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What is a Virtual Machine

A virtual machine is an emulation of another operating system within a host operating system. Virtual machines are often used to overcome compatibility issues with older hardware and software which no longer works properly with newer operating systems. For example, consider a device which can only be connected to a computer running Windows XP. The problem is that your computer is running Windows Vista or Windows 7 and you cannot connect the device to any computer running either of these operating systems - the device simply won't appear when you plug it in, or there are no drivers available for it.

To overcome such a problem, you'll need to run Windows XP, but it's a major job to partition your hard drive and install a completely separate copy of Windows XP. Fortunately, there's a feature available for Windows 7 called "Windows Virtual PC." Although this particular virtualization software is only available for the higher editions of Windows 7, there are various other virtual PC programs as well.

Using this software, you can create a virtual computer running within your host operating system (Windows 7). The virtual computer runs in a separate window on top of Windows 7. It basically emulates an older computer running Windows XP. For this to work, you'll need to download a copy of Windows XP, which is available for free for Windows Virtual PC. It is usually referred to as "Windows XP Mode."

You will install the copy of Windows into the virtual computer and then you'll be able to continue using it just as you would if the computer were running Windows XP as its main operating system. Through the virtual machine, you'll now be able to connect your device and overcome the incompatibility issue with later versions of Windows.

These days, virtual PCs are assisted by both hardware and software virtualization. This means the virtual PCs can emulate more powerful computers due to the fact that the processor is optimized for virtualization. When looking at specifications for computer processors, you'll often see the term "hardware virtualization." Most modern processors support this feature.


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