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Virtual machines let users emulate one operating system within another, which means you can have the best of all the software worlds. Don't stick with just what Windows or MacOS offers you, expand.
It’s a commonly held assumption that computer users are split into two camps – the Windows fans and the Apple fans. If you’re on one, you’re unlikely to be on the other too, especially since both don’t lend themselves well to cross-compatibility. That’s the assumption anyway. The reality is that many people are increasingly using more than one operating system. But before fully committing yourself to an OS, you can run it in what’s called a virtualbox to see if you like it.
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A virtual machine can also be described as a “sandpit”. It is an area totally sealed off from the rest of your computer system, where you can run something else. Files and apps are kept completely separate from the main operating system you are running on your computer.
Why Would I Want To Do This?
- to run a Windows program that is not available on MacOS.
- to test a new operating system before fully transferring and committing to it.
- because you can’t decide what is better – Windows or Mac. So you decide to have both.
- because you can – and it looks cool.
It should be stressed from the outset that if you want to run Windows in a virtual machine, you need to own a valid Windows license key. A virtual machine does not allow you to get around paying for Windows. If you are running Linux, then OK, that’s free and you don’t have to worry about license keys.
But Windows is not free. If you don’t have a spare license key, eBay quite often has cheap versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 on offer.
Step 1 – Install VirtualBox
The virtual machine will be operated by a free cross-platform program called VirtualBox. Install the app on your Mac and start it up.
To get started with installing Windows, click the “New” icon at the top left-hand side.
Step 2 – Choose Your Operating System
This then drops down a window where you can choose what operating system you want to install. Choose the one you want, and type in a name for it. I called mine “Windows 10 Machine” (original!).
Step 3 – Choose Your Memory & Virtual Hard Disk Sizes
Next, choose how much memory space you want to allocate to set Windows up. By default, it’s at 2048MB, so unless you feel the need to increase it, just leave it at 2048MB.
Next, choose how big the virtual hard disk is going to be. This will be for installing Windows, installing software programs, and so on. So decide, based on your needs.
The default is 32GB. If you want to change it, you would need to skip making it here, and make it in the next couple of steps.
Now choose the type of hard disk file. If you don’t know, leave it on the default.
Step 4 – Choose The Type Of Hard Disk Storage
Remember when VirtualBox made a hard disk of 32GB? This is now asking you if you want it to either be the full fixed size right away, or something called “dynamically allocated“.
Dynamically allocated will only take up space as you use it, but the downside is that when you delete something, the space won’t be given back to you. Select “Fixed size“. As it states, it takes longer to create, but is faster to use.
Step 5 – Select Virtual Machine Directory & Hard Disk Size
If 32GB is too much or too little, then this is the screen where you can change it. Try not to skimp on size if you can.
You also need to specify which folder on your computer, the virtual system should be installed to (assuming you want to change it).
Now click “Create” to make the virtual machine.
Step 6 – Install The Windows Operating System
This is what your virtual machine will look like when it is created. All it is missing now is actual Windows.
To install Windows, go to this Microsoft page and download the ISO file. Also, have your license key ready. The ISO file is 4GB so it will take some time for it to fully download from the Microsoft website.
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Click “Start” under the green arrow at the top, and it will ask you for the location of the installation media. Point it towards the Microsoft ISO file you just downloaded.
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Windows will now open up the installation process and you just need to follow what it tells you.
Now, don’t expect it to be totally fast. You won’t be able to run any games on it or anything like that. But if all you want is to occasionally run a piece of favourite software, or try out a new Windows 10 feature, then VirtualBox will be more than sufficient.
Let us know in the comments if you have any problems setting things up. We will do our best to help.
If you’re a Mac user, there’s no need to sell your Mac and get a Windows computer. You can use VirtualBox, Parallels or VMWare (links lead to academic versions) to run Windows on your Mac. This tutorial was written for VirtualBox, since it’s free and you don’t have to reboot your computer to access Windows (this is why I don’t recommend Bootcamp, since you lose access to your Mac files and software).
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Before you do anything else, make sure your Mac is updated to the latest version of OS X your computer supports, and verify it has 8GB or more of RAM. You will need to purchase a Windows 10 Home (64-bit) license, which is available new on Amazon (search for “Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64 Bit OEM”) or a second-hand license available on eBay. What you really need is the activation key, since DVD drives are very uncommon and you can download an ISO of the installation disk directly from Microsoft. If you accidentally purchase a DVD you would need to use an external DVD drive, which can be purchased, or borrowed from a classmate.
