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Does anybody have a good description or know where I could find one?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would explain along the lines of:

Instead of using a physical hard drive, We use a file that the virtual machine uses. The operating system in the virtual machine thinks that the image file is a hard drive. And it will use it just like it. So all the files and folders are stored inside that file.

So basically the same as a hard drive except "in a file" instead of a physical piece of hardware.

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Think of it this way, a physical letter can be represented as a Word document. Now just like that letter a computer(or hard drive) can be represented as a "Virtual Machine image". Just like the Word document the Virtual Machine can be opened, used, and modified.

I say computer instead of hard drive because some people might not understand the components of a computer, which may confuse them more.

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If a real computer is like watching a play, a VM is like watching TV.

With a play you are stuck there, many people are watching (using the machine) and you see the real actors.

With TV, the actors are sorta real, you can switch quickly its cheaper to make and more flexible.

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