If you wanted to run multiple Linux systems on one computer, you had to multi-boot them. One great thing about Linux is that it works well with virtual machines. Linux virtual machines have many hidden advantages that most users are not aware of.
1. Quick start
Virtual machines can start up faster than a "bare metal" installation on actual hardware. This can be because a virtual machine does not need to undergo the power-on tests that a physical machine performs at startup. You can work on a Linux virtual machine without losing any time.
2. Isolated environment
A Linux virtual machine is isolated from the host operating system. This means that all operating system installation problems are limited to this virtual machine.
If your virtual operating system is corrupted or affected by malware, you can simply restore your snapshots or backups (more on that later) and proceed as if it hadn't happened. And since only the virtual system is affected, you can use your normal machine as usual.
They can also have a specific environment that you need for an application. A developer can deliver the environment together with an application. This lightweight containerized approach like Docker has become a popular way to deploy software on servers.
If you're using Linux, most of the time if you need to use a Windows application that won't work with Wine, you can run it on a VirtualBox machine instead of creating a dual-boot system. It also works the other way around. If you can live with the overhead, virtual machines are more flexible than dual-boot systems for all of the reasons mentioned.
3. You can clone virtual machines
A Linux desktop is wonderful, but what happens when you get a new machine? You'll need to migrate all of your files and reinstall all of your applications.
With a virtual machine, you can export the system and move it to the new physical machine and pick up where you left off.
You can also share your surroundings with others. You can create a standard environment for developing and testing an application that is the same for members of your development team.
With the ability to capture snapshots, you can undo any changes to your system that are performing poorly.
4. You can try different distributions
Much of the fun with Linux comes from trying new distributions. You can keep using your favorite distribution while you experiment with different ones.
It is a hassle to repartition your hard drive for each new system, but creating new virtual machines is trivial. You can avoid fiddling with CD-Rs or looking for replacement USB drives to start a live distribution.
When you're done testing a system, you can simply delete the virtual machine if you don't want to.
If you're using a stable distribution like Debian, you can try a cutting-edge system like Arch Linux. Because it is isolated from your stable system, you can experiment without risking your main operating system.
5. Easy backup and restore
It is easier to back up and restore virtual machines than it is for a physical system. You can take a snapshot of a virtual machine in a known working configuration before making any major changes. If these changes cause problems, you can simply go back to where you were by loading the snapshot you took.
Since you can take and restore snapshots, it's safe to experiment with Linux configurations. Taking snapshots will save you a lot of frustration as you can spend time working instead of troubleshooting.
6. You can use pre-made pictures
In addition to quickly starting using a virtual machine over a physical installation, you can also save time by using pre-built images.
Repositories consist of pre-built virtual machines for almost any open source operating system, such as the OSBoxes site for VirtualBox. The advantage is that you save yourself the installation process and can start working on the new machine.
These systems come with standard administrator accounts, so you should change the passwords. Security is less important on a virtual machine that runs only on your local system, but you should develop good habits.
7. Easy to learn Linux / IT concepts
If you are new to Linux, the best way to learn is on a virtual machine. You can become familiar with installing, configuring, and using Linux without having to tear down your existing environment. It's also more convenient than using Windows Subsystem for Linux.
If you're using Linux on the desktop and want to learn how to run Linux on servers, you can experiment on a VM instead of buying expensive additional hardware. You could go to a LAMP stack on a Linux virtual server and learn how to write web applications.
There's a reason virtualization is so important to many IT departments. Virtual machines are a great way to set up a "home laboratory" virtual server without the cost or space of physical machines.
8. Different virtual machines on one computer
You can easily set up different Linux virtual machines on one physical machine. You may have a limited physical amount of space on your desk. You might just want to manage one computer.
You can use different virtual machines for different purposes. Perhaps you have a small, stable Debian server or a state-of-the-art Arch desktop. You could also set up a database server or a router on a server. You can connect all of these in their own virtual networks.
Linux virtual machines use your hardware efficiently. Even the cheapest computer you can buy can run multiple virtual machines with reasonable performance. So why not take advantage of your computer's hidden capabilities and let them work for you?
Virtualization and Linux: a successful combination
One reason Linux is so widespread is that it can coexist with different systems. Virtualization makes it possible. You can create multiple Linux machines on one physical computer and move them as needed. It's hard to imagine that Linux would be where it is without virtual machines.
VirtualBox is the leading open source virtualization application, and there are ways to improve your Linux virtual machines to get the most out of them.
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About the author
(48 published articles)
David is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest but originally from the Bay Area. He has been passionate about technology since childhood. David's interests include reading, watching quality TV shows and movies, retro games, and collecting records.
By David Delony
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