Running more than one operating system on your computer at the same time is most effectively done these days using a technology called ‘Virtualization’, with this technology starting off with emulation software in earlier years.
However, virtualization goes beyond emulation in that it involves code running natively on a processor, instead of needing to be emulated, as was the case with the Power PC Mac based ‘Virtual PC for Windows XP’ software that Connectix, and then Microsoft, offered for years on the older Mac platform.
Problem is, with emulation, the speed really was too slow to be satisfying.
However, now that the x86 chipset has emerged as the most popular standard, able to run various versions of Windows, Linux, other operating systems and Mac OS X, emulation is not needed for today’s modern operating systems. It’s virtualization that comes into play.
This is like emulation on steroids, and now that computer processors have evolved to offer two or more ‘brains’, or their proper technical name of ‘cores’, with dual-core processors now common, virtualization can be used to even greater effect, with even each core able to be dedicated to running an individual operating system if desired, rather than sharing the load across both.
So, modern computers have two, four or even more cores in their processors for plenty of performance, lots of memory, big hard drives and more, making them ideal candidates for running virtual machines. Why run everything in one machine, when you could have several operating systems running concurrently, each running a separate task, and being able to switch between them all in pretty much the same way you switch between different programs today?
Suddenly running more than one operating system is easy, and comes with the advantages of being able to run different versions Windows, or Windows and Linux, or on a Mac, all three, and more.
Businesses are taking advantage of virtualization technology in a big way, especially as they generally own and use a lot of powerful hardware than is standard in most households. What they do is to consolidate a series of older servers into one single box, and then running a series of virtual machines inside. This reduces costs, increases reliability (with the need for backups undiminished), uses less power and takes up less space.
This revolution is finally coming to general consumers that want to take advantage of it.
One area this has been of particular interest is in the Mac community. Now that Apple Macs run an Intel processor inside, running Windows XP and Vista at native speeds, giving people a computer that ran Mac OS X and XP or Vista fulfilled a dream for many. But when Apple first introduced the Intel-based Macs, Apple didn’t provide any way to run Windows, with Microsoft promising a new ‘Virtual PC for Mac’ sometime in the vague future.
Given that the Mac now used Intel hardware, it should have been technically possible to run – but Apple wasn’t having any of it in the early stages. It was something that had to be unlocked by hackers rather than Apple directly, who miraculously presented their own solution to running Windows XP as a standalone operating system (WITHOUT virtualization) with their Boot Camp software. Problem is, it required users to run either Mac OS X or XP/Vista – but not at the same time.
But with the ability of virtualization to run both simultaneously, it captured the imagination of consumers, with two technology companies offering a solution. After all, running XP or Vista on the Mac nowadays is dead simple, and works very well.
The most recent software for the Mac to do this is VMWare Fusion. Still in beta stage, it isn’t as good as the current market leader (which we look at next), but does have the ability to run Mac OS X on one core, and Windows on the other.
The most popular program for Vista or XP virtualization on the Mac is called Parallels Desktop. Version 1.0 was released last year to great acclaim, with Beta 3 of the new Version 2.0 showing that the upgraded new version that has even better support of the Windows XP and Vista environments is almost ready for eager consumers.
On PCs, you can run multiple versions of Windows with free software from Microsoft called Virtual PC 2007. Released only earlier this week, it succeeds Virtual PC 2004, and its subsequent Service Pack 1 (SP1) update, it’s available as a free download for anyone running a genuine copy of Windows, as it will require validation as just about any download from Microsoft requires these days.
So, with so much momentum behind virtualization, why has Microsoft decided to make life difficult for customers wanting to do this by declaring that the Windows Home Basic and Premium versions of Windows Vista cannot be run in virtualized environments, even if you want to run it in Microsoft’s own Virtual PC 2007?
Please read onto page 2 for the conclusion, and an appeal to Microsoft to change the situation!