Virtualization is all the rage in the operating system world. The ability to run an OS inside other operating systems is a boon to IT managers in charge of large server farms. What’s been less clear are the benefits of a virtual OS on your desktop system. Sure, tech geeks like you and me will happily play with Linux running on Vista, Windows 7 on MacOS or even DOS on Windows 7.
We have to look back to the lessons learned with Windows Vista to see some of the most practical uses for desktop virtualization. While Vista has been successful as an OS for consumers (begrudgingly, you might say), its acceptance in corporate environments has been more limited.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Vista’s hardware requirements were substantially higher than Windows XP, which in turn would have meant large capital outlays for new PC hardware. Vista suffered from a series of well-known teething problems, including stability issues with graphics and audio drivers. So most of the larger IT shops stuck with Windows XP.
Meanwhile, on the home front, we saw a steady migration to Vista. In fact, in the past year, most consumer and home PCs seem to be shipping with the 64-bit version of Vista. This created a certain amount of grumbling, as older apps from the XP and, particularly, the Windows 9x era, would break under 64-bit Vista, even if they could run under 32-bit Vista.
With Windows 7, we’re likely to see an even stronger push into 64-bit land, both with business and home PCs. The need for backward compatibility still exists, however. So Microsoft’s solution for small business and sophisticated home users is Windows XP Mode.
We know you don't want to limit your options, though. So, we’ll also be taking a look at a different solution that’s also a free download, VirtualBox, an open source virtual machine package originally developed by Sun Microsystems. However, this isn’t a feature-by-feature comparison. We’re specifically focusing on the needs of Windows 7 users who have to run Windows XP for backward compatibility.