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Is there a virtual machine package (in the same sense as Parallels, VMWare, or Xen) that can run a single image identically inside an OSX host, a Linux host, a Windows host, as well as booting from bare metal into the image from a USB drive.

In other words, is there a VM package that allows me to take my favorite desktop environment on a USB drive and use it on any PC in the world that can either

  1. boot off a USB drive or

  2. run an executable off a USB drive?

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Option 1 means that the host is on the USB drive itself, so would ideally be linux. Option 2 seems to be asking for an executable that can run on all three operating systems, which can't happen. Can you clarify the question a bit more? – Paul Nov 2 '11 at 1:38

Well, as long as you have some sort of decent virtual machine software installed on it, OVF is supposed to be the common package for cross portable VMs - you can run or import an OVF on virtualbox and vmware.

Considering your requirements virtualbox might be the best option - runs on the big 3 oses and has a portable version on windows (which requires admin rights). It exports to OVF and can read them (and i recommend keeping the VM in that format, rather than the native one, for better cross host portability, in case you needed to run it on VMware hosts)

If you want it to boot off a USB drive, you'd probably be able to run virtualbox off a USB stick. Having it totally portable is tricky - you could use a USB hard drive, and have a linux partition (for a bootable OS to run the VM host on),and have portable VM software (eg virtualbox portable) and the VM on a second drive (NTFS will likely be best for this, as long as your OS X systems have macfuse, else go FAT32, and have split volumes for your VM).

Another alternative to look at, though much worse performance-wise is QEMU. It runs networking WITHOUT an install or admin rights, and once again runs on the big 3. No idea of OVF support - it has its own format.

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