Windows guest virtualisation on Fedora

Linux installations for first-time adopters, or those with only one computer, often create separate partitions for Linux and Windows, so they can boot either one. Many dual-boot tutorials exist on the Internet so I won't offer another one here. This is about running Windows on your Linux desktop, so you can pop a Windows window up and down like any other program.

Question: Why such an advanced topic first? I just want to get started with my apps!

As a business owner responsible for workflow and operations, when I planned the switch to Linux I needed to know the incorrigible Windows-only applications would eventually be usable without having to reboot my system every time, even if I had to rely upon dual-booting during the adjustment period.  If you want to get going with your applications, please skip ahead to Your Linux workflow.

When to plan for virtualisation

Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 (plus other non-Microsoft operating systems) can all run as guest operating systems in a window on the Fedora desktop.  If you have enough memory, you can even run them all at the same time.

At the time of this writing, I'm using Windows XP and Windows 7 regularly as virtual machines to run a handful of Windows-only applications that otherwise would require dual-booting:

I'm glad I'm not selling the idea that a guest-virtualised operating system will perform as well as a PC running Windows on bare metal.  As a designer, I'm content to use virtualised applications infrequently to check my work on a heterogeneous browser environment, like most web designers are used to doing, and I'm much happier not needing a second PC to do it.  As a support specialist I can use virtualisation to run the Windows-only support applications that I need to use only every now and then.

To get started with Windows virtualisation on Fedora

  • Check to make sure your PC chipset supports it... this is often called Intel VT or Hardware Virtualization (sic)
  • Check out the Fedora 13 Virtualization Guide.
  • Convert your favourite Windows installation media into an ISO format.
  • Run the Virtual Machine Manager application, create and install your Windows instance.

It's possible to get this right without too much trial and error.  In a fraction of the time I spent trying to get Internet Explorer 8 running under Wine, I was up and running with a Windows XP on my desktop, and did the usual hundreds of Windows Updates while I watched a film in another window.  That's as good a production test as any, I suppose.

Topics for future elaboration

  • expectations: compatibility & performance considerations
  • how to use devices in emulation (printer, webcam, CD drive)
  • what about the business-critical performance pigs, Adobe Creative Suite & AutoCad?
  • is it worth paying €100 for a professional platform like VMware?