How To Work Smarter Using Virtualization

Part one of a series of articles on how virtualization can provide solutions to everyday problems for homes and small businesses.
Published: Oct 22, 2007
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows

Work Smarter Using Virtualization

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder


I make my living working with computers. I also evaluate over 200 software programs each and every week. Right now I'm closing in on the 240,000 programs evaluated mark. So, I think I have a pretty good feel for which software makes me most productive. I get to see lots of products either before they're released or shortly after they are. About 4 years ago I read some things about virtualization that caught my eye. As is my nature, I decided to investigate.

So, it's 2003 and nearly everything I see about virtualization is targeted towards "the enterprise." You know, large companies with lots of people. Well, I'm a curious guy so I downloaded VMware Workstation and started playing around with it. What does it do? Well, it gives you ways to create and use virtual machines. What is a virtual machine? It's a computer that isn't a physical device, but a virtual one. It "lives", if you will, on your physical computer.

I started working with VMware Workstation and started using virtual machines for testing software. The more I used these virtual devices the more I liked the idea. Sure, the virtualization companies are primarily targeting large groups and IT people, but I was trying to think beyond that. As near as I could see virtualization would be great for home and small business users as well. So, I started out to make users like you aware of what virtualization is and how you can take advantage of it.

What Is A Virtual Machine?

At first some people balk at the idea of a virtual machine. I've had people ask me how I can be working on an "imaginary computer". So, I want to give you a concise idea of what a virtual computer is. Your home or office computer is a physical object. It has an operating system and you've also got programs you've installed. All your data is there too. I, on the other hand, have almost no data on my physical machine. Where is it? Why in my virtual machines.

Now, we get to the good part. Let's say your computer is old and you get a new one. Now you have to move all your stuff from that machine to the new one. Email, documents, tax records, music, pictures, and more. Oh, and don't forget your bookmarks, your macros, your personal settings on every piece of software you run. Oh, a very tedious process at best. With virtual computers I just copy my virtual machine files to the new computer and I'm up and running. I don't miss a beat, or an email. I don't have to set anything up because I'm still working in the same virtual machine. Virtualization separates the physical machine from the software that runs on it and when you do that you open up all kinds of possibilities. When you can create "virtual machines" you can have several virtual computers on one physical machine. Right now I'm working in a Windows XP virtual machines, but I also have things going on in virtual machines running Windows 2000, Vista, and Ubuntu Linux. If one crashes, the others just keep on running. The virtual machines are just fine because virtual machines are independent of the other virtual machines and the physical computer. Virtualization is very flexible. The screen shot shows the virtual machine I'm working in as well as the list of some of my favorite virtual machines that I've created.

Creating A Virtual Machine

A virtual machine has all the attributes of any physical computer. In using the virtualization software to create one I give it a DVD drive, a couple of hard drives, an ethernet interface, and more. The hard drives are using space from my physical drives in the form of virtual disks. I allocate so much disk space to each virtual machine. Everything on a virtual machine is stored in a few files. I also allocate RAM (Random Access Memory) to the virtual machine. This is also taken from the RAM from the physical computer. When I have it set up the way I want I install the operating system. I can install a new operating system like Windows Vista or I can install DOS 5 or Ubuntu Linux, or Solaris. Once the operating system is installed my computer boots just like your physical computer does. In fact, if I have it at full screen you could not tell that I wasn't just booting a regular computer.

A New Way Of Working?

To me virtualization provides me with a new and better way of working. For example say you buy a new laptop. Instead of spending hours or days setting it up the way you want, you simply clone your current virtual machine to the laptop. You're ready to work and you have everything with you.

Have children? Are they always goofing up the family computer? Getting viruses? Create a virtual machine for each person in your family. If they get a virus in that it doesn't affect the physical machine. Don't know what to backup? With a virtual machine you can backup your virtual machine files and everything is covered. So, virtualization provides a number of benefits.

Summing It Up!

"Virtualization" is a technology that's getting more and more attention. Many people don't even realize that some CPU's actually support virtualization technologies. Virtualization is important for large companies, but in my opinion, it can also have a great impact in homes, offices, schools, and more. You can create one virtual machine with the software you want installed and then clone it over and over again. So every child in the family or every child in the class has exactly the same computer to work with.

Over the next several weeks I'll be reviewing some of the top virtualization products and showing you how they can be a solution to some of your problems. I hope you'll join me.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via email by clicking HERE You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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