Software virtualization has become popular lately. To solve some of the compatibility issue in Windows 7, Microsoft has incorporated a virtualized Windows XP in Windows 7.
For general user, one the advantages of using software virtualization is, it allows user to run very old application. For example, if you have an application that runs only on DOS, what you need to do is to install DOS on the virtualization software and install the application in the virtual DOS operating system.
As a general user, you can also test other operating system by installing them in the virtualization software. It is now very common for general user to run Windows with virtual Linux. It is more common for Mac users to run Windows operating system in their virtualization software since a lot of applications only runs in Windows operating system. However, you need to purchase additional Windows operating system license.
It is particularly useful for corporate environment, especially in a complex system environment with a mix of UNIX, Linux and Windows. For example, if an application only runs in UNIX, desktop user can install UNIX in their Windows operating system and run the particular application in the virtualized UNIX. Furthermore, virtual operating system can be managed from a virtual server, hence reduce cost in maintaining multiple operating systems. I believe that virtual software market will continue to grow to become an essential part of enterprise architecture. Virtualization software is particularly useful for IT profession in system testing and software development in multiple platform.
There is lots of virtualization software in the market. VM Ware is popular in the corporate environment. For home user, Microsoft Virtual PC is popular with Windows user. Sun’s VirtualBox is available in multiple platforms. Linux users install Xen or VirtualBox.
Microsoft Virtual PC was late in the game in the virtual market; it works well running Windows XP or any earlier version of Microsoft operating system. However, it does not perform well running Linux and it does not provide any integration between host and client OS. Sun’s VirtualBox is the better alternative. Available in multiple platforms, hardware emulation performs better if you install the guest additions.
I have tested a few of the virtualization software mainly VM Ware, Microsoft Virtual PC and Sun’s VirtualBox. For overall usability, I prefer VM Ware and VirtualBox. Please note that you need to purchase the software for VM Ware, and VirtualBox is free for home user.