Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The reality of virtual machines

With Virtual Machine software you can easily test different operating systems and programs, and also derive many other benefits. Read on to find out more. With Virtual Machine (VM) software, a single computer can run more than one operating system, and switching between them is as easy as switching between applications.

And there are many reasons why you would want to run more than one OS all at once. For instance, if you have recently switched to Windows Vista, you are bound to come across an application that is not compatible with the new OS. Instead of losing hair over it or hunting for a PC with Windows XP, you could just install a VM app like Virtual PC 2007 and run Windows XP virtually on your Vista machine.

If you are a fan of older games, you may discover that they only work in Windows 98 or Windows ME. Using VMware Player, you can quickly create a VM running Windows 98, and avoid the need for a separate machine or dual-boot system. Or if you are more adventurous and have installed the 64-bit flavour of Vista, you will find out sooner or later that it doesn't support 16-bit applications. You will probably never need to run a 16-bit application, but if the need arises, then the easy way to do this is to run a 32-bit OS virtually.

Play safe: We live in a very dangerous online world and you should not be downloading just any application or game from the Internet and running it on your machine, unless that is your idea of fun. Instead, you could plonk the application in your virtual OS to see if it misbehaves.

Even if it the app is a virus and ends up killing your virtual machine, it just takes a few clicks to restore the virtual OS to its pristine state. Also, if you are like us and love to test beta software, you know that things can get ugly at times.

Instead of practising abstinence, you could just run it in a virtual machine and if things should go wrong, your PC won't be affected and your virtual machine can be easily restored to a pristine condition.

Linux: Or maybe you are just tired of hearing your techie friends rant about what a great OS Linux is and how it is superior to Windows. But you probably never had the chance to try Linux because you are not ready to abandon Windows or you don't even want to create another partition for Linux.

So now you can find out what the excitement is all about by installing it within a VM and if you find that your friends' claims are not true, you can nuke Linux without leaving a trace on your PC. And if you happen to like it, then there are plenty of Linux distributions for you to check out and you can even run them concurrently in separate VMs.

Hardware considerations: There are plenty of other advantages to running VM software but there are issues to consider too. Firstly, you should re-examine the license conditions for each OS you install under the VM software, even though you are installing the OS on the same machine.

For instance, if you only have one copy of Windows Vista then it is illegal to install the same copy on your virtualisation software. Of course, this doesn't apply to Linux or any of the open source OSes, so you can install as many copies as your want.

Next, you should have a decent machine with ample RAM as the VM will not only share processor time but also need a chunk of RAM to run its OS. To run a VM smoothly, we recommend a PC with at least an Intel Pentium 4 3GHz or AMD Athlon 64 3000+ processor and 1GB of RAM, although you will be a lot better off if you had a dual-core processor and more RAM.

However, no matter how fast a processor or how much RAM you have, some applications are still off limits – you are not going to be able to play any DirectX 9 or graphics-intensive games with current VMs. If you plan to do this, you are better off installing the OS on a separate partition and creating a dual-boot system. To get started with virtualisation, you will need a VM app – there are many available but the popular ones are Virtual PC 2007, VMware Player or Server, and Parallels Desktop.


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