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Running Linux Inside Windows: Virtualization on Linux Hosts

written by: Pranav Thadeshwar•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/11/2012

With Linux gaining in desktop markets everyday, you might want to try it too. But leaving the comfort of Windows might be difficult for newbies. With these virtualization softwares, you can now try Linux natively, while running Windows inside a virtual machine for those unsupported applications.

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    Virtualization today has become a very popular method for testing, running and even consolidating multiple platforms or operating systems on a single host. It's used by students, consumers, offices, large corporations and datacenters to be more productive at minimal costs, sometimes even free.

    With virtualization, you can run multiple operating systems on your computer at the same time, allowing you to save time by not rebooting into another OS or having to buy another computer to run it simultaneously. After installing virtualization software on the Host OS, you can then run the software and install/run a multitude of supported operating systems.

    With the ability to run multiple operating systems or multiple instances of the same operating system, hardware can be consolidated. This saves costs of computers/servers, electricity and maintenance. Also, with the advances in software today, it is very easy to manage them, and even a relative newbie can install, configure, setup and run a VM instance in minutes. In this article, we take a look at virtualization with Linux as the Host OS.

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    VirtualBox is a multi-platform virtualization software that supports Linux, Mac OSX, Windows XP/Vista/7 and Solaris as Host Operating Systems. Originally developed by innotek and later bought by Sun, VirtualBox is a free virtualization solution that can run various Guest Operating Systems like BSD, Linux, OS/2, Windows, Solaris and a few others.

    Although not as well-known as VMWare, it offers pretty much the same functionality for free. The new versions support enhanced support for 3D acceleration in guest operating systems, symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) functionality in guests, as well as upto 16GB of RAM per virtual machine. Another great aspect of VirtualBox is that it is open-source (although certain parts of the code aren't) thus you can expect the addition of features and improved functionality if Sun ever decides to stop supporting this virtualization platform.

    You can try out VirtualBox by downloading it here (download it for the OS you are running right now, not the OS you want to run inside the VM.) After installation, a wizard will be opened which will guide you through the steps of creating a virtual machine for your chosen guest OS.

    After installation/setup of the guest OS, it is recommended to install the bundled Guest Additions inside the guest OS. These will give you enhanced functionality such as higher-resolution display, video acceleration, folder sharing and seamless windows.

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    On this page, we take a look at two popular virtualization applications - Parallels and VMWare Workstation. Learn more about each application and decide which one meets your needs best based on the features it has, the operating systems it supports, and its cost.
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    Parallels Workstation

    Parallels Workstation is a proprietary and commercial virtualization solution available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X as host operating systems. The Mac version of Parallels is known as Parallels Desktop. The supported guest operating systems are Linux, Windows 3.x, 9x, NT, 2000, XP, Vista/7, BSD, OS/2, Solaris and MS-DOS. Although it is a commercial application, it only supports 32bit CPUs, and the supported memory limit for all virtual machines is 4GB. It does support hardware virtualization technologies implemented by AMD and Intel, i.e. AMD-v and Intel VT respectively.

    To try Parallels, go here and download the demo or buy the full version. A single user license for Linux and Windows versions costs US $49.99. Click here for the Parallels Desktop page for using Mac OS X as the host OS. The Max OS X version costs US $79.99 for a single user license. However, the OS X version of Parallels has a lot more features and support and is worth the price.

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    VMWare Workstation and VMWare Player

    Perhaps the most popular out of the 3, VMWare has been in the virtualization business since around 1999 and has a huge amount of market share today. VMWare Workstation runs on Linux and Windows acting as host operating systems and supports Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris, Netware and BSD as guest operating systems. It also supports 64bit guest operating systems, provided that the host OS is running in 64bit mode and corresponding 64bit hardware is available on the computer.

    Upto 8GB of RAM can be utilized by each VM. With new versions, 3D acceleration has been made possible, as has the ability to "stretch" one virtual machine across multiple monitors, or multiple virtual machines on one display. With the installation of VMWare tools for the guest OS, many useful features can be utilized which can make the experience of using the guest OS quite enjoyable.

    Click here to try out VMWare Workstation.

    You can also install VMWare Workstation through your distribution's package manager in most cases. A single user license of VMWare Workstation costs US $189.00.

    VMWare Player is a secondary application which can run pre-made VM instances and is completely free. The downside is that you cannot create your own virtual machines, and since this article deals with Windows virtualization inside Linux, there is no legal way of distributing pre-made Windows virtual machines. You can still try out pre-made Linux VMs which are available on various websites for download.

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    Final Words

    While there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution that can keep everyone happy, each application does its job in its own way, and can be used for running a virtualized environment of Windows inside Linux. It is recommended to go with VirtualBox and learn the intricacies, drawbacks, advantages and methods of running virtual machines before paying up and buying any other software like Parallels or VMWare Workstation. You can also try out demos offered by all 3 vendors before making the jump to a paid version.

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    For further material on the Windows/Linux virtualization theme, read: Installing & Running Linux on a Windows PC and Dualbooting, Virtualization and Wubi - Windows and Linux as One.