I’ve been smoothly running Windows XP on my Intel-based MacBook for about a week now, and the experience has been great so far. With VMware Fusion, I am able to run a complete virtual operating system directly through Mac OS X.
I’d like to clarify what it means to be running a “virtual operating system,” because before I set this up, I was quite confused.
A virtual operating system is simply a file, which when launched, opens up an application which exhibits your virtual operating system (for example, you can run Windows or Linux on Mac OS X). On Mac OS X, it’s like launching any other application, expect the applications’ content is actually another operating system. You don’t have to reboot Mac OS X, or anything like that. The virtual operating system runs right on top of the existing operating system.
Anything you do, from simply moving the mouse to installing applications, all works as it normally would work if you were physically on a box running that OS. You can do anything at all – browse the web, write email, launch and install applications. It’s almost like you’re using remote desktop into another computer.
What’s supremely nice about virtualization is that you can create as many “desktops” as you’d like. You’ll need a genuine copy of the operating system, but once you have that, you can create many instances of that operating system, perhaps to help juggle your daily workflow. For example, let’s say you have one desktop for work, and one for gaming. You can keep those desktops separate, and thus avoid excess clutter to better manage your resources.
Even better, you can carry your virtual desktops around with you! Use any external media device, such as a hard drive or iPod. Plug it into any available computer (we could call it a “host computer”), and presto! – there’s your desktop, just as you left it. When you’re finished working, save the “state,” and take your desktop with you. There’s no trace that you even used the host computer!
Avoid crashes by taking snapshots
At any time, you can take a snapshot of your virtual environment, which preserves everything you’ve been doing. If the OS later crashes (as Windows loves to do), you can simply roll back to the snapshot!
Enjoy Windows-only apps on OS X
As an avid Mac user, I enjoy the design and intuitiveness of OS X. However, sometimes it’s necessary to be able to run Windows-only applications. With virtualization, I am set. All those PC-only games? I can enjoy them all now, from right inside Mac OS X.
File size details
It’s important to understand that you need a good amount of available disk space to hold the virtual operating system file. The more applications you install on your virtual operating system, the larger the file becomes.
A rough estimate of a clean install of Windows XP was around 2 GB. As I began installing applications, that number climbed quickly.
Handling your virtual operating systems
A good approach is to handle your virtual operating systems on an external media device.
If you have a limited budget, large capacity external hard drives are really affordable these days. However, if you ask me, the thought of lugging around an external hard drive doesn’t fit my lifestyle, unless it also serves another “mobile” purpose.
How about a 160 GB iPod? That leaves you plenty of room for music, videos, and your virtual operating systems. I like this approach better because then the device actually serves another purpose (listening to music and watching videos) when it’s not being used to access a virtual OS.
If you want something smaller and less conspicuous, I’ve noticed 8 and 16 GB USB thumb drives on the market. This may be enough for a small to medium sized virtual OS. With this, you can attach it to your keychain! Talk about inconspicuous!
Keep in mind the speed of the external device – things may work a tad slower.