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RFI: PC and Mac Based Virtualization

This post is the third in a series on virtualization: Introduction, Platform (Servers and PCs), Desktop, Application, and Cloud

A special case of platform virtualization is the ability to run a server or desktop operating system in a virtual environment on a PC or Mac. Running Windows on a Mac via Parallels is a key example and represents one of the common uses of this. The main categories of uses include
 
  1. Alternate OS for Access to Apps: Since software is typically OS specific there are often cases where the right or required piece of software for a particular job just doesn’t run on the primary OS you may be running on your desktop. Windows-based business software in a Mac environment or Linux-based network tools in a Windows environment are examples. In these cases it may be useful to host a virtual OS to run these specific tools.
  2. Legacy OS Versions for App Compatibility: A related example of this may be the need to run applications that don’t run on your current OS but do run on a previous version. Many business are running into this today with old Windows XP compatible applications that don’t run on Vista or Windows 7. "XP Mode" in Windows 7 is a built-in virtual platform feature in some versions of Windows for solving this specific problem.
  3. Development/Testing/Support: This is the same as one of the reasons I described for server virtualization. For specific development or testing scenarios it is often useful to run a specifically configured OS environment on a developer/tester workstation. This gives you the flexibility of switching on and off these specific environments and even resetting them to a baseline state as needed.
  4. Demonstrations: I and many of my colleagues have used desktop/laptop hosted virtual machines for product or solution demonstrations. I’ve run multi-server virtual environments on a laptop to show off enterprise solutions this way. Many software vendors are even beginning to distribute test and demonstration versions of their latest software products as virtual machines, making this very useful. Microsoft has done this recently with SharePoint 2010, as an example.

Vendor Round-Up

Microsoft – Virtual PC/Server
  • Windows offering that will run current version of Windows as guests as well as some others (OS/2, Linux), though they may not be officially supported.
  • In most versions of Windows 7, Virtual PC is offered free as XP Mode (with a Windows XP license) for running older Windows software, or as a full Virtual PC solution. This is well suited for running Windows guests.
Oracle/Sun – VirtualBox
  • Runs on Mac, Linux, Windows to provide workstation virtualization
  • Originally developed by Innotek and bought and distributed by Sun until their acquisition by Oracle, this is a full featured desktop solution that provides good performance and compatibility
Parallels – Desktop
  • Although they offer both Mac and PC virtual machine software they are best known for their Mac support, allowing Mac users to run needed/favorite Windows software in their Mac OS sessions.
  • Similar to VMWare’s offerings there are trials available but the full versions must be purchased.
VMWare – Workstation
  • VMWare offers this full featured virtual PC solution for either Windows or Linux hosts. The Fusion version of their workstation product is available for Macs.
  • This solution officially supports over 200 types of guest operating systems including most Windows and many Linux variants. However, beyond a 30 day trial, VMWare charges for the product and is the most expensive of the offerings.
Anyone else have interesting uses for desktop-based virtualization? Any new key vendors I missed off this list?
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