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What are Virtual Machines?

Virtual Machine Managers (also known by the far cooler name of “hypervisors”) are a pretty great resource that allow users to emulate computer systems within their own computer. Programs and files can be booted up from within the virtual machine itself.

In other words, by using VM software you can run multiple operating systems with your main operating system. It’s like an operating system inception sort of deal. This is valuable because the virtual machines can even run different types of OS, such as Windows 8, Windows XP, Ubuntu, and so on, regardless of what your primary OS is.

VM Providers


There are several prominent Virtual Machine Managers available. One of the main ones is VirtualBox, a free and open-source option available for all the major operating systems--Windows, macOS, Linux, and so on.


Another is VMware, which has VMware Workstation available for Windows and Linux and VMware Fusion for macOS. Unlike VirtualBox, one downside of these versions of VMware is that they are not free and open source software.

However, the company does have a third option, the VMware Workstation Player, which is supplied free of charge for non-proprietary uses.

Parallels Desktop

Of the major players, we lastly have Parallels Desktop, an option specifically for Mac users. It is branded as a way of running Windows on your Mac.

Parallels Desktop also isn’t free and open source, which leaves VirtualBox as the most logical option if you are new to VM Managers and don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.

What are VMs Used For?

After installing the VM Manager software of your choice onto your main computer, you are able to install two (or potentially more) virtual machines--essentially two emulated operating systems that exists within your primary OS. For example, you could be running Linux and install Windows 8 and Windows 98 or something weird like that, which can then be utilized as different computers.

But again, how does running multiple OS’s benefit you?

VMs Allow You to Try Out Different OS’s

Let’s say you are running Windows 10 but are thinking of switching to Debian or whatever. Installing an emulated version of Debian on your machine would allow you to try out the new OS and make sure you like it.

By this same concept, you can also test out new applications for other operating systems before committing to the change.

Running Programs Intended for Other OS’s

VMs are also great for getting access to programs that are only available on other operating systems or outdated ones.

As mentioned, Parallels Desktop is specifically highlighted for its ability to run Windows on Mac in its marketing materials. No matter how much people like their Macs, they’re still bound to miss the simple pleasures of Minesweeper, MS Paint, and Space Cadet 3D Pinball.

Additionally, what if you want to play your copy of the classic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but have long ago moved on from Windows XP? A virtual machine can help with that.

VMs Reduce the Cost of Hardware

All of the above is possible if you want to run different operating systems on several computers, but acquiring all of that hardware is costly and unnecessary. Again, if you decide you want an entire computer dedicated to a different OS you can always make that decision later.

VMs reduce not just the cost of buying new hardware, but also the need for specialized hardware in general, ie. you can run Windows programs on Mac without actually having a PC.

Computer Security

VMs can also be used for testing malware and viruses (if you’re into that sort of thing) without risking destroying your computer beyond repair. If a virus renders the emulated machine broken beyond repair, the parent OS and machine will still be fine.

On a similar note, scam-baiters use VMs so that they can give scammers access to their computers without risking real damage being done. Although virtual machine escapes exist, there’s a good chance that your typical tech support scammer wouldn’t know how to perform one.

VMs are very useful in the computer security field in general, as they sort of act as a sandbox for an attacker (or computer security specialist) to mess around in.

Downsides of VMs


Using one or more virtual machines does have some downsides. For example, VMs require overhead and typically run slower than the parent OS. For this reason, VMs are not always ideal for, say, playing video games intended for other systems, especially in cases when frame rate is important.

VMs Require More Resources

Although VMs allow you to cut back on hardware costs, they do typically require more bandwidth, storage, and processing capacity than a normal desktop in order to run efficiently.

These resources must also be properly balanced. Or else, one virtual machine may use a greater proportion of available resources and cause other VMs to experience slowdown or not run at all.

Overall, these negatives don’t outweigh the positives of using VMs, so long as you have legitimate reasons for wanting to emulate other OS’s and have realistic expectations for what your machine can handle.

An Alternative to VMs: Boot Camp

There are alternatives to running virtual machine managers. One of these (if you’re on macOs, that is) is Boot Camp, a utility developed by Apple to allow dual-booting of macOs and a Windows OS on the same machine.

While VM managers allow you to boot multiple systems from within your main OS (kind of like a fork in the road) Boot Camp is a dual-boot system where you can either boot up one or the other on startup of your Mac.

While it may be beneficial for some people in certain situations, dual booting comes with several downsides, such as the need to reboot your entire computer whenever you want to switch between your macOS and Windows OS, and that you have to set aside space on your Mac hard drive for the extra OS, but can’t revise the storage later. It’s also not possible to share files between the two while using Boot Camp.

All this, plus the fact that Boot Camp is for Mac exclusively, means that in most cases, using a virtual machine manager is your best bet for this sort of thing.

The End

If VMs sound cool and like you have some nice use for them, then go for it. Or don’t. It’s your life.

Additional Resources

Other Articles of 256KB

Download more RAM. 🐏 ⨉ 0Posted by Louis J. V. Cicalese 2 years ago

Edit History

• [2019-05-05 12:37 PDT] Louis J. V. Cicalese (2 years ago)
• [2019-05-05 12:37 PDT] Louis J. V. Cicalese (2 years ago)
🕓 Posted at 05 May, 2019 12:37 PM PDT

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