Download the VirtualBox software from here and install it (see
this first though). This is so easy there's no need to explain it, just click,
click and you're ready.
The first time you run Virtualbox the only option is to create a new virtual machine.
Insert the CD/DVD with the operating system install package (an ISO file probably).
I prefer a Redhat variant but any distro will work. When you click the New
option in Virtualbox, it will offer various options for how to configure the virtual
hardware. Give yourself as much disk space as you can. The memory you assign will
affect how fast the virtual machine (Linux) will run and how much it will slow down
I suggest that you give the Host (Windows) at least 512Mb of memory and the
Guest OS (Linux) another 512MB which assumes you have 1Gb of memory to play with.
Running a virtual machine is so handy that it justifies adding memory, more is better.
Make sure that Windows (especially Vista) has at least 1Gb of memory or it will be
sluggish. Linux requires less but since it's running in a virtual machine you need
more than you would if the Linux install was stand-alone. The
virtualization part of the virtual machine means that everything runs in memory so you
need more available to get good performance.
Once you click New and configure the virtual hardware, Virtualbox will look for the
install media (The CD/DVD disk you're supposed to have loaded). You may have to
mount the CD/DVD drive - click on Settings -> CD and select "Mount CD/DVD drive".
Now Virtualbox can find the install media and start the installation process. From
this point Linux will install from the CD/DVD normally; it doesn't care if it's
talking to a virtual machine or a regular install to disk.
Install the Linux operating system just like you always do and accept the default on
disk partitioning since you're not really configuring a disk. Install all the packages
you think you want available under Linux. If you already have MS-Office or other
software you use under Windows, there's no need to install the Linux version. For
everyday use you might use Windows for some stuff and Linux for different stuff. Maybe
you just want to experiment with Linux or teach someone else how to use it. Decide
what you want from the virtual machine and only install software you'll really use.
When the install completes, the new OS will show in the VirtualBox opening window and
you select it (if you have more than one) and then click, Start. The virtual
machine (Linux) will boot up just as if it were a normal install to disk. Once you
login you can do all the usual Linux things (see this
for some help getting started). From now on you can jump between the virtual machine
and Windows by using the VirtualBox "hot-key", (Right-Ctrl).
You might also want to
add a virtual desktop. This is software you install on Windows that creates multiple
desktops, each separate from the others. By doing this you can put the virtual machine on
a separate desktop so it won't interfere with other windows like your email or web
browser. I've tried several and I especially like Virtual Dimension but it
seems to mess up pop-up dialog boxes. I'm currently using Dexpot (get it here) and it works well with no obvious bugs (yet). By using
virtual desktops you can put the virtual machine in its own desktop and then run it
full-screen (Right-Ctrl-f) and work in it as if it were the native OS.
You can also use Vmware but it's a little more hassle and
scatters files around too much as well as running a bunch of systems services. While I
like Vmware, I think the Virtualbox package suits my needs better.