All of us know that an operating system (like Windows, Linux, Android, etc) is a set of programs that manage different resources of a computing device and lets us run multiple applications at a time. When you install an OS on to a machine, it gets fully connected to the hardware in which it is installed. This means if you alter a part of the hardware (like changing a hard disk) the OS will get disturbed. In addition, though you can install multiple operating systems on to a machine you cannot run them simultaneously. You may have a Windows computer and occasionally you may need to be able to use programs that run on Linux or some other OS. This is where the concept of virtualisation, which separates the operating system from the hardware, comes into play.
The virtualisation software provides a software layer on the hardware in which one can install an instance of an OS. The advantage here is that you can now install multiple instances of different operating systems onto one piece of a physical computing system. One can install a virtualisation software directly into the hardware and then install instances of the different operating systems.
Another means to implement virtualisation is to install a virtualisation software onto an operating system. The OS that you install directly onto the hardware is called host OS. For ordinary users, this is the best virtualisation solution. Here we will discuss how we can implement a virtualisation solution on a Windows system using the virtualisation program called VirtualBox.
VirtualBox is a free and opensource solution to be able to run other operating systems virtually on your PC. Basically what the software does is that it allows an entire operating system (generally referred to as guest) to run on another operating system (referred to as the host). As already pointed out, there are several reasons why you would like to run a virtual machine on your computer. Some of them might include: you need access to a software that is not available on your host OS (note: you cannot run a Windows application on Linux); you wish to have access to multiple operating systems simultaneously or you are just curious about trying out another operating system.
VirtualBox installation process
To get started with the software, access the site, download the version that suits your host OS and install it. If you are using Windows 10, before beginning the installation process make sure to enable the hardware virtulisation feature. To check if it is enabled, invoke the ‘Task Manager’ (<Shift><ctrl><Esc>), and look at the ‘Virtualisation’ part (screenshot below).
If it is not enabled, access the BIOS setup and enable ‘hardware virtualization’ under the system configuration menu.
Let us come back to the Virtualbox setup process. During the installation process, you may get the warning that Virtualbox will reset your network connection and temporarily disconnect you from the network- simply select ‘yes’ and proceed. Once the software has been installed, load it and you will find the following screen:
Now, before moving further, if your intention is to install another operating system, (say Ubuntu ) as a guest OS, you need download its CD image (the ‘iso’ file) from the relevant source (in the case of Ubuntu, you can find the file here) and keep the image file ready.
Before installing the OS you need to create a virtual PC. For this, click on the ‘New’ button (in the upper-left of the Virtualbox interface), give an appropriate name to it and select the type and version of its OS (guest OS). Next, select the amount of memory you wish to allocate to the guest system (virtual machine)- simply select the default if you are not sure of what you are doing. Next, select ‘create virtual hard disk’, then select the type of file you wish to use for the new virtual hard disk (the default option is fine).
Once done with the virtual machine setup, you will find its icon in the Virtualbox interface. Now you can fine-tune its other settings (like Network, Shared Folder etc).
Move to the Storage, which will help you integrate the guest OS ‘ISO’ image (downloaded earlier) with the virtual system.
Access the ‘Empty’ button (under ‘Controller: IDE’) and to the right where it says ‘IDE Secondary Master’, you will find a disc icon (screenshot above); select it and access the option ‘Choose Virtual Optical Disk File …’, find the location of your OS image file and select it. So, now you have loaded the ISO file into the virtual optical drive of your machine. Now, move to the ‘System’, change the boot order and make the Optical drive as the first one.
Next, you need to install the guest OS. For this, power on your virtual PC by pressing the ‘Start’ button. The virtual system will boot from the optical drive and begin the installation process. Just go through the different steps (by entering the appropriate information). Once the installation is done, pause the system for a while, change the boot order again (this time it should boot up from the virtual hard disk) and restart the machine.
It is likely that you wish to exchange information between your host and guest systems: you may wish to cut some content from an application in the host machine to the guest (or vice versa) or share folders with each other. For this, you need to do two things. First in the Settings/General/Advanced, choose the option ‘Bidirectional’ for ‘Shared Clipboard’ and ‘Drag’nDrop’.
In addition, you need to install a module called ‘Guest Additions’. For this, move over to the guest OS window, press the keys <Right-Ctrl><Home> and select the option ‘Insert Guest Additions …’ from the menu that pops up (screenshot below).
Aside from information exchange between the host and the guest systems, you may also wish to seamlessly access some applications running on them. For instance, if the guest OS has a web server running on it, you may wish to access it from the host or from some other devices on your network. To make this possible you need to make some adjustments to the ‘Network’ feature. By default, Virtualbox enables one of your network cards and selects the option ‘NAT’, which will enable the guest OS to access the external world. If you wish to run both systems –host and the guest- on the same network, choose the ‘Bridged Adaptor’ networking option.