For the last year or so, I have been using virtual machines (not the Java/CLR type, but the ones that enable you to run a guest operating system on a host machine) for two purposes: software reviews and long Web searches.
The use in reviews saves from me from loading and unloading software and slowly corrupting my Windows registry and dotting my win32 directory with leftover DLLs. The use in long Web surfs is to protect myself from malware. In the latter case, if your virtual machine is corrupted by malware, the entire damage is contained to the small set of files that constitute that virtual machine. You blow them away, clone an existing virtual machine, and you’re back in business. Nothing else is affected–nothing on the host system, nor any other virtual machine. Pretty cool.
Anyway, for the last year I have been using Virtual PC from Microsoft, which does a creditable job. This month, I switched to VMware Workstation 5.5. What a difference! The most conspicuous advantage of VMware is performance. When you’re running VMware at full screen, it’s hard to tell that you’re in anything but your regular, native desktop. I haven’t benchmarked it, but it’s very, very close. In contrast, with Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, you always know you’re in a virtual machine because performance is very slow. Opening dialog boxes, moving windows, starting up applications–all these actions arevisibly slow. So, not only does everything take a long time, but it is harder to assess the performance characteristics of software.
So a recommendation and a tip of the hat to VMware for a great implementation.