Don't risk documents or Windows when trying out Linux or the Windows 8 preview, VMware Player offers a safe test environment
Home computers are now powerful enough that they can simulate a complete computer as a Windows program. This is called virtualisation and it can be a very useful tool. It lets you try out alternative operating systems such as Ubuntu Linux or the Windows 8 Consumer Preview without any risk to your documents and photos. VMware Player is a tool for this that won't cost you a penny and has some useful tools to make virtualisation easy.
VMware Player is free of charge but you will need to register in order to download it. The registration page will appear when you click on Download Now. All that is required is an active email address and you will then be able to download the software. There is a long list of available downloads. We downloaded VMware Player 4.0.2 for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows.
Installation is straightforward and doesn't show any driver dialogues as Virtualbox does. A restart is required at the end of the wizard.
The first view of VMware Player is simpler than Virtualbox with a handful of options for the different tasks.
Creating a new Virtual Machine is easy with a comprehensive list of known operating systems. If you select Windows for example, the Easy Install tool can input the product key as well as your desired user name and password. This makes it much faster to install Windows as less input is required.
The setup wizard also asks for the location of the operating system installation files. These can be on a physical disc in the optical drive of the host system or a disc image such as an ISO. The latter option avoids having to make a physical disc from a download such as Ubuntu or the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.
We liked the idea of setting this from the beginning rather than the first start wizard of Virtualbox. There is the option to create a blank virtual computer but we're not sure when this would be necessary.
There are plenty of presets set out by the main families of Windows and Linux. The Linux options cover a wide range of distributions.
If you opt to install Windows, the Easy Install tool asks for your product key and preferred password. These are then entered automatically for you. It is possible to leave the product key blank and enter it once Windows has installed.
Easy Install also worked with the beta version of Ubuntu 12.04 and performed the install pretty much unattended. This makes it the easiest way to try Ubuntu we have come across so far.
The default hard disk size is 60GB which is quite large but they start as small as possible and get bigger as required. It is possible to tell it to split the disk image into multiple files. This is good for backup but maybe not for performance.
It is possible to change some of the hardware settings before startin, including the amount of RAM dedicated to the virtual machine. Helpful icons on the scale show how much they recommend.
Clicking inside the virtual window will capture the mouse pointer. press Control and Alt to release it.
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An excellent way of trying out different operating systems using virtual computers
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