Virtualization Makes Running Linux a Snap

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 11, 2008

Many people love Linux but aren't able to commit to using it full time. Some folks use certain peripherals that Linux can't yet accommodate, while others need applications for which suitable open source options don't yet exist. Fortunately, virtualization makes it possible to put your favorite Linux distribution right on your Mac or Windows PC.

To virtualize a computer means to section off an area of the hard drive and put a second, fully-functional operating system on it, essentially turning one computer into two. Let's take a look at the various virtualization options to see which one might be right for you.

Mac users have a few different choices when it comes to putting Linux on an iMac or MacBook. Leopard, the most recent version of Mac OS X, comes with the Boot Camp virtualization tool built right in. Although Apple only officially supports its use for Windows, many people have successfully installed Linux. Once you set it up, you'll get a choice of which operating system to use each time you switch on your Mac. The biggest drawback to Boot Camp is that many people find it an annoyance to turn turn the machine on and off to access a different OS. Running Linux under Boot Camp is a little more complex than adding the Windows operating system, but don't hesitate to ask for help in your distro's community forums.

Another Mac virtualization option is VMware Fusion, and it gets my vote for the best virtualization product on the market. I've used Fusion for a long time to access both Linux and Windows on my Mac, and its stability and extra touches have always impressed me. I also appreciate the ability to access other operating systems without having to shut down and restart my system. In fact, Fusion lets users work with the secondary operating system via a window right on the Mac's desktop and switching between the two on the fly is simply a matter of a couple of keystrokes.

A third virtualization option for Mac users is Parallels, which also allows users to run Linux side-by-side with Mac OS X. As with Fusion, this option also allows for fast switching between operating systems and doesn't require a system restart.

Windows users can run Linux by installing Virtual PC from Microsoft. Like Boot Camp, Linux isn't officially supported as a virtualization option but many people run it with no issues whatsoever.

A second option for Windows users is the free, open source app Virtual Box. This business-grade solution has several features that make it popular for experienced computer users, but it's also useful as an easy way to virtualize their Windows desktop machine.

As the virtualization industry continues to grow and evolves, so will the tools that make it possible to easily run Linux alongside a second operating system. That's great news for anyone who wants to incorporate more open source tools into their workflow and see just how useful Linux really is.