Virtual Windows for Linux

The Windows versus Linux debate. It's one of the longest-running, most contentious issues in the computing world. Sort of like Coke versus Pepsi or Democrats versus Republicans, a definitive winner is unlikely to every emerge. Both sides have their die-hard supporters and true believers. When it comes to desktop computing, though, Windows is clearly in the lead. While workstation-focused distributions of Linux, such as Ubuntu and SUSE, have made huge leaps in accessibility and refinement over the years, they've hardly made a dent in Microsoft's market dominance. In the server world, however, the tables are largely turned. There, Linux is the reigning standard. Well over half of all webpages on the Internet are served up by the open source OS. Microsoft's Windows Server, though, is gaining ground. While it lacks the bullet-proof open source security and no-cost price point of Linux-based solutions, it offers a number of compelling exclusive features. Wouldn't it be great if you could combine the best aspects of Linux and Windows on your servers?

Well, thanks to Virtual Windows for Linux, you can. A "virtual" operating system is an OS that's run from within another OS. In this case, your regular, installed OS is Linux. Thanks to the magic of virtualization, though, you can run Windows "on top" of Linux, much like running any normal software application. This gives you the ability to use any and all Windows programs, all without having to leave your Linux environment, set up a dual-boot system, or any other complication. Windows programs won't run quite as fast as they would natively, of course, but the latest generation of virtualization solutions can come surprisingly close. While Linux remains a full-featured and powerful web hosting platform on its own, for an increasing number of users and administrators, Virtual Windows for Linux makes it even better.

What are my Options for Setting up Virtual Windows for Linux?

Running Windows from within a Linux server is not a new idea. Web hosts have been taking advantage of the combined power of the two leading operating systems for years. This is great news for anyone new to the scene, because it means there are numerous mature, stable, and strongly supported solutions available. There is no single "best" product. The ideal choice for you depends on your hosting needs, your experience, and your budget. The following list outlines some of the most popular options:

  • VMware Server/Vmware ESX - An established, for-profit corporation, Vmware is probably the biggest name in virtualization software for both workstation and server applications. Their products are a great choice for individuals who value robust stability and, in particular, a reliable, professional support structure. Their Vmware Server product is free for non-commercial use and is a good choice for low to moderate traffic web hosts. Larger-scale operations should definitely look into VMware ESX, their fully-featured, enterprise-level solution
  • Oracle VM VirtualBox - The networking giant's virtualization product comes in both software only and hardware supported versions. According to a 2010 survey, it is currently the most popular Virtual Windows for Linux product on the market. It employs a unique "guest OS" user interface to quickly and conveniently switch between different operating systems.
  • Kernel-Based Virtual Machine (KVM) - Unlike the previously mentioned stand-alone commercial products, KVM is an integral, built-in component of Linux. It allows for the creation of highly customizable virtual servers for nearly any x86-based operating system. Although it can work great in the right hands, KVM has a considerably steeper learning curve than most other Virtual Windows for Linux solutions.

What are the Advantages of Running Virtual Windows for Linux?

Linux is a stable, secure, extremely capable, and free operating system. The only compelling reasons for choosing its main competitor, Windows Server 2008 R2, is that OS's built-in support for Microsoft file types, as well as the company's numerous proprietary extensions. A Virtual Windows for Linux solution allows you to remain with Linux while still enjoying Microsoft technologies, such as:

  • the .Net framework
  • easy ASP integration
  • Microsoft web development tools, such as Visual Interdev and FrontPage
  • support for Microsoft Office services