Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What is a “Virtual Machine”?*

Yesterday’s article brought up the topic of VM’s (virtual machines). The following article was one of my early Tech – for Everyone efforts, and while it references XP frequently (the main OS of the day), required only slight updating. I hope you will enjoy it.

One of the hot topics in the IT industry is virtualization ¹. Basically what this is, is software that creates an environment — on an existing PC — into which you can install (and run) another operating system [OS]; in short, running a PC on top of your PC.. which gives you two PCs. This “on top of” machine is called a “virtual machine“.

Tip of the day: Get more out of your PC by using a virtual environment.
(I must take a moment to state that it is the power of the newer generations of PCs that allow us to take advantage of machine virtualization. VM “shares” resources (CPU, RAM) with the existing install… so if you’re barely clunking along as it is, forget about VMs and click here to read my article(s) on when it’s time for a new machine.)

How can this benefit you? One of the main advantages is when you are thinking about a dual-boot install, or would like to do away with an existing dual-boot set up — say, for security reasons. Instead of partitioning your hard drive, and using FAT32 to run (boot to) either Windows 98 or XP, format your drive in NTFS, install XP/Vista/Win7, and run 98 inside the virtual environment. (I am using Windows 98 as an example. You may want to run a Linux distro, and learn about Open Source. The fact is you can run any OS that you have a license for [I believe. I have not tried to load every OS personally…])
If you do this, and create a shared folder for the VM on your ‘base OS’, you will be able to switch back and forth between the two and share files with both OS’s.

Another advantage of using a VM is, it loads much like “mounting” a disk image. You can make multiple ’snapshots’ of your VM, and load the one of your choosing. This is an absolutely fantastic method for dealing with security issues. I know several geeks who run an XP VM on their XP machine– they use the VM version for their daily surfing and usage, and as a “sandbox” for testing downloaded programs and patches/Updates. At the end of the day, they just close the VM, and when they open it again (unless they take a ’snapshot’ and Save those changes to the VM) their pristine VM loads: no browsing history, no spyware, no trace of yesterday’s activity… just a brand-new XP machine.
By keeping a copy of the VM snapshot in another location, they always have a full system backup on hand. (And all my readers know about the importance of recovery backups!)

These are just two uses and applications for virtual machines (VMs). You may be able to think of others. You are not just limited to one VM, either — but each VM (unless it is an Open Source OS, like Linux) does require a valid Product Key/license. This is not a way to cheat.

Today’s free download(s): The most popular virtual machine software is put out by VMware. The free offerings are VMware Server (don’t worry about the use of the word “server”) and VMware Player (which is a web browsing sandbox). Not only is this a flexible (highly compatible with your particular hardware) program, but VMware offers several pre-configured Open Source ’snapshots’, called “appliances”, that you can download and run without going through an OS install process.

Microsoft also offers free virtual machine software, that some people argue works better with Microsoft OS’s. From website: “Virtual PC 2007 is a powerful software virtualization solution that allows you to run multiple PC-based operating systems simultaneously on one workstation.”

Reader recommended VirtualBox is also free, and a possible alternative to Virtual PC and VMWare. Their homepage is here, http://www.virtualbox.org/.

Either way you decide, you are not making fundamental changes to your hard drive or currently installed operating system. This is just a program, like Excel or Word is a program. Simply uninstall it if you find you don’t like or need it.. but I doubt very much that you ever will– it’s just too useful and safe.

¹ (For IT types) Virtualization in the Data Center has (under the banner of the “green movement” – and because it saves money) been for several years now, an area of study and certification not to be overlooked.

* Orig post: 9/8/07

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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January 27, 2011 - Posted by | computers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Thanks Paul. Nice reading.

    What do u suggest to get: VMware Server or VMware Player?

    i’m new to Virtualization game..

    Thanks,
    Grr

    Like

    Comment by Grr | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Grr,
      If you are going to be installing Windows OS’s into your “virtual machine”, you may prefer Virtual PC or VirtualBox over VMWare Server.

      VMWare Player is a web browser that is “sandboxed”. It is for safely browsing the Internet. (I prefer to sandbox my own choice of browser with Sandboxie for that.)

      Those considering trying a VM for the first time might visit YouTube, and watch some videos on using them. I searched for Virtual PC already… YouTube = How to use Virtual PC

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | January 27, 2011 | Reply

  2. Hey Paul,
    I’m happy to see our conversation turned into an article. Nice.
    That snapshot and surfing part are very nicely explained.
    One thing I didn’t get that you wrote, you can install any OS you’ve license for, except Vista (unless it’s open-source ofcourse). Why?

    Like

    Comment by Ranjan | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      Today’s article is a re-posting of an article that appeared toward the end of 2007(it was a rating bomb then) .. and I cannot remember what the Vista exclusion was now… honestly.
      And I have not tried to load Vista onto a VM recently.. so I cannot say if that (technical) reason is still valid.

      .. maybe I should delete that.

      Thanks, Ranjan.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | January 27, 2011 | Reply

  3. Ah the asterisk mark, missed that.
    Was that vista exception could be because it was (and may be still) considered a resource hogger at that time?
    And your welcome, Paul.

    Like

    Comment by Ranjan | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      While it is true that Vista runs best on at least 2 GB’s, and many machines of that day did not have that.. I seem to remember it being due either to the different boot method the new Vista uses, or.. licensing? My memory is failing me.

      I believe Virtual PC 2007 eliminated that, so I modded the article.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | January 27, 2011 | Reply

  4. Howdy Paul

    Thanks for reposting and updating this article. I find Sandboxie to be an extremely useful application, not just for safely browsing websites that use extensive scripting, but also to actually watch malware or installation code run.

    It’s nice to see what they try to write to the registry and the hard drive, and at the same time feel RELATIVELY sure that nothing is actually being done to your system… (I hate to tempt a hacker into trying to circumvent the VM by saying I’m SURE). But, it’s an invaluable tool for software evaluation and for browsing with a 32 bit XP OS. Very cool. And, I have you to thank for bringing it to my attention…

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever used Sandboxie on a 64 bit Windows 7 OS?

    Like

    Comment by KsTinMan | January 27, 2011 | Reply

    • KsTinMan,
      Everyday. (I’d feel naked w/o it.)

      I run it on my Win 7 x64. Sandboxie not only runs on 64-bit, it installs to the Program Files folder, not the Program Files (x86) folder.

      Like

      Comment by techpaul | January 27, 2011 | Reply

      • Ha! I use Sandboxie on my Windows 7 x64 machines too, but not nearly as often or aggressively as with the XP models.

        Perhaps I have a false sense of security… I still use a 3rd party firewall along with SAS, MBAM, Norton AV and a few other security apps.

        However, I don’t have nearly the level of security on either Win7 machine as I do my XP’s. I feel like Microsoft finally got it right!

        Thanks for the input…

        Like

        Comment by KsTinMan | January 28, 2011 | Reply

        • KsTinMan,
          If you call “3rd party firewall, SAS, MBAM, Norton AV and a few other security apps” “not nearly the security”… well, I would have to say that you take your security and privacy at least as seriously as I do.

          That is a good list!

          Like

          Comment by techpaul | January 28, 2011 | Reply


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