The technology described in this article was almost non-existent five years ago. At that time, virtual computers were so expensive as to be impractical. Today, virtual computers are cheap and practical, and hundreds of thousands of them are installed in commercial computer centers. Home computer users worldwide are rapidly adopting the technology now.
In this article, I will focus on desktop computers typically found in the home. Specifically, I will describe virtual computers that run on PC and/or Macintosh hardware with an occasional mention of Linux. More esoteric virtual computers may also be found on mainframe systems, but I will ignore those since mainframes are not typically found in the home.
What Is It?
A virtual machine or virtual computer is defined as an efficient, isolated duplicate of a real machine.
We normally think of a home computer as a box with an Intel processor that runs a version of the Windows or Linux operating system or a similar-sized box with an Intel or PowerPC processor that runs the Macintosh operating system. Since the invention of the home computer, we have usually assumed that one box (one computer) ran one copy of one operating system; for instance, "My computer runs Windows XP," or something similar. Due to advances in hardware and software, we can now expand that assumption. Indeed, it is now rather simple to run Windows XP and Macintosh OS X simultaneously. In fact, you can also run Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 98 simultaneously. Another example might be to run Windows and Linux simultaneously.
This article will first explain why you might want to run simultaneous operating systems and then will show several examples of how to accomplish such simultaneous operation without spending a lot of money.
Why Do It?
Perhaps the simplest and most obvious example of running two or more simultaneous operating systems is the use of Windows on a Macintosh computer. Most Macintosh owners are fiercely loyal to their choice of operating system, citing the Macintosh's simplicity, ease of use, and reliability. Indeed, the complexity and slow performance of Windows Vista has encouraged many people to switch to Macintosh OS X, although the total Macintosh usage is still a fraction of Windows systems usage.
Every new Macintosh owner soon realizes one major drawback: the Mac doesn't have as many programs available as does the Windows operating system and is certainly more limited in genealogy program choices. You may have a favorite (Windows) genealogy program that you would like to run on the new Macintosh.
The popularity of Windows does produce one undeniable benefit: thousands of Windows programs are available, often at attractive prices. In contrast, the Macintosh has far fewer programs available. Prices vary widely, but the average cost of Macintosh programs seems to be higher than that of Windows programs.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a single computer that would run both Macintosh and Windows operating systems? Thanks to virtual computing technology, that is now easy to do – and it doesn't cost much more than a computer that runs the Macintosh OS X operating system alone.
A second possibility involves an all-Windows situation. Perhaps you recently purchased a new, high-speed computer that runs Windows Vista and then discovered that your favorite genealogy program you have been using for years on Windows 98 or Windows XP will not operate on Vista. Vista has "broken" many programs. Using virtual computers to run two or more operating systems simultaneously, you can use your genealogy program on Windows XP while you use the latest video-editing program on Windows Vista. You can do this on only one computer.
A third scenario might involve Linux. Perhaps you run Windows or Macintosh most of the time but would like to experiment with Linux. The use of virtual computers simplifies the process; you can run both operating systems or even all three simultaneously on one computer.
In fact, it is theoretically possible to run Macintosh, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Linux on one computer, all at the same time. You will need quite a bit of memory and processor power to run all four simultaneously, however.
The use of virtual operating systems is very popular in commercial data centers, primarily because the use of two or more operating systems on one computer greatly reduces hardware expenses. For this article, I will focus only on the use of virtual computers in the home. However, I will point out that home users also benefit from lower hardware expenses: why purchase two or more computers when you can do everything on one?
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