Virtual machine software programs enable you to run multiple operating systems on the same computer. It’s a wonderful alternative to dual-booting since you just have to rely on a specialized application.
OS virtualization is also cheaper than buying many desktops or laptops just to be able to install a particular operating system on each. And you don’t need bigger office space either. Not when you just have to download and install a virtual machine tool that unlocks the full potential of your computer.
Run multiple OSes with virtualization software
No special experience is necessary to use virtual machines. You just have to configure a few settings at the software and hardware level, like choosing the amount of disk space and RAM to allocate to each OS. On the other hand, your computer must be powerful enough to sustain this configuration.
In this article, we have prepared what we believe are the 4 best virtual machine software programs to turn your computer into a host for multiple operating systems.
VMware Workstation (recommended)
VMware Workstation is one of the best OS virtualization tools on the market, thanks to its versatility and speed. You can easily set it up to run multiple operating systems on the same host, regardless of your PC skills.
It comes in two main versions that cover all your needs.
VMware Workstation Player: free for home users
After 20 years of active development, VMware Workstation Player is a mature and stable local virtualization solution that can be used both as a personal educational tool and a simplified tool for business. It was mainly created as an option for casual users who need to run virtual machines.
Here are the key features of VMware Workstation Player:
- Simple user interface
- Easy virtual machine creation
- Hardware optimization
- Drive-less guest OS printing
- Isolation and sandbox capabilities (allows users to explore software and application development in a ”real world” environment without affecting the host desktop)
- Isolate corporate desktops from BYO devices (disabling copy-paste, drag-and-drop, shared folders)
- Access to USB devices
- Ability to run restricted and encrypted VMs (only authorized users can interact with corporate data)
VMware Workstation Pro: for professional users
The professional version of VMware Workstation sets the industry standard for running multiple operating systems as virtual machines (VMs) on a single Windows PC. It was built for IT professionals, developers and businesses create and test software on any device.
Here are the extra features provided by VMware Workstation Pro:
- Enterprise-level solutions
- The ability to clone machines
- Take multiple snapshots of the guest OS
- The ability to replay changes made to the guest OS for testing software
- Compatible with cloud or container technologies like Docker and Kubernets
- Capacity to securely connect with vSphere, ESXi or other Workstation servers
- Maximizes productivity
- Enables easy transfer of VM’s to and from your local PC
- Contains the most secure hypervisors in the industry
- Powerful features for IT security professionals
- High-performance 3D graphics (supports DirectX 10.1 and OpenGl 3.3)
- The ability to create complex Ipv4 or IPv6 virtual networks
VirtualBox is a user-friendly virtual machine software program that has rich features. Creating and running VM feels like a walk in the park.
The Guest Additions feature is optional but should be mandatory since it grants extra privileges to the host machine. For example, you can share files, drives and peripherals, enable drag-and-drop support between the host and guest machine, as well as copy content the same way.
All virtual machine parameters are kept in plain-text XML files. Thanks to this approach, you can easily share folders and also use it on the go.
VirtualBox supports Windows, many Linux versions, Mac OS X, Solaris and OpenSolaris.
Hyper-V was released in 2008 to Microsoft Visual PC as the built-in option for creating virtual machines. This OS virtualization software solution is robust. It comes with an accessible interface and intuitive features for all users.
Hyper-V can virtualize not only operating systems but also hard drives, switches, external media drives, and other devices. On the other hand, it doesn’t work with sound cards or graphic cards. It only works with 64-bit Windows and can be found in the Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education editions.
It has comprehensive management tools, giving you the possibility to automate and distribute live environments with ease.
Citrix Hypervisor also provides support for high-performance enhanced 3D graphics, with a great variety of GPU pass-through and virtualized GPU vendor options. It includes support for Intel’s Virtual Graphics Technology (GVT-g) and NVIDIA GRID vGPU.
With sophisticated server consolidation and containment, Citrix Hypervisor allows for increased performance and capacity gains in CPU cores. It has integration with Microsoft Windows Update Services for automatic Windows VM driver updates, as well as host RAM, VM RAM and virtual disks per VM.
This article should serve as a good guide for virtualization options for all types of users of Windows 10.
These VM’s will cover your virtualization needs both from a high end corporate application perspective, but also catering to your own personal virtualization needs.
If we’ve missed anything or you have any suggestions about this topic, please let us know in the comments section below.
FAQ: Learn more about virtual machines
Are virtual machines safe?
- Virtual machines can help improve your security by running suspicious software or opening unknown files in a virtual OS that’s isolated (sandboxed) from your host OS. In other words, if you get infected with malware, it won’t spread to your main OS. However, virtual machines aren’t 100% safe.
Do virtual machines affect performance?
- Yes, virtual machines definitely affect performance. You have to set aside RAM, disk space, CPU cores, and other resources from the host (main) PC to each guest. While the virtual OSes are running, your main OS slows down. But the resources are restored when the virtual OSes aren’t running. Still, you need a powerful computer.
How much RAM do I need for virtual machines?
- It depends on the OS and architecture type since 64-bit needs more RAM than 32-bit. It’s a good idea to follow the RAM recommendation made by the VM software. For example, VirtualBox recommends 192 Mb RAM for Windows XP 32-bit, 512 Mb RAM for Windows XP 64-bit and 2048 Mb RAM for Windows 7 and 10 64-bit.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been since revamped and updated in April 2020 for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.