Virtualization is the process of using software to emulate an entire computer, in which "guest" operating systems can run.

What is virtualization?

There are two types of virtualization, "hardware" and "software" virtualization, with software virtualization mostly being used in desktop and home computing. In the latter, a "host" operating system runs a virtualization software, while the "guest" operating system runs within the virtualized machine.

Virtualization allows much faster and effective use of programs that will not run on the main Operating System that is run on a physical computer.

Usage examples

Typically virtualization is used as an alternative to dual-booting a computer as both the "host" operating system and a virtualized "guest" operating system can run at the same time.

In this way a user who prefers to use a particular operating system platform can make use of features and programs that may only be available to another platform.

An example would be a Mac OS user creating a virtualized Windows OS guest in order to run Windows specific programs such as Microsoft Visio that has no direct equivalent on Mac OS. While the Mac user could dual-boot with Windows, they lose the ability to use Mac programs and access the data on the Mac side until they reboot back into MacOS, virtualization allows the use of both systems and data simultaneously.

Popular virtualization software

  • VirtualBox, free and open source virtualization for many operating systems
  • VMware, offering free and commercial virtualization for different needs
  • Parallels, virtualization for OS X users

Related tags

  • , the virtual machine itself (not the virtualization software)
  • , for the different VirtualBox editions
  • , for the family of VMware virtualization products
  • , for all Parallels versions for OS X