Looking for advice on running Windows in a virtual machine
February 21, 2008 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on eliminating my existing Windows PC in favor of a virtual machine running on Linux.

I'm going to build a new PC soon, after using my existing Windows 2000 machine for about 6 years. I want to mostly switch to Linux, but set up a virtual machine to handle all the Windows apps I really, really don't want to give up. I've never set up a VM before, and so I need some advice. Specifically, what VM should I use? KVM? Qemu? VMWare? Cost is not (necessarily) an object, it doesn't need to be free if a professional one is really far more awesome.

Also, what should I expect in terms of hardware compatibility? Will a hosted Windows instance be able to see the network printer set up via CUPS in the host OS, for example? What about USB peripherals in general - perhaps most importantly, will iTunes in a VM be able to access my iPod?

Are there any good sites (especially any with forums) directed in particular to setting up VMs? I've done a few Google searches and came up with some introductory info, but nothing to get me from here to up and running. Any good FAQ/Howto links would also be appreciated. Outside of VMs in particular, I've set up Linux a few times so I'm not completely new at compiling and configuring apps, etc., if that affects the advice you'd give. Thanks!
posted by rkent to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is something I've been thinking of doing too, actually. I've setup VMWare on windows in the past, you can get a free trial download that will work for 30 days and test it on your machine.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2008

KVM uses Qemu; in the system I just got a home (core 2 quad), it work well enough for me to run Netflix instant view in an XP image I have. USB can be made to connect through, but it's not the prettiest sort of thing. You can set up samba on the Linux host to allow windows to access files and printers on the host.

You didn't mention which Linux distribution you are using.
posted by fings at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2008

You can get VMWare for Linux for free. Do not attempt to run Vista on a virtual machine... performance of the graphics subsystem is so bad it's unusable, even with the bells and whistles turned off.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:22 PM on February 21, 2008


My experience of VMWare only is that it's good, but no replacement for a real PC. We use it for demo-ing software that needs a 2003 server. I see no reason why the virtual machine wouldn't be able to see the host printers etc. USB, not so sure I'm sorry.

PCs are so cheap these days, you could almost buy one for the cost of VMWare.
posted by mattoxic at 2:23 PM on February 21, 2008

I, personally and professionally, have a lot of exp with VMWare's products and I can't say enough great things.

VMWare Workstation works on Linux boxes and with a bit of tweaking you can get windows to play nice.

I agree with d4nj450n, and say that getting a Mac will give you a good dose of Linux/Unix and all the benefits of a good GUI, and VMWare's Fusion will let you run Windows, (XP and Vista) and many many flavors of Linux.

While getting a Mac may be more money at the outset, I feel that in the long run, you will get more bang for you buck.

Just my $0.02, but I run the Mac+Fusion setup at home and I am very happy.
posted by photodegas at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2008

I am sorry if my post comes across as if I work for VMWare, I do not and have only been a client, and am not connected in any way with them.
posted by photodegas at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far... I'm thinking of running (K)ubuntu, and don't worry, I wouldn't be installing Vista. Probably 2000 or at most XP. And mattoxic, that may be true but the point is to have fewer machines in my apartment, not more :)
posted by rkent at 2:42 PM on February 21, 2008

I use VirtualBox (it's free and open source), and it's got a great "seamless windows" feature which makes Windows apps run on the linux desktop as if they were native. I also run Vista on a VM, and the performance is great, so don't worry about the nay-sayers.

Most VM virtual drives are cross-compatible/transferable, so I wouldn't worry too much about that.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:00 PM on February 21, 2008

Depending on what sort of integration you want with USB ports, you might have trouble (iPhones especially) but if you read the forums for some of the more popular apps it looks like devs are working on solutions (VMWare and VirtualBox come to mind).
posted by blue_beetle at 3:02 PM on February 21, 2008

Here's a VirtualBox on Ubuntu guide.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:02 PM on February 21, 2008

2nd-ing VMWare. Only software (except for Quake III) that I've bought for Linux. Now I think it's almost free, at least the Player part. Have a Win2k install for years and years now for that one work app that is Windows only. A bit slow, but old hardware. Not sure about games and such, but shared folders between Linux/Windows is now built-in, no SAMBA needed. USB stuff works fine (MP3 players, Blackberries)... Have half a dozen VMWare machines from Windows to FreeBSD to Gentoo and can't really tell the difference.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:38 PM on February 21, 2008

Sorry, couldn't let this go past. You definitely do not get more bang for your buck with a MAC.

I built a PC for an elderly relative running Ubuntu, Open Office, Firefox all for $600 including 17" LCD monitor. If my elderly relative wants to run windows apps I can install either QEMU or WINE Both free and excellent. The Ubuntu GUI is excellent, and every bit as good as MAC/XP/VISTA (which is not hard)
posted by mattoxic at 3:40 PM on February 21, 2008

If you want to run both environments on one machine, and you're not too worried about what is the base OS, then you could try andLinux. I've been hearing good things about it.
posted by seanyboy at 5:10 PM on February 21, 2008

this is a better link. (for andlinux)
posted by seanyboy at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2008

VMWare Server IS free. I run it on Debian Etch for exactly what you're after. Once the XP VM is up, I just RDP to it from anywhere.

Here's a guide: http://www.howtoforge.com/debian_etch_vmware_server_howto
posted by cdmwebs at 5:31 PM on February 21, 2008

I'm happily running VMWare Workstation on Ubuntu. It will happily consume all the CPU and RAM you can afford to throw at it, but is cool for those few non-Ubuntu things one might need to do. But, uh, I've heard that some OEM Windows EULA's prohibit this setup.
posted by so at 5:46 PM on February 21, 2008

Yeah, I actually meant Server, not Workstation, sorry.
posted by so at 5:47 PM on February 21, 2008

I run a Windows XP guest inside VirtualBox on my Gentoo machine and it does all I need it to do. VirtualBox's free-as-in-beer guest packages provide a USB access framework, as well as the "seamless desktop" feature blue_beetle mentioned. In VirtualBox, the guest OS doesn't have direct access to any hardware though, so it can't be used to play any games that require DirectX. I've read that VMWare is working on this problem, but for now DirectX works better in Wine than it does in virtual machines.

Do be prepared for some rough edges in Linux. Some of the roughness is inherent to open source, and some of it is due to being a minority OS in a Windows-dominated computing world. You will run into problems, but the nice thing about Linux is that all problems are surmountable... if you have the time and interest.

One more thing; unless you're using a source-based distro like Gentoo or Slackware, or you absolutely need the latest development version of a particular software package, you shouldn't be compiling from source. Get your software packages through your distro's package management system (synaptic or yum or whatever). It will save you a lot of trouble.
posted by Loudmax at 7:18 PM on February 21, 2008

Does anyone have any idea how well this emulation/VM stuff works with 32/64 bit systems? I'm assuming you can't run 64 bit OSes on a 32 bit host, but what about 32 bit OSes on a 64 bit host?
posted by delmoi at 11:19 PM on February 21, 2008

I use VMWare Player (enable the multiverse repository, then do sudo apt-get install vmware-player) and use EasyVMX to create empty virtual machines to install stuff in. Use your existing Windows 2000 to populate a VM. Should work fine. Main thing is having bags of RAM.
posted by flabdablet at 2:33 AM on February 22, 2008

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