Virtualization on Windows 7

January 6, 2011, By Christian Cawley

Old software can be left in the past with a new version of Windows, and while Windows 7 features a free Virtual PC running Windows XP, this can still prove useless for anyone wanting to take advantage of software from the late 1990s.

While it might seem surprising that anyone would want to use older software, there is a big need amongst retro gamers just as there is with anyone limited to legacy accounting software.

One way around this is to create a virtual computer, something that can be done with any of the three popular virtual machine applications, Virtual PC, Virtual Box and VMware.

A Windows XP virtual machine running in Virtual PC 2007

Virtual PC

Available free from Microsoft, Virtual PC enables the user to install a previous version of Windows in a virtual machine running on the current version of Windows. Windows 7 users have access to a free Virtual PC running Windows XP, which is useful for getting around the most stubborn compatibility issues in the latest release of the operating system.

Unfortunately, Virtual PC is limited in what guest operating systems it can support – basically, it limits you to the various previous releases of Windows. While this isn’t going to be a problem for many users, anyone wanting to install a virtual copy of one of the Linux distros isn’t going to be opting for Virtual PC.

Windows 7 users can find Virtual PC from www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc, while users of older versions can find Virtual PC 2007 at www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/support/virtual-pc-2007.aspx.

VirtualBox

This particular virtualization software can be run on Windows, Linux, Apple Macs and OpenSolaris systems, and is capable of running virtual machines with Windows, Linux, Solaris/OpenSolaris and OpenBSD operating systems.

VirtualBox 4.0 has been released in December 2010, and this latest version increases support that already includes a virtual USB controller and support for CD and DVD drives.

As with the other virtualization applications, VirtualBox provides an “empty” virtual machine that you configure by adding processor cores, RAM and disk space to, and then allows you to install a guest operating system to your machine.

VirtualBox can be downloaded for Windows 32-bit and 64-bit (and for Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris) from www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads.

VMware

Finally there is VMware, probably the most adept of all of the virtual machine applications. This comes in two version, the freeware VMware Player (which despite being free has a considerable feature set) and the pay-for VMware Workstation.

Previous releases saw VMware Player capable of little more than running a virtual machine (or VM) built and installed in VMware Workstation, but this is no longer true. While the free software is ideal for most users, VMware Workstation is now used mainly to the benefit of IT departments wishing to take advantage of virtualization.

VMware is probably the most powerful desktop virtualization software, capable of creating virtual machines for installing Windows 7, the latest versions of Linux and even Mac OS X.

Find a free copy of VMware Player from downloads.vmware.com.

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