Running Windows and other OSes in Ubuntu

VirtualBox is free and can be obtained through the Ubuntu Software Centre. It allows you to create virtual computers by installing an operating system into a virtual guest computer. The guest PC runs just like a window on your physical computer’s desktop (known as the host). The guest operating system and any applications on it behave just like they would if they had been installed on a hardware computer, not a virtual one.

Here is my Ubuntu desktop with a Windows XP VirtualBox running. I’ve reduced the Windows virtual computer so that you can see it is running on an Ubuntu host. If I hadn’t then it would be identical to any ‘genuine’ screen shot of a Windows XP desktop, and you’d’ve had to take my word for it. But you can run the guest virtual computer full-screen too, if you wish.

Windows XP in VirtualBox on Ubuntu Computer
Windows XP in VirtualBox on Ubuntu Computer

VirtualBox has a facility that allows you to take snapshots of the Virtual computer. A snapshot saves the state of the guest computer completely. You can revert to a previous snapshot at any time in seconds. So if you (or some errant software) do something to your guest computer that you regret, rolling it back to a previous state is easy.

And you can do more than just roll backwards. You can choose to roll forwards to a later snapshot too. This allows you to move forwards and backwards in time, relative to the state of the guest computer, just as long as you have been making snapshots.

This solves the issue of running those few Windows applications I still need to use. I just run them in Windows! But it isn’t just Windows you can run in a virtual computer – it can be any OS.

Here is a screen shot of my desktop with three virtual computers running. I’d better point out that to do something like this you need a fast PC and plenty of RAM – the more the better – but if your PC can cope, then there is nothing to stop you running a whole bunch of different guest PCs at once.

Windows XP, Xubuntu and Mint Virtual Computers
Windows XP, Xubuntu and Mint Virtual Computers running on an Ubuntu Computer

They can be set up to be isolated and invisible to one another or they can be be bridged so that they can see one another in a virtual network. They can also be set up to have access (or not, if you prefer) to resources on the host computer such as USB devices, CD drives and shared folders.

I have an Ubuntu virtual machine that I use as a sandbox or test bed. I can install software on it and perform updates to it with impunity. If it all goes wrong then I just revert to a previous snapshot. And my physical PC is untouched.

You can also get VirtualBox for Windows and Mac computers too. So anyone can create a virtual Ubuntu computer and have a play with Ubuntu without any risk.

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