VMWare Workstation - Virtualize Windows or Linux operating system

Have you ever heard of virtualizing an operating system like Windows or Linux? Read this article to know the complete details of it.

Linux is one of those exciting topics which draw a computer enthusiast towards it. It is one of those Operating Systems which are rapidly changing the world. While the name might be new for few people, Linux on contrary is not. Linux was born in 1991 and has been under development since then. This Operating System is well known among server administrators because of the high use on servers of all kinds. It is used for teaching system programming in universities and is touted to be more secure than Windows.

While it is easy to get a Linux distribution off the internet, it is not so easy to experiment with it, especially when you have lot of data on your computer and you are not ready to lose anything. Partitioning your hard disk for using Linux on it alongside with Windows is a tough task specially because at times, Linux may not start off from an logical partition well (specially because logical partitions can be created in a more dynamic manner than primary partitions). Moreover in most of the cases, if you partition your hard disk while installing Windows, Windows creates all the partitions except the C: drive as logical partition which makes the task of creating a new primary partition quite problematic. In these cases, you may be never able to install a new Linux Operating System. Moreover the Linux terminology is quite different and technical compared to Windows which makes installing Linux even more difficult for the newbie user.

We all know that one learns by experimenting and in this condition it appears that almost all paths to experimentation are closed. So how would you start using Linux without making a mess of your system and the files on it? The answer is Virtualization. There are many products in the market which can make the virtualization possible. One of the products which lead this field of software is known as VMware Workstation. For those who don't know what virtualization is; Virtualization is a process of running an Operating System inside another Operating System. It visually looks as if you are playing a movie inside a media player; with a difference of the 'video area' replaced by a full 'Operating System'. The following picture might make you understand what running a virtual Operating System looks like:

VMWare Virtualization

You can see in the above picture that a full blown Linux distribution (Backtrack 4 Linux) is being run inside another Windows 7 Operating System. The Linux system is running inside a window so you can minimize the window and work on other things just like you can do with a media player.

What VMware Workstation is and what it can do

VMware Workstation is virtualization software which can be used to run different kinds of Operating Systems without requiring you to make changes to your disk partitions. All you need to do is to use the VMware Workstation to create a new virtual machine and install inside the virtual machine the Operating System of your choice. This makes things easier than trying to partition the hard disk and later discover that you have lost all your data and you need to start off from scratch again! So VMware Workstation saves you from many problems and allows you the following benefits:

1. No Partitioning in VMware: You don't need to partition your hard disk at all! All you have to do is to create a new file. Of course, you must have right amount of empty space available. VMware saves the 'virtual' hard disk of the Operating System you are trying to install in the system as files so it is mandatory that you have the 'space' available on the disk to accommodate the Operating System.

2. Experimentation in VMware Workstation: You can use virtual machines and thus VMware workstation to experiment with the Operating System you like without problems. What I mean by experimentation is that people often tend to play with the Operating System settings and in the end they would destroy the installation and may be even lose the data. This naturally creates fear in one's heart and he starts avoiding the experiments he would have liked to perform. But since using VMware workstation you create 'virtual' Operating System which does not change the settings in your original (host) Operating System, you are free to do such experiments! In case you run into problems, all you have to do is to delete that Operating System's files from disk and again install it.

3. Trying out new softwares – VMware: Almost every one of us is fond of installing any new software we get your hands on. We tend to think that if the software does not give us what it promises then we would uninstall it, which is correct. But installing and then uninstalling software one after another slows down the performance of Windows Operating System significantly and hence it is advised by many that you don't install and uninstall the software one after another repeatedly. But VMware workstation allows you to create a virtual system which you can use to experiment with your new software. In case your virtual system slows down (which would happen someday) then you already know the solution – to delete the virtual Operating System and then install it again! Isn't that a great way to test what's best for you?

4. Snapshots in VMware Workstation: By now you would have already imagined that how easy it would be to experiment and try new and new things with your system and in case of any problem all you would need is to delete the Operating System and reinstall it! But wait; creators of VMware workstation already knew that their software would be used to experiment on things. So they have made a great feature in the software. This feature is "snapshot" and is used to give you the effect of "rolling back in time".

Basically using snapshots you "take a snapshot" of a 'state' and in future you can "return" or "roll back" to that previous state. Let me explain this to you using an example with steps:

  • You install Linux on VMware workstation.

  • You then create three files namely file1.txt, file2.txt and file3.txt and put them on desktop. Also you change some settings in the system.

  • Now you press the "take snapshot" button and take a snapshot and name it "3file snapshot".

  • Now you delete the file named "file2.txt". But you later realized that you needed the "file2.txt".

  • So you open the "snapshot manager" and tell VMware workstation to "roll back" or "go to" to the snapshot you saved earlier named "3file snapshot".

  • Now when you will open the Linux Operating System inside VMware workstation, it will have all the three files file1.txt, file2.txt and file3.txt on the desktop and all the changes which you had made to the system in the second step will be there. But remember that the changes you made to the system since step (c) till now will be lost.
    This is a very handy feature which will help you avoid the reinstallation many times. For example, you install the Operating System you want to install and before making any changes to the system, you first take the "snapshot" of the system and then make changes, later on if you fall into problems, just "roll back" to the snapshot which you took of the freshly installed system. This will make the guest Operating System (the Operating System which is run inside VMware workstation) look like it was deleted and installed again. This takes only a few seconds whereas deleting and reinstalling an Operating System takes about 1 hour. You will come to know many more things about the "snapshots" feature by using it!

    5. Using 'trial version' of software for long times: There are a lot of software in the market which are really great to use but they come with a huge price tag and we cannot afford them. For example, Photoshop is one such software. Now, there are trial versions of Photoshop available on the internet. Using VMware workstation you can use such software for long times. Here are the steps which you can follow to gain:

  • Install a Windows virtual machine inside the VMware workstation.

  • Install VMware tools inside the guest Windows machine (just click on tools -> Install VMware tools from the menu).

  • Take a snapshot of the Operating System just after installation and name the snapshot as 'fresh install'.

  • Now, install Photoshop (or any other trial version of software you want) on the virtual system.

  • After the trial period expires (which is usually 30 days), the software will stop working. At this point of time, just copy those files which you created using that software (for example, .PSD files of Photoshop) to your host system (the real system where the VMware software is installed).

  • Now "roll back" to the "fresh install" snapshot and you will have a virtual system where Photoshop is not installed.

  • Now you can go back to step 'd' and install Photoshop again.
    You can repeat the above process as many times you like without having to crack the application which keeps your copy of software genuine (however in trial mode). This is useful for those software whose cracks you don't get on the internet and run the application as many times as you want. Of course you will have to install the software again and again after every 30 days. But doing that work of 10 to 15 minutes once a month and using software worth Rs. 25000 legally is not a bad deal!

    Enjoy experimenting with endless possibilities!

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