Virtual Computer or Virtual Machine, need an extra computer to do a task? Want to experiment and not worry about trashing the Operating System?
A Virtual Machine is an excellent tool for testing and experimenting with.

A Virtual Computer or Virtual Machine (VM) is a computer that your computer runs in a 'guest' mode.

You can run one or more computers in an emulation mode depending on you processor or processors and memory. If you have dual processor, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, or i Series and more than 2 GB of memory then running emulation software with a OS loaded will not slow your system down.

Note: Since writing this article I have experimented with a RAM Drive, if you use a RAM Drive for your temp files/folders and your swap file you will need the same amount of memory for each Virtual Machine you create, that is if the RAM Drive is 4 GB and your swap file is 3 GB then you only have enough temp space for one VM, where as if you don't use your RAM Drive for your Temp file storage you can rum multiple VMs at the same time.

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In the past I have ran emulation software on computers with  PIII's and P4 processors. The problem was that the emulation software would take all the processor power  to run. As I am writing this article I am loading a copy of XP on a emulator with 512 meg of memory, 10 gig simulated hard drive. I also have all the regular programs I run open: my email, rss reader, and of course the HTML editor. Three instances of explorer with different folders. My normal desktop. I see the processors are running about 2-5% and using 326 meg of ram. So having the Core 2 Quad makes a big difference when running the emulation software.

I evaluate three Virtual Machine or Virtual Computer software emulators, VM Ware, VirtualBox, and Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.

VirtualBox Virtual Computer

The first Virtual Machine is the Sun Micro Systems, VirtualBox Open Source Edition. It is free.

This emulator will load on any OS, Linux, Mac, Solaris, Novell, and Windows. The install is fairly smooth. Once you have the emulation software installed you need to setup the options before creating your first Virtual Machine or Virtual Computer.

There were problems with setting up the machine. The network card emulation, the USB emulation for my USB Mouse and Keyboard, the USB emulation for the USB flash drive.

Of the three problems I was only able to resolve one, that was the USB mouse and keyboard. I had to use a PS 2 keyboard and forgo the USB. Once I had the keyboard working then the mouse started working.

After about an hour of changing around network cards and properties I gave up on the network settings. I think part of the problem lies in the fact that my motherboard has three network cards and they are in the 'Bridged' configuration and the software can not see the 'Bridged' network adapter. The USB problem for the flash drive was not resolved either.

02/15/14 - Oracle has updated their program, it is now at version 4.6, I will download it and see if they have resolved the problems that I encountered when I tested version 2.1

You can download the FREE software here: http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/VirtualBox

VM Ware Virtual Computer

VM Ware Workstation will run on Linux, Windows, or Novell Operating Systems, The install is also fairly smooth, the default settings will be the best for a first time user.

Once the software is installed you can then make your first virtual machine. As with the VB machine you should setup your options before making the first machine. Setting up the Floppy, CD, USB and Network emulation is quite easy and straight forward.

Even with three network cards the first vm I made had no problems with network connectivity. The mouse and keyboard problem did not appear as with the VB emulator. Although the USB flash drive is not working with the VM Ware vm either. So at this point I would surmise that I have a driver problem with my USB Flash drive.

You can download  trail of the latest VM Ware workstation or Server here: http://www.vmware.com/

Microsoft Virtual PC Virtual Computer

This is a relatively new product by Microsoft and is still a free download. It installed and setup fairly quickly with the default settings. Microsoft says it will run: Linux, Novell, and Windows.

I tried to load Windows 2000, XP, and  Windows Server from a Virtual Drive. It didn't work, this error came up each time:

Microsoft Virtual PC error, using virtual CD...

But with the Installation CD's the install went as advertised. So the moral of the story is that you will not be able to install a Windows OS from a virtual drive.

The DOS VC worked just fine. When I get some time I am going to try some old DOS games, they would not run with VM Ware or VirtualBox. Once you have the VC installed you can create your VC the same as with VM Ware and VirtualBox. Install the VC Tools and you are set.

As with the VM Ware emulation no problems with the network but the USB is not installed and the installation is XP with SP 2.  Before troubleshooting the problem I will have to make a copy of the VC.

Note:

When you go to download your version be sure to pick the correct file. If you are running a 32bit OS then choose the 32bit version, if you are running a 64bit OS chose the 64bit version. The 64bit version will error out when trying to install it on a 32bit OS, although the 32bit version installed on the XP 64bit OS it would not run.

You start your journey here: MS Virtual PC 2007

Pros:

If you are inclined to experiment with these virtual computer emulators they are good for loading Operating Systems that you may other wise not experiment with such as Mac OSx or Linux.

I have used the Server version of VM Ware in the past, one of the applications for the Sever version was to build a Domain to find out what problems converting from Novell to Windows Active Directory would entail. This was a very large project that had seven servers dedicated to the creation and implementation of the test domain that later on was the corporate domain that had in excess of 100,000 users.

Another use for an emulator is for software programs, if say you have a demo of a program and you want to try it out no need to trash your current setup with dubious software. A project I was involved in was to create three VM Servers and install three different data base programs with three different operating systems and get them all to talk to each other. The cost of three servers would have put the project at risk, this is a large amount of capital to tie up in servers for experimentation. Where as using the VM Server we were able to complete the task in less time with a minimal out lay of capital.

If you are a surfer that goes to web sites that want you to download Flash or other obnoxious software to view the site? Then this is a good solution, if it trashes the setup just delete it and make another one.

Another use for a Virtual Computer is for testing anti-virus programs. If you introduce a virus to a vm and the anti-virus program can not clean the virus then delete the vm and try a different anti-virus program.

If you want to learn a new operating system for your certifications or just to know how it works then the vm is cheaper than buying or building a new system to load the OS on. Or if you want to build a web site with Apache and IIS, setting up a vm with your Server OS then installing the two web hosts would be less expensive than buying or building a new server or loading software on a production server to see if they two web hosts will co-exist on one sever.

The Virtual Machine by VM Ware has a facility to clone a VM  but VirtualBox does not. I copied one of my XP setups to make a third vm for VM Ware and it works great.

What you could do is make two vm's load Workstation one one and Server on the other. Set them up with all the patches and ready to use then make copies of them and keep the originals for copying, never load an OS again. Save hours of work by using the 'Clone' feature.

Cons:

Not all hardware is recognized or emulated. That is to say if you have a certain piece of hardware in your computer the vm may not recognize it. Such as using a 'Bridged' network with VirtualBox. Or the problem I have with the USB Flash drive.

Not all software will run in the emulation. Some software uses graphics that the emulation graphics driver can not display. I don't recommend running a game like Ghost Recon or the latest Command and Conquer in an emulator, the graphics will not display.

If your computer has a Pentium III or 4 that does not support Hyperthreading you will see a large reduction in performance when running a VM. Also if you have less than 512 meg of memory the host and the client OS will operate poorly.

To use any of these programs I would suggest you have at least a Pentium 4 D that has Hyperthreading and one gig of memory. A Core 2 Duo and 2 gig would be a better solution.

Note:

At this time with all the different Virtual Computer emulations I have built my 500 gig hard drive is just about as full as it can get. So let that be a warning - Virtual Machine emulation can be addicting! :)

Once you get into the hang of making vm's and using them you will wonder why you haven't done it before.

If you would like to know more about Virtual Computers see my e-course.

Happy VMing!

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