An Overview of Computer Virtualization

Updated 4/22/20

Computer virtualization is something that has been around for several years. I have used various forms of virtualization on all platforms – Windows, OSX, and Linux.

There are three types of virtualization – full virtualization, para-virtualization, and OS-level virtualization. OS-level virtualization allows for virtual environments. All guests must be running the same OS. Full and para-virtualization allow for guests with a different OS. Both full virtualization and para-virtualization make use of a hypervisor.

A Type 1 hypervisor runs directly on the host’s hardware. The guest operating systems running on a level above the hypervisor. A Type 2 hypervisor runs within the conventional operating system environment. They are like any other application. The guest operating systems run at a “third” level above the hardware.

Some examples of these are:


Name URL Type Host OS Guest OS Cost
VMware Workstation 2 Windows, Linux Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, OSx86 (as FreeBSD), virtual appliances, Netware, OS/2, SCO, BeOS, Haiku, Darwin, others $249.99
VMware Fusion 2 macOS Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, OSx86 (as FreeBSD), virtual appliances, Netware, OS/2, SCO, BeOS, Haiku, Darwin, others $79.99
VMware Workstation Player (runs a single virtual machine on a Windows or Linux computer) 2 Windows, Linux $79.99 (a free version available for non-commercial, personal and home use)
Parallels Desktop 2 macOS DOS, Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, OS/2, eComStation, Solaris, Haiku $79.99
Virtual Box

[See my product review] 2 Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris, FreeBSD DOS, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, Haiku, OS/2, Solaris, Syllable, Windows, and OpenBSD (with Intel VT-x or AMD-V) Free

Some of these virtualization systems support running macOS as a guest. All will support Linux guests and most will support Windows guests. Consult the respective web pages for the details.

The best performance from the hardware will come from using a Type 1 virtualization hypervisor. But they are more difficult to set up and manage. Generally speaking, Type 1 hypervisors are more at home in the enterprise data center than on a home PC.

Type 2 hypervisor solutions are the ones most often used on a home computer. They allow quick setup and easy management of the virtual environment. They also allow the virtual system to be shut down when not needed so that the computer can return to normal use.

All these will allow one or more guest systems to share the computer hardware. Having enough memory (dictated by the guest OS and the application) is critical. Without adequate memory performance of the guest will suffer. Likewise, a multiprocessor/multithreading CPU is also recommended.

Further Reading

  1. Virtualization
  2. Hardware virtualization
  3. Comparison of platform virtualization software

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