What is a Virtual PC?

by David Downs

A Virtual PC (personal computer) is a computer within a computer, created with virtualization software and used most commonly among computer users who want to run a Mac OS on a PC or a PC OS on a Mac computer. Users create virtual PCs to accomplish tasks that they couldn't with virtualization software, as well as to create other efficiencies.


A virtual PC functions as a computer within a computer using virtualization software. This software allows the execution of an entire operating system within an existing, sometimes completely