The joys of emulation -- running other operating systems in Windows

The joys of emulation -- running other operating systems in Windows

Windows is my operating system of choice, and it's the one I used every single day. But I have a healthy interest in software, and I like to know what's going on elsewhere. For this reason I have a Chromebook as well as a (rather aged) MacBook Pro, and on the mobile front I like to divide my time between Android and Windows Phone -- I've even been known to dip my toes into iOS from time to time.

But having so many devices can be a chore. Every now and then I like to try out Linux. It might be Ubuntu, or it might be some other flavour, but I like to see what else is out there. On occasion I have gone as far as setting up a dual boot system, but I soon learned that it is easier and more convenient to work with virtual machines. For many years I used Virtual PC -- way back when it was owned by Connectix -- and this worked well.

It was not without problems, and there would invariably be something that didn’t work correctly, but this things improved a great deal over the years. I discovered VMware and VirtualBox and experimented with all manner of operating systems, all without affecting my Windows installation. As a writer needing to be working with not only the very latest version of Windows, but also having to have access to as many previous versions as possible, virtual machines were the ideal solution.

I could be running, say, Windows XP, whilst trying out Windows Me in a virtual machine (this was back in the day when I was writing for an official Microsoft-approved guide to Windows Me -- magazines needed to be written before the operating system was even released so we had to work with early builds). Over the years, it was extremely useful as a writer to work with leaked builds from the moment they became available -- if only to satisfy and idle curiosity about how things evolved over time.

But the very fact that leaks are often early builds means that it is hard to know how stable it's going to be. Virtualization offers a great alternative to either setting aside a dedicated machine, or going to the hassle of dual booting. If something goes wrong, there's no danger of messing up the main Windows installation as everything is kept separate. It also opened up a world of opportunities for tinkering with the registry -- back when that was, along with messing about with ini files, A Thing. I could get my hands dirty trying out all manner of tweaks without worrying about whether deleting a particular key would render my system unusable -- if it did, it would take a matter of minutes to restore a previous snapshot rather than reinstalling from scratch or trying to get things up and running some other way.

But it's not just desktop operating systems that are ripe for experimentation. The likes of BlueStacks and Genymotion allow for emulation and virtualization of Android devices which is perfect for trying out apps without worrying about cluttering up my handset with unwanted rubbish. There's also scope for emulating Windows Phone but this has been something that's pitched more at developers than geeks. Maybe that will change.

Virtualization seems to have changed over the years. Once something of a niche interest, it is now part of enterprise computer. I'm not sure whether the home market for virtual system is dying, but it certainly seems to be less prevalent than it used to be.

So… I'm interested. How many others out there are fans of virtualization? If you've got a virtual machine or two up and running, what do you use it (or them) for? Share your experiences below.

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