Basically, what they do is cause your current PC to emulate the hardware of an older PC so I can create a virtual Commodore 64 in a window on my Windows XP desktop. I am sure if you go do an Internet search you can find all kinds of emulators you can download and install. There are even video game emulators that will let you play the arcade version of Galaga, Pac Man, etc. It's actually kind of fun for us geeky types. "Hit Ctrl-I to insert a quarter".
VMWare has taken it one step further. VM stands for Virtual Machine I believe. As I type this blog I have a Virtual Machine running in another window in my background where I am installing Fedora. It's a flavor of Red Hat Linux (Fedora -- Red Hat -- get it?). I could theoretically have all the Virtual Machines I want running on my Windows Vista workstation. I could, if I wanted to, install Fedora first and then install all of the OS's I wanted in Virtual Machines on my Fedora workstation. It's all rather entertaining for us geeky types. I expect there is some real usefulness for it though. As for me, I am writing Linux code on my Fedora virtual machine while I play games and write documentation on Vista. I've also discovered that I can create a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to the office and work via a Windows XP virtual machine (since my employer doesn't believe in Vista). I might have to diagram that one if you want to wrap your head around it.
When I first started doing this, I started with Virtual PC 2007. It's a Microsoft Product. It's pretty easy to use. Except, it's not as robust as the VMWare product. VMWare was a bit of a pain to get working initially. I expect becuase the VMWare guys are trying to make money. Virtual PC is a free download from Microsoft, but it only runs on one of their $100+ operating systems. They've already made their money you see.
If I haven't lost you yet, here are some things I've learned that seem intuitively obvious, but they aren't:
- If you want to install an operating system that is not owned by Microsoft on Virtual PC 2007, you must somehow configure your graphics to be simplistic. If you are installing Ubuntu, for example, you must tell Ubuntu to use "safe graphics" during the install. In the long run, it's easier to use VMWare.
- When you go to the VMWare website, look for the Downloads section. Once there, ignore all the other stuff, and download the VMWare Server. They will force you to create an account. They will force you to supply a valid email address so they can send you a key. Then you'll get lots of unwanted emails while they attempt to sell you stuff. They deserve the money, but not from me. The important part to remember is that the free download of VMWare Server is all that you require.
- To install the OS on your Virtual Machine all you need is an ISO Image. It's really the quickest way to get started. With VMWare the ISO Image must be placed in the Virtual Machines directory on your hard drive (I think it's always under C:\Virtual Machines). For some reason, this isn't obvious. It leads you believe that the ISO image can be anywhere.