1) Download VirtualBox
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Save the DMG to a location on your computer where you will be able to find it (Downloads, Desktop, etc.). If you are on a Mac, you need the version for “OS X hosts.”
2) Install VirtualBox
VirtualBox must be installed before it can be used. When you mount the DMG, you must then run the VirtualBox installer, which will place VirtualBox into your Applications folder.
3) Create your Virtual Machine (VM)
- When you run VirtualBox for the first time, there will be no virtual machines (VMs) installed.
- Click New in the toolbar, which will launch the New Virtual Machine Wizard.
- Give your VM a name such as “Windows 10”.
- Select “Windows” as the operating system, and “Windows 10 (64 bit)” as the version.
- Go with the recommended memory (2048 MB, or 2 GB).
- Leave the default “Create a virtual hard disk now” selected.
- Choose “Create.”
- Next you must configure the hard disk for your VM to use. The default settings should be fine (the drive is dynamic, so will only use the least amount of space on your host computer). Choose “Create.”
- You will now be taken back to the Virtual Machine Manager, which will no longer be empty. You should see the VM you created, and it should be “Powered Off”. Your VM is a computer within a computer, which means it must be started and shut down like a normal computer (it also means it can get viruses so be careful).
5) Install Windows
- Click the green “Start” arrow.
You will see a warning that “Auto capture keyboard” is turned on. What is important to note on this screen is the host key, which is set to Left Command key. Use this key to “release” the mouse and keyboard from the VM to switch back to your Mac. You will need to do this if your mouse and keyboard appear to be “stuck” in the VM, meaning you can’t move the mouse out of the VM. Normally after Windows installed, you can simply move your mouse out of the VM window and it will be back on your Mac side.
- Since you haven’t yet installed Windows, you will be taken into the “First Run Wizard”, which will help you install Windows.
Click “Continue” to get started.
- Make sure you know where the ISO Windows 10 installation ISO is located (or you are using the installation DVD). Select the installation media in the drop down list and select “Continue”. If your computer does not have a CD/DVD drive, you may install an OS from disk media by clicking the folder browser icon (to the right below). Navigate to an installation image – DMG, ISO, CDR, DMG and select “Open”.
- If you have successfully selected your installation media, you will be presented with a Summary screen. Verify that the information is correct and select “Start”.
- Your VM should start for the first time. It will boot like a normal computer, but in a window on your Mac. You may get the Virtual Machine host key warning again, select “Do not show this message again” and then “Capture”. You must remember your host key, which defaults to the left Command key.
- Now you are in the Windows installer. Follow the on-screen instructions, the default settings should be fine. One screen that is a little confusing is the “Upgrade” or “Custom” installation. Since this is a new VM, there is nothing to upgrade, so Custom would be the most logical choice.
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Your VM may reboot a few times as Windows in installed, but most of your time will be spent watching your screen, so this would be a good time to get up and walk around.
6) Configure a Shared Folder
Before you can actually use your new VM, you will need to enable a shared folder. This folder is used to access files on your Mac from your VM. If you don’t have a shared folder, then your VM will be landlocked, meaning you won’t be able to get files on or off (you could theoretically use a USB key). To configure a shared folder, your VM must be powered off.
- In your VM configuration window, scroll down to the Shared Folders section. Clicking this heading will open the shared folders Window.
- Click the “Add a new shared folder definition” button to add a share.
- Click the down arrow in the folder path box and select “Other…”. Navigate to a folder on your Mac, such as your Desktop or your Documents folder. Once you have chosen your folder, click “Choose”.
- The folder name will automatically populate the “Folder Name” box, but you can change it should you wish. Make sure “Read-only” is not checked, and that “Auto-mount” is checked.
7) Guest Additions
Start up your VM, when it is finished booting and you have added a user account, your final step is to install some software that VirtualBox will use to make using your VM perform a little better. From the “Devices” menu, select “Install Guest Additions”.
8) Use your VM!
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You have now successfully installed VirtualBox and Windows. You may now install other software that you will need for courses. If you attached a USB key (or insert a CD or DVD into your computer), you may use it in your VM. You can also install software you download from the internet. Usually installation software ends with the extension .exe. These files can safely be downloaded on your Mac to be used in your VM. Your Mac will ignore them since .exe files are not compatible.
You will need to have Office on either your Mac or PC. Some software may require Office to be installed on Windows.
If you have any questions, please refer to the VirtualBox user manual: https://www.virtualbox.org/manual/UserManual.html
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If you need help using Windows, the Help Desk may be able to assist.