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I'd like to set up a virtual machine for my development so that I can keep the heavy weight of additional services and clunk separate from my "lighter" computing (browsing web, checking email, playing a game or two).

I've heard so much about the different virtual machine software available that I really don't know which way to go. I'd prefer not to pay for enterprise level software, but want something that's simple to set up and use, and allows me to backup my VM at points when I am happy with the state of it.

What VM software do you recommend, and why? This is for use on a Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC.

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migrated from serverfault.com Nov 27 '09 at 9:30

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8 Answers 8

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Most of the VM players are offering free versions of their products, mostly aimed at developers and small businesses.

They typically lack the enterprisy features (High availability, resource allocation, fine permissions models) and scalability (clustering), but are nevertheless running the same core virtualization technology as the commercial products.

First, decide if you want a virtualisation product that can run on top of your existing workstation installation, or if you have some dedicated hardware that you can install a 'bare metal' hypervisor onto. The latter will net you higher performance, but there's perhaps a steeper learning curve and the prerequisite that you need some spare kit.

For the 'on my workstation' option, some candidates are:

  • Sun VirtualBox
  • Microsoft VirtualPC
  • VMWare Player or Server

For the dedicated server, there's:

  • VMWare ESXi
  • Citrix Zenserver
  • Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008

These lists are by no means complete. Personally, I'd recommend Sun VirtualBox for ease of use and general straightforwards usage. ESXi is fantastic if you want something a bit gruntier. ESXi is also a more valuable learning tool if you ever come to work with full-blown VMWare vSphere in the future.

Most of the above products come with some roll-back feature built in (in VirtualBox and ESXi it's 'snapshots'). For backups, shutting down the VMs then backing up the hard disk files is a simple but effective measure.

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I'm going to give VirtualBox a go. Ticks my "open-source/free" box and looks like it's simple enough to get started with without needing to make a career move to IT from IS. –  Bernhard Hofmann Nov 26 '09 at 10:49
For anyone reading this, the Sun VirtualBox user manual has a superb introduction to Virtual Machines, what they are and what they do for you. Still reading but sufficiently impressed to come back and let everyone know about it. –  Bernhard Hofmann Nov 26 '09 at 13:56

give virtualbox a try..it's great and free

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Yes, I have tried it now at last. I was impressed that I managed to install 64 bit Windows 7 on a VM running on the same (Windows 7 64 bit). I like how it switches between host and VM; it's very nicely designed, and the dynamic drive size is excellent as well. –  Bernhard Hofmann Dec 12 '09 at 7:46

I use VMWare. It is not free but it is the best virtual machine software.

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The best? Did you forget a [citation required] ? :) –  gekkz Nov 26 '09 at 12:54
I am a developer and I have used Virual Box, Bochs, QEMU, Hyper-V, Xen and VmWare. Only VmWare has a good snapshot system (snapshots of live system taking in background and a snapshot tree). Also it has a special Record/Replay feature for reproducing bugs. –  Sergius Nov 27 '09 at 7:54
@Sergius I think gekkz point is that you are expressing an opinion based on your experience, yet you didn't include "in my opinion" when stating it was the best. –  AaronLS Mar 31 '10 at 19:55

VMWare Player 3 is free and now supports the ability to create virtual machines and has support for Windows 7.

Try either VirtualBox or VMWare player and see which gives you the performance and easy configuration that you need.


I have just installed and confirmed that it does indeed support the ability to create VM's as specified on VMWare's website and many blogs around the world. Is the same UI as VMWare Workstation 7. No more hacking for this functionality and @ only 80Mb is a small footprint for basic VM usage.

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VMware player doesn't support the ability to create VMs natively. THere are some interesting hacks out there -- including some sites that will create the base VMs for you. But it isn't built-in. –  Chris_K Nov 26 '09 at 14:29
Did you look at the new version? I think you will find VMWare has updated it to keep up with the competition. I am downloading now to ensure their statement is fact –  Wayne Nov 26 '09 at 22:29
I'll be damned. I feel rather silly for just having paid money for Workstation to make it more convenient to create new machines... –  Chris_K Nov 29 '09 at 22:01

Virtual Box works well for me - I've got about a dozen VMs hosted in it on my Dev PC. If you're using Windows 7 Pro/Ultimate, you can download the XP Mode VM for Virtual PC as well, although I've not used it yet for development work. Of course, if your development work involves graphics then a VM is less useful, as support for stuff like DirectX in VMs is still new/experimental.

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Very good point about the graphics support in VMs. I suspect the boot from VHD is a boon for that sort of thing. Not sure though, I've not done it yet. –  Bernhard Hofmann Dec 12 '09 at 7:49

If your host will be Windows 7, Professional or better, I'd recommend Windows Virtual PC. The integration components work great with the host OS. I have setup several virtual environments depending on what platform I am targeting.

I have not seen this mentioned and I feel it is import: Does your hardware support Intel or AMD virtualization? If not, it will limit your Virtualization options. This is a requirement for Windows Virtual PC. There are still new machines sold today that do not support Intel or AMD virtualization.

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Very valid point; virtualisation was switched off in the BIOS and I had to enable it in order to get 64-bit support in the VM. I've heard good things about booting from virtual hard drives (VHDs), but VirtualBox has ticked all my boxes so far. –  Bernhard Hofmann Dec 12 '09 at 7:48

It'd try VMWare Server first, it's very powerful (64-bit, W2K8/Vista support), creates VMs in an industry-standard way and is free! - HERE is the link.

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I use VMWare Workstation. While it's not free, it is very good - you have a lot more control over the virtual hardware (can setup 2 monitors for the VM, for instance) and you can easily tab back and forth between multiple VM's (say one for development and the other for testing)

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