Create Two Virtual PCs Out of One

For most of us, it's one PC and one operating system. And that OS is usually Windows 95 or 98.

It is possible to install Windows NT on a PC that's running Windows 95/98, creating a dual-boot PC. But what if you want to use additional operating systems, such as Windows 3.1, DOS, or Linux, for example?

So far the only way to do that on a single PC has been to use a third-party utility like PowerQuest's BootMagic or V Communications' System Commander. These utilities do the job, but you can only run one operating system at a time, and you need to reboot the system every time you want to change.

Now there's VMware for Windows NT and Windows 2000. Announced this week, this utility is available as a 3MB download from the company's Web site. VMware lets you run multiple operating systems at the same time "on top" of Windows NT or Windows 2000. The utility runs the operating systems in what the company calls virtual machines, switching between them without the need to restart your PC.

For the next 30 days, the home/educational version is available for $75, and the corporate version is available for $199. The prices will then go up to $99 and $299, respectively. VMware also offers a free 30-day evaluation version, and the company also sells VMware for Linux, which allows multiple operating systems to run concurrently on top of Linux.

Two PCs in One

Each virtual machine is a complete PC that can access the hardware of the host machine, including CD-ROM, hard and floppy drives, serial and parallel ports, and network cards. The product also creates a virtual SoundBlaster 16 compatible sound card.

Minimum hardware requirements for VMware for Windows NT/2000 are a Pentium-233 processor and 96MB of memory. The product can run Windows 95/98, Windows 3.1, DOS, all major variants of Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and other BSD versions for Unix, and Solaris for Intel processors. The company is working on Netware support.

VMware for NT/2000, according to the company, consumes few system resources, doesn't require any disk repartitioning or system reconfiguration, and doesn't modify Windows NT/2000 in any way.

Each virtual machine is fully insulated from the NT/2000 host operating system, and problems or crashes affect neither the host nor the other running operating system. The company claims this makes it ideal for trying out new operating systems or applications.

According to the company, most major applications run without problems in their respective virtual machines, although many games aren't supported.

The company acknowledges that there are "major known issues and limitations" with VMware 2000/NT, which are detailed on the VMware Web site. These problems include slow floppy performance, non-support of LS-120 SuperDisks, and problems with AMD K6 and Cyrix processors. In addition, virtual machines cannot play audio CDs, and CD-R and CD-RW drives can only be used for reading discs.

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