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The top two free virtualization options for your Windows-based desktop, as of this moment, are Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 and VMware's Player/Server software. They're both more than capable of handling the common user's task load with VMware's OS support far outstripping the operating systems Microsoft's Virtual PC can run. While all of these free tools are a nice treat they're there to whet your appetite for their server software.
Consolidating your servers is, of course, one of the most prominent technology cost-cutting trends for businesses. After all, why run non-demanding tasks across multiple old systems when one shiny new machine loaded with the latest in virtualization technology can save you in the long term?
Microsoft's latest and greatest is their Hyper-V software, which recently exited the beta stage and is now final. It conveniently extends the company's virtualization official support to Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, although intrepid users may be able to massage it to run other flavors of Linux distributions. You'll have to procure a copy of their Windows Server 2008 operating system with Hyper-V support in order to enjoy the virtualization support and management solutions they offer.
Which One of These is Not Like the Other?
VMware's free virtualization offerings are split between their Server and Player software. They're both capable of running pre-built images of which you'll many examples of around the web but only their Server software is capable of creating system images.
That's not to say that you're stuck if you decided on using the VMware Player as your virtualization software of choice, you'll just have to grab a copy of VMware's Converter to create your own system images. The software is capable of creating virtual machines from the host OS on the PC of your choice and can also convert images from Microsoft's own Virtual PC and Virtual Server formats and can also create images from system backups created by Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery and Norton Ghost version 9 on up.
The Converter is user-friendly; its wizard guides you through selecting the most common of options. Creating a physical computer image will take you through the steps of making a virtual machine out of the OS installed on your computer or one accessible on your network, if you have the proper login credentials of course. Similarly you'll be able to choose an existing virtual machine image or supported system backup to convert into an image VMware Player can handle.
A Copy of a Copy
There are of course a few issues that can crop up.
If you're making an image of your system, it's making an image of everything on your host OS system's disk, you'll want to make sure the drive you're saving your system image to has plenty of storage space. If saving your system image to the host operating system's drive seems appealing, you may want to reconsider. Unless your current install is small, reading-from and writing-to the same drive will be an extreme test of patience. In other words find another drive to write to.
Once you have your shiny new system image/virtual machine conversion in hand you can go about loading it into the VMware Player and enjoy the freedom of a new testing ground or be happy with the fact that your precious system environment is saved and that you can now run it on a multitude of other VMware equipped systems--as long as your OS' licensing terms allow for that sort of thing, of course.
If dig around the Internet enough you'll find plenty of resources on how to get your system image A running on virtualization app B (like here and here, for instance). The tinkerers out there are more than willing to jump through hoops but VMware provides the tools to dive into virtualization quickly and somewhat painlessly.
Ease-of-use is the name of the game and you're likely to get up and running faster with VMware's free suite of software than the competition, at least at the desktop level. Its Linux support and general flexibility earn it the nod as the most versatile VM software while its longevity means plenty of unofficial support can be found.
This article was first published on EnterpriseITPlanet.com.