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A bit of a silly question really - but I was wondering would it be possible to take a snapshot of a OS you are running on a computer, the convert it or so it can be run as a virtual machine in VMware or VirtualBox?

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VMware should have tools to convert a physical PC to a virtual machine, making changes in the configuration so that the OS uses the virtual hardware and drivers instead. At work, we migrated several physical computers (servers and desktops) to virtual machines in order to consolidate our computing power. Usually this is done as old hardware is disposed, and replaced by a virtual computer, with a thin client on the user's desk, or to reduce the costs of new hardware in a data centre.

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I'm going to assume from the fact that you don't mention what OS you are talking about that you mean Windows.

This is possible to do, though it is a bit glitchy and there is a good deal of luck involved. I was able to do it myself with Windows 7, with many reboots and a downloaded installation disk image. I used the guide here to do it. I would like to warn you that it is a very difficult task requiring hex editors, lots of experimentation with how VirtualBox images work, knowledge of partition tables, and a ton of free time. I think it took me an entire weekend to make it work...

tl;dr Though possible, it is not a journey for the faint of heart.

Edit: If you're talking about Linux, it is much easier. Though, due to the absence of Licensing issues, I would recommend that you just do a new install inside a virutal machine.

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+1 for the FREE VirtualBox option. –  Not So Sharp Apr 8 '13 at 23:27
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You can use VMware's VMConverter to take a snapshot of a physical disk and make a VM that is runnable under both VMPlayer and ESX servers.

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Yes, it's possible. The following are 2 articles that show you how to do that:

  1. Turn Your Old Mission-Critical PC Into A VM Before It Dies
  2. Create A Virtual Machine Clone of Your Existing (Windows) Hard Drive

The idea is (as others mentioned) to download VMware vCenter Converter (free of charge, as of the time of writing this message) and use that tool to do this magic as painlessly as possible.

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To add-on to Shannon's point when you are using VMWare Converter...please pay attention to the disk layout. If you need to limit the disk size on the VM you can do a file level copy instead of a block level copy. For example, you have a 200 GB Physical Disk. But, you need your VM to be 50 GB only. Under the disks tab of VMWare Converter you can specify the disk value so this way you don't have extra large growable disks.

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