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What is a Virtual Machine?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A virtual machine is a type of computer application used to create a virtual environment, which is referred to as "virtualization." Some types of virtualization let a user run multiple operating systems on one computer at the same time. A virtual machine can also function for a single program, allowing that one application to function in an isolated way. Users can setup multiple computers to function as one through virtualization, allowing the system to draw on greater resources than might otherwise be available.

Hardware Emulation

There are several different types of virtual machines. Commonly, the term is used to refer to hardware virtual machine software, also known as a "hypervisor" or "virtual machine monitor." This type of software makes it possible to perform multiple identical executions on one computer. In turn, each of these executions runs its own operating system. This allows multiple applications to be run on different operating systems, even those they were not originally intended for.

Through the use of the hardware virtual machine software, the user has a seemingly private machine with fully functional hardware that is separate from other users. Such software also makes it possible for users to boot and restart their machines quickly, since tasks such as hardware initialization are not necessary. The name for this type of virtualization can be confusing, but it is a software application, not a particular piece of hardware.

Software-Specific Applications

A "virtual machine" can also refer to software that focuses on one particular application. With this software, the application is isolated from the rest of the computer. Programmers often design such software for use on a number of computer platforms, rather than designing it to focus on only one type of computer or system. This makes it unnecessary to create separate versions of the same software for different operating systems and computers.

Systems that Use Hardware And Software

Virtual environments can also be created through a virtual machine system, which are also known as "virtual private servers." This type of environment is used for running programs at the user level. Therefore, it is used solely for applications and not for drivers or operating systems. The system itself functions like a server, even though only a single computer might be used.

Some users set up a virtual machine as a group of computers that work together to create a more powerful machine. In this type of setup, the software makes it possible for one environment to be formed through several computers. This makes it appear to the end user as if he or she uses only a single computer, while there are actually numerous machines at work. The memory and other resources of each of these systems work together to create a more powerful machine than just one computer.

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Discussion Comments
By anon129241 — On Nov 22, 2010

what are the types of virtual machine?

By anon113424 — On Sep 24, 2010

Will a virtual machine be able to get rid of a tidserv virus?

By anon87090 — On May 28, 2010

What are the examples of virtual machines found on computers in general?

By anon85493 — On May 20, 2010

A virtual machine allows you to use multiple operating systems in one local pc, for example, Ubuntu linux. This will allow you to use the os you need without actually partitioning the pc.

By anon71282 — On Mar 18, 2010

after pre-phase installation do we need to reinstall new os for new virtual console?

Can we use same os which is already installed on our system? E.g.: Suppose i have installed 3 os os1 os2 and os3 on my system and each os on different hard disks.

and now i installed VMware(or other VC) s/w on my OS1, so can i open my OS2 by using VMware or some other s/w like same on that console?

In short can i open my already installed OS via such s/w?

please reply to me if you have an answer or any solutions to above.


By anon69220 — On Mar 06, 2010

what is a microsoft virtual pc?

By anon65278 — On Feb 12, 2010

what are the uses of virtual machines?

By anon49646 — On Oct 21, 2009

I have a copy of a screen capture program located in C:\program files, but I can't "see" it when trying to load/run it in the virtual machine. What to do?

Any help greatly appreciated.


By anon44408 — On Sep 07, 2009

how does a virtual machine work?

By anon35733 — On Jul 07, 2009

How is a virtual machine implemented in XP?

By paulnc2008 — On Jun 05, 2009

How do SMM and protected mode instructions work on a simulated machine?

By hokusai — On Mar 02, 2009

Silly question, but how, having created a virtual machine, do I actually load a program onto it from elsewhere?

If I'm 'running the VM' -- henceam on virtual drive C:\ -- I can't access (say) the A:\ drive where my program may currently be located; whereas if I come out of the VM and try to Copy from A:\ to C:\ this is of course interpreted as 'copy to your actual C:\ drive on your actual HD', not to the VM.

Help please?


By anon25268 — On Jan 26, 2009

It functions in some ways like an emulator that runs additional operating systems, except you are not bound to a limited space on the hardware as you would be with partitioning. The space that the virtual machine is or can be somewhat dynamic, able to increase or decrease allocated memory depending on the virtualization software used. An added benefit is that you can transfer the virtual machine from one set of hardware to another while it is in use. Also redundancy often becomes cheaper if you use many small apps or utilize little space on individual systems.

By anon23426 — On Dec 24, 2008

is it a hardware or software?

By anon15727 — On Jul 20, 2008

how can i create a virtual machine on my computer?

By anon11494 — On Apr 17, 2008

how i can change the name of virtual machine on my computer?

By anon4874 — On Nov 04, 2007

What are the examples of virtual machine software found on computers in general?

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