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This isn't a server question per se,

but I wonder if I can have my operating system be, more or less, a VM. Right now, I have Windows XP, and run linux (most of the time) in VMware. I would just switch to linux, but I like being able to switch back and forth, and I need Windows for a lot of things.

I guess I could just run Windows in the VM, but that would basically just be the same thing, in reverse. What I would really like to do is to have both of them (and maybe m*oa*r in the future) in a virtual machine, and never use the host OS. Of course, as it is now, Windows is using a lot of its own resources--and the virtual hard drive is on the same hard drive as Windows, so everything is just... Slow and muddy. It'd be nice to have a really quick OS that only runs the VM, and doesn't do anything else but provide virtualization for the other operating systems. It would make dual booting incredibly easy, as well as installing new operating systems, and the like. Plus you could quick-switch between two or three different environments, or boot one while you use the other, etc.

Is there an OS suitable for this task? Is there a VM suitable for this task? I mean, it'd be nice if the host didn't have to load up it's whole graphical environment and could just load the VM into a command-line sort of interface... Can this be done with existing (preferably free) software?

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You should change the title of your post. Your host OS cannot be a VM, as a VM runs on a host by definition, but that's not the question you're really asking. What you're looking for is a bare-metal hyper-visor...I think that's what you're getting at anyway. –  MDMarra Jul 19 '09 at 3:00
    
a bare-metal hyper-visor? Can you elaborate on that in your answer? –  Carson Myers Jul 19 '09 at 3:07
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A bare-metal hypervisor is a virtualization platform that is very close to the "metal" or physical hardware. Generally it only exists to run VMs. As I have listed in the answers, VMWare ESXi is a prime example of a free bare-metal hypervisor. –  MDMarra Jul 19 '09 at 8:41
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9 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

VMWare ESX or ESXi (free) is what you want. You'll need two computers for ESXi, as VMs can only be accessed remotely through the VI client.

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I thought I saw a console access to ESXi. Was I dreaming? –  pcapademic Jul 19 '09 at 4:35
    
Supported console access is for ESX, which is not free. VI Client remote access is free for ESXi –  MDMarra Jul 19 '09 at 8:42
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is the remote access part true for all hyper-visors? Or just ESXi? –  Carson Myers Jul 28 '09 at 21:34
    
Different vendors handle it differently. Most offer direct graphical access from the hypervisor, but ESXi is one of the fastest, most mature, stable and cheap (free). I've never dealt with Xen, but I have with Virtual PC, Parallels and other VMWare products and if you're looking for near-native performance, then ESX or ESXi is worth a look –  MDMarra Jul 29 '09 at 3:47
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Xen will do what you want.

You will need a Dom0 which is the OS that manages the whole show, but a minimal linux install will do all you want.

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Well, yes you can do this, but you will have some underlying OS, even if it is a bare metal hypervisor. If it is a hypervisor, you will need another computer (running a GUI) to to access the VMs though.

So if you are trying to do this on a single machine, you need to find the smallest OS that will still run the hypervisor. Or like duffbeer703 hinted at, wait till a BIOS level hypervisor comes out...

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As a lightweight OS that can support VMs, I recommend Xen on NetBSD

But I may have a better solution to run applications from 2 OSs - coLinux, which can be installed on windows.

More about colinux: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colinux

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I think there is a big market for just making dual booting easier.

Type 1 hypervisors like VMware ESX and Hyper-V create thin layers between the hardware and the virtual machines. These are focussed on the data centre and do not have good VM support for desktop hardware like 3D acceleration or even USB in the case of Hyper-V.

Type 2 hypervisors like Microsoft Virtual Server or VMware Workstation runs on top of an operating system and have better support for desktop hardware but inherits the limitations of the host operating system.

I ran Ubuntu for awhile with VMware Workstation to run Windows but had trouble sometimes connecting to Windows networks. You have to get the host networking up before having a chance of connecting your VM's.

Then I switched the other way I found that I could not have software RAID 10 anymore and that Windows does not have an equivalent for LVM.

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You probably want to do some research into the vPro roadmap. Unfortunately, I'm under NDA and am not sure what I can talk about, but Intel is anticipating having the ability to run virtualized operating systems on vPro-enabled PCs in the near future.

This would be exactly what you are looking for. I'd suggest Googling around... but here is Citrix's press release about the technology.

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+1 because I'm not sure you deserved a downvote, and thanks for the suggestion –  Carson Myers Jul 28 '09 at 21:37
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ESXi and Hyper-V Server basically does that... but both leaves you with no local graphical console to the guests (only command line) - you need to run a remote console to get any graphical interface to the guests - and that will not be accelerated enough for gaming and stuff, not right now anyway.

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ah, I see--I'm not really a gamer though, so I suppose that's not a huge thing. –  Carson Myers Jul 28 '09 at 21:40
    
With the beta service pack Hyper-V can do remote graphics acceleration (to a Win7 client with the same SP only). It's pretty network intensive, but does work (keep in mind it's still beta, you may find applications that don't work). –  Chris S Dec 9 '10 at 2:13
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Another potential solution to look at is the Xen 3.4 hypervisor

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Thanks, I'm starting to look into that now –  Carson Myers Jul 28 '09 at 21:38
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I think the answer you are leading to is yes.

Yes, you can install VMWare, VirtualPC or VirtualBox under Windows or you can install Xen or other under Linux.

However, you should really look at your needs in both systems. If you are playing a lot of games, it is likely you want to run your linux under windows. If you are not, it may be possible with Wine to remove Windows from the equation altogether.

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hmm, well what I was trying to do was not run either under the other--just have multiple OSes running in virtual machines, and the virtual machine running on basically nothing--just something that will boot and only run the VM software –  Carson Myers Jul 19 '09 at 3:05
    
You have to have one host. It can be very lightweight, but it is there nonetheless. Look at Xen's linux-based host, and you can see an example. The point I'm trying to make is that if you need Windows, Linux runs much better than it as a virtual –  Thunder3 Jul 19 '09 at 3:51
    
ahh, I see your point. –  Carson Myers Jul 28 '09 at 21:40
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