended to use the default pointer scheme (see screenshot). On other operating systems than Windows XP you should try a standard monochrome mouse pointer.
3. Don't use a background picture for your desktop
RDP always has problems with the display of bitmap graphics. Go to the control panel and change the desktop background in the display properties to "None".
5. Adjust for best performance
One also can change some visual effects in the "Advanced tab" of the system properties (control panel). Some of the settings discussed above, can also be configured here. I recommend disabling all visual effects here. You can do this by configuring "Adjust to best performance" here.
6. Reduce the screen resolution
This might help a little, especially, if you have a very slow connection speed to your host system. If your connection is fast (DSL or faster), this setting won't change much. Change the screen resolution to 800x600 in the display properties.
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7. Reduce the color quality
I found this recommendation most often on the web. It didn't make any difference in my tests though. However, this is useful if you have applications which use many various colors. It won't hurt any way, if you change the color quality to "Medium (16 bit)" in the display properties.