Windows users have a few choices when it comes to virtualising another OS, but our personal favourite is VirtualBox, for its solid feature set and $0 price tag.
- Easy installation of popular operating systems like Windows, Linux and Mac OS X
- Run multiple virtualised environments simultaneously
- Run a guest OS in "seamless mode", which puts the applications on your main Windows desktop
- Fast performance all around
- Take snapshots of your virtual machines, so you can start it up from any configuration or point in its life
- Clipboad sharing
- 3D Virtualisation
- Open virtual disk images made in VirtualBox, VMWare or Microsoft Virtual PC
VirtualBox makes running other operating systems — whether it be Linux, other versions of Windows or even Mac OS X — super easy on your home computer. Just insert your install disc (or point it to an ISO on your computer), and you can install it in a virtual machine with as much or as little RAM, CPU and hard drive space as you want. It integrates with your mouse pointer, so you don't even have to click on the window to start using it, and lets you create "snapshots" of your machines so, like restore points, you can just boot it up from any point in its history and use it from that point. You can even share your clipboard back and forth between your virtualised and host OS.
VirtualBox can seem a little intimidating to most beginners, but so can any virtualisation program. In addition, its "seamless" mode, while cool, isn't done quite as well as VMWare's — it brings the entire toolbar of your guest OS with it, and moving the windows around isn't the smoothest experience. But, overall, it's still very feature-filled, and with a great documentation and a ton of users, it isn't difficult to find answers to any of your questions.
VMWare Player is VirtualBox's main competition, providing a similar feature set from a well-known company in virtualisation. The main differences are that VMWare's equivalent of seamless mode is a bit better integrated and it has drag-and-drop file sharing, though it doesn't have a snapshot feature — which is, arguably, a more useful feature, which is why VirtualBox ekes it out in this App Directory. VMWare is also feels a bit more sluggish, though like VirtualBox, it is free, so it's worth trying both. If you want the whole package, VMWare Workstation has everything VMWare Player has and more (like snapshots), but it'll set you back 200 clams, so it probably isn't worth it for most home users.
If you're only virtualising Windows, you also have the choice of using Windows Virtual PC. For the most part, it isn't quite as good as the above options, but it does come with a free Windows XP licence and good integration with Windows Explorer and XP mode, for running those old programs that Windows 7 doesn't play nicely with. It requires Windows 7 Professional or above to use, though, so while it's "free", you'll still be paying for it.
Do you have a favourite virtualisation app other than the above, or just have another reason you love these programs? Let us know in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.