So, you’ve had Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 on your PC for a long time. Now you want to install another operating system. This is where you come to a fork in the road. You have 3 choices:
- Wipe your hard drive clean and install the new operating system
- Split your hard drive into two portions (partitions)
- Keep the operating system you have on your PC and install your new operating system inside a virtual computer(also known as a virtual machine or a VM).
This article is going to take a look at the third option. The third option is one of the many forms of Virtualisation. But what is Virtualisation? Essentially, Virtualisation is taking hardware and recreating the hardware using software.
In this article, I am going to have a look at desktop virtualisation. I am not looking at this from the view of how this would work inside a company, this article is looking at how this would work on the computer you have at home. Essentially, this would allow you to run many different operating systems inside one computer.
It is a great technology. I personally use it to try out the different versions of Linux on my PC.
First of all, it is great for troubleshooting, If you have to solve a problem on a friend’s computer, you start a VM, solve the problem in there and then apply that solution on your friend’s computer.
It will also save some money. If you are in a home that needs to have a computer for every person, then this maybe a good solution. Instead of buying everyone a computer, you would simply have someone log in to a server and power up their virtual machine.
I should point out that every virtual machine would get it’s RAM, CPU power and other resources from the actual PC(the PC hosting the VM). Therefore you would need to make sure that you have plenty of memory before implementing desktop virtualisation in this way. If necessary, buy extra RAM, a bigger hard drive and a better CPU(AKA processor or central processing unit) before creating a virtual machine.
Of course there are many different virtualisation applications for Linux PCs, Windows PCs and Macs. Some are free and some are not. In particular, my favourite virtualisation tools(and in my opinion, the five main tools) are VirtualBox(free), VMWare Player(free), VMWare Fusion(paid for), Parallels Desktop(paid for) and Virtual PC(free).
Once you have downloaded and installed one of these great virtualisation tools, you will need to launch your tool and create a virtual machine. You will need to create a virtual hard drive for each machine. These will be stored on your computer in one of the many formats such as Microsoft’s VHD or VMWare’s VMDK(both of which are compatible with VirtualBox).
Once you have created your virtual machine, you can then install the operating system you want onto this machine. To do this, you need to either have the physical install CD or DVD for your operating system to hand, or an ISO(a disk image)file for your operating system. In the settings for your virtual machine, you can then point virtualBox to the ISO or physical CD/DVD for your image. Now that you have your install disk inserted into your virtual machine, you can now start the machine and install your operating system on it. If you have a powerful enough computer, then you have multiple virtual machines powered up at the same time. Meaning that you would be able to run Windows and Linux side by side without having to reboot the computer.
If you have Windows 7 Professional on your PC, then you will be able to download Windows XP Mode. Basically, this is a free and legal Windows XP VM that you can use on your Windows 7 PC. I am using this because it allows me to test out beta versions of browsers before I use them on my real PC. I had WebKit, Opera, the mozilla firefox nightly builds and chromium installed on my Windows XP VM. If you have a copy of Parallels Desktop(and Parallels transporter) on your Mac, then you will be able to make a clone of your Windows PC and turn the clone into a VM “on-the-fly”.
So there you have it, desktop virtualisation in a nutshell. If you want to know more, then have a look at this video that I found.