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What is a Virtual Machine?

What is a Virtual Machine? 

In very simple terms, think of a virtual machine as “a computer within a computer.” 

To accurately define what a virtual machine is, I’d like to outline why you might need to use a virtual machine. You may need to use a virtual machine if you need to accomplish a goal that your current existing computer or operation system can’t accomplish for you. For example, running Microsoft Windows–specific programs on your existing Apple® Mac® computer.


A virtual machine is an emulation of a computer-system hardware on your existing computer. 

(This is where the whole “computer within a computer” idea comes into play.) 

To be clear, there are multiple forms of VM’s that offer multiple functions. Some examples include: 

System virtual machines provide an emulation of a computer system on your existing computer—such as a Microsoft Windows virtual machine running through Parallels Desktop on your Mac. Additionally, less popular examples of this would be a Linux distribution, such as an Ubuntu virtual machine, on your Mac.

Process virtual machines provide an emulation of platform-independent environment—such as Android on Mac. This would allow software developers to safely develop, test, or deploy within an Android environment without fear of causing errors to the existing Mac operating system.

A virtual machine is a replication of a computer system within your computer—which means the ability to run Windows on Mac allows a user to unlock endless possibilities with their Apple device. 

By utilizing virtualization technology, Parallels Desktop® for Mac empowers millions of users to go beyond the limitations of hardware to achieve their end goals. 

A student could save hundreds (or thousands) of dollars by using a virtual machine to run that Windows application they were told they need for their classes. No need to buy an additional computer to pass that class.

An accountant endlessly improves their productivity by running applications like QuickBooks or Quicken through Windows on Mac virtual machines. No need to partition/erase/rewrite a hard drive just to do their taxes.

IT Managers have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by using virtual machines! This allows for all employees to have exactly what they need without breaking that IT budget by buying multiple computers for multiple people.

Developers! We see you out there. Writing, testing, and deploying your projects without fear of ruining your beautiful MacBook. But again, you’re not held back by your device. Need to develop for Android, Windows, or Linux? No problem. Use a virtual machine to achieve your goals safely.

Own a small business and need to wear many “hats” to grow? Don’t worry – virtual machine’s allow for a lack of restriction. No matter what app you may need you can have access to it regardless of the operating system.

If you want to deep dive into the technology of virtualization, you can read our blog post, “What is Virtualization?”

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