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Currently my system needs a major reinstall. Running an ever slowing down Windows Vista it's time to do a format c: and start over. Since I don't want to re-install Windows Vista as my main OS and I don't want to buy a Windows 7 license I'm considering something else.

One of the biggest problems I currently encounter is pollution. As a software developer (java web apps) I experiment with a lot of tools, database systems, application servers, etc. Also, I'm very curious and try out a lot of other software. Needless to say, in the long run my PC starts to suffer from it.

Also, I use my PC for photo and video editing.

What I'm considering is configuring my system with various virtual machines, one for every task I use my PC for, a couple as test machines (for my development work) and sandbox VM's. So, in that case I would install a very lightweight Linux as main OS (maybe try my first LFS to keep it as small as possible) with only a web browser installed and VirtualBox. For every task I need my PC for I would create a VM which I can start depending on what I want to do.

What I'm worried about: how workable is this? Is the performance of VirtualBox VM's good enough to do this? I would accept a slight reduction in performance compared to running an OS native, but not too much. Also, especially for the photo and video editing, how is the hardware support? Will I be able to watch a video in full HD and connect my camera? I currently have a single screen setup, but I'm considering an upgrade; will this work with a dual screen setup? In the end, I would like to work on the VM's as if they were my main OS.

So, what do you think? Is this a feasible option?

BTW: I also considered some other options, but they didn't feel right:

  • Install a full blown OS (Linux) for all my tasks and only use VM's for test environments and for sand-boxing.

    • I probably need a Windows VM for some tools anyway and I fear performance of the VM will drop when ran in a full blown host OS using up quite some resources
  • Install multiple OSes (dual/triple/etc boot) and use VM's for test environments and for sandboxing

    • I don't like rebooting when I want to switch tasks.
share|improve this question
What are your computer specifications? I usually run two virtual machines simultaneously on my laptop, with little to no slow down. Host: Windows 7 | Guests: Windows 7, Ubuntu 11.10 | RAM: 8 GB | CPU: Quad Core 2.33 GHz... :) – iglvzx Dec 22 '11 at 21:21
It's a Quad Core 2.33 GHz (sounds familiar? :-) ) with 4 GB. Next to upgrading to a dual screen setup I also want to upgrade the RAM to 8 or 16GB – Mark Dec 23 '11 at 8:01
Linux based OSs don't use up anywhere near as much cpu cycles/ram as Windows does. Well, Fedora doesn't. I don't have much experience with other distros. – SaintWacko Dec 23 '11 at 16:51
Anybody has any thoughts on the performance/workability part of my question? Will I be able to use a VM as if it was my main OS (including dual screen support) and will it be able to edit/watch full HD video? – Mark Dec 28 '11 at 9:18
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It depends on what you mean by pollution. If you mean that your PC is polluted with other processes taking up the CPU usage, then having separate VMs for multiple tasks will not help you. The CPU will still have to be used for those separate running tasks.

If you mean that the pollution is coming from having miscellaneous files clutter everything up, then you may benefit from having the separate VMs. It will help to keep everything absolutely separate.

My recommendation is to keep your main OS with the main programs you use for development. Then, have a separate VM that you use to test out new applications and software that you aren't sure you want into your mainstream development OS. VMs are perfect for this kind of testing.

share|improve this answer
No, it's not the processes. I'm pretty successful in forcing Windows to only run processes I approve of ;) I occasionally do some 'maintenance' (uninstall/delete all stuff I don't use anymore, reorganize data on the disks and free up disk space, check for spyware/viruses with a second scanner, run reg cleaners, etc), but somehow Windows always manages to slow down. So, to be completely honest, I don;t even know what exactly is polluting my Windows installation. – Mark Dec 23 '11 at 8:05

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