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Virtualization is used by everyone from Linux desktop users that run Windows and tinker to corporations running multiple virtual machines and operating systems on a single physical server. Discover how virtualization works, read about different methods of virtualization and examine the benefits of virtualization. If you’re a Windows or Mac user interested in Linux, you can run Linux in a virtual machine on your existing operating system. Unlike other operating systems, you can download Linux installation discs for your virtual machines for free. Windows users can choose between VMware, Microsoft Virtual PC and VirtualBox. Mac OS X users can use Parallels Desktop, which is a popular option for running Windows virtual machines inside OS X.
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VMware provides a line of virtual machine products for different audiences. You can use the free VMware Player to install and run virtual machines, the commercial VMware Workstation product if you need advanced features such as virtual machine snapshots or other products designed for servers.
VMware includes VMware Tools, which is a package that installs inside the virtual machine that allows you to drag and drop files to and from the virtual machine, copy and paste to and from the virtual machine and access physical USB devices inside the virtual machine.
You can install almost any PC operating system in VMware, including Windows, Mac OS X and even Google’s Chrome OS. VMware also supports Linux distributions.
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VirtualBox, developed by Oracle, is free for non-commercial use. VirtualBox works similar to VMware and supports a variety of operating systems. Unlike VMware, which is closed-source, VirtualBox is completely open-source excluding its closed-source extension pack.
VirtualBox includes a guest additions package which you can install in your virtual machines to enable additional integration features, similar to how VMware Tools works in VMware. Guest additions enables data sharing, support for external devices and includes drivers that optimize video and mouse cursor performance inside the virtual machine.
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The Other VM Options
Did you know that Linux includes its own virtual machine program? KVM, the Kernel-based Virtual Machine, is built into the Linux kernel itself. KVM uses the Intel VT and AMD-V hardware extensions on newer processors to run virtual machines.
If you’re interested in other virtualization tools, you can try using the open-source Xen hypervisor, which also requires hardware support and is popular on servers. Or, check out a detailed list of other virtualization tools that run on Linux or run Linux on Windows.
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Alternatives to Virtual Machines
If you’re just trying to run Windows programs on Linux, a virtual machine might be overkill. Sure, a virtual machine can run most Windows desktop software with no problems, but virtual machines can be rather slow. Why not try to run your Windows programs directly on Linux with Wine, a compatibility layer for running Windows programs on Linux. Wine is incomplete, so some programs may not run properly. Still, Wine can be a much faster way to run Windows programs without the overhead and licensing cost of a Windows virtual machine.
CrossOver Linux, a commercial product built on Wine, provides support for popular applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. While you have to pay for it, CrossOver optimizes and tests popular Windows applications and provides support for CrossOver Linux.
Gamers looking to run Windows games on Linux will be disappointed with the performance of a virtual machine, but Wine, Cedega or CrossOver Games can run many games on Linux with good performance.
- Linked articles.
- Author’s own experience.