Even though I’m pretty much stuck using Windows for work, I’ve always been fascinated by alternative operating systems. Years ago I had a dual boot system with Windows 2000 and BeOS 4.5, and a couple of years ago I played around with Linux on older machines. None of these solutions were very useful though. Having to switch back to windows to use Photoshop or having an old PC take up desk space isn’t very convenient. This is where virtualization software like VirtualBox comes in.
The concept isn’t new. VirtualBox allows you to create a virtual machine on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer. On this ‘virtual computer’ you can run any operating system you like (and is supported). Once the guest OS is installed, you can run it in a window or fullscreen if you like. Virtualization is not emulation though, you can’t run OSes that run on different hardware platforms. This is also why it’s much faster than emulators are. You’re basically dedicating a part of your computer to the guest OS, not emulating a completely different processor or anything.
I know VMWare is free nowadays, and there are other solutions as well, but I have a thing for open source. Especially when a free program is as good as VirtualBox. Ubuntu runs quite well on my Core 2 Duo PC, and apparently VB kicks VMWare’s butt when it comes to speed. I can’t really confirm this, but visiting the Papervision3D homepage using Firefox under Ubuntu in a virtual machine was quite impressive. The real-time 3D effects on that page require loads of processing power, but there barely was a difference in speed compared to Firefox under (non-virtual) Vista.
VirtualBox is perfect for trying new Linux releases and testing websites in older Windows versions. Now if only someone would hack MacOSX compatibility into it…