Run Windows in Ubuntu with VirtualBox

In previous blog entries, we highlighted the imminent end of support for Windows XP, and how Ubuntu can function as a superior (and completely free) replacement. In this blog entry, we'll explore an innovative, easy method that businesses looking to make the switch to Ubuntu can use to retain Windows XP if needed.

In evaluating whether a switch from Windows XP is feasible, business owners may find that their staff depend on certain software applications, which cannot easily be replaced by their Ubuntu-based equivalents. For these particular scenarios, a number of effective workarounds can be used. For instance, the physical computer running the critical application can be retained, while the rest of the business adopts Ubuntu. While this approach can buy time to explore alternatives, the drawback is the additional hassle of maintaining an extra computer—with all of the associated security, backup, and hardware problems. A far superior alternative is to use desktop virtualisation software to create a Windows XP virtual machine.

Desktop virtualisation allows you to create a virtual copy of a physical computer. This virtual copy is known as a virtual machine (VM). The VM runs in its own window within your existing computer's operating system (OS), and it behaves the same as its physical equivalent. For example, we can use a Windows XP installation disc to create our own Windows XP VM, and have it run within Ubuntu:

The VM runs most of your software just like on a physical computer—but because it's virtual we gain many super-useful advantages. For example:

  • A VM can be copied to an external drive and reinstalled on another host computer in a matter of minutes—with all the applications and configuration perfectly intact.
  • Instant point-in-time copies called snapshots can be made of the VM. If the VM becomes infected with a virus, simply roll back to an earlier snapshot with the click of a button.
  • The host computer supporting the VM can be running Ubuntu, macOS, or even Windows; the VM will be fully-functional regardless of the host OS.

A VM can be created either from scratch using a Windows installation disc, or cloned from an existing physical computer. It can also run right alongside your usual business applications—an incredibly convenient setup. In this screenshot, our Windows XP VM is running in Ubuntu while LibreOffice Writer is being used to edit a document:

Because the VM shares the resources of the host system, there is a recommended minimum computer specification that will allow you to comfortably run your own VMs. Fortunately, most computers produced in the last few years will meet this specification—although it's best to talk to an expert to determine if your existing systems will support desktop virtualisation. The advantage, however, is that you do not need numerous physical computers scattered around simply to support Windows software.

Oracle's VirtualBox desktop virtualisation software is the ideal solution for enabling this scenario. It's open source, and is free to use (with no licensing costs), even for business use. Note, however, that because Windows XP itself is proprietary software, you must have a valid Windows license to install and use a Windows VM; typically your retail Windows XP installation disc and product code will suffice.

VirtualBox can perform many other neat tricks, and we'll be covering these in future blog posts. For now, why not download VirtualBox and give it a spin? If you need any help, please drop us a line (or leave a comment on our social networks). Happy virtualising!

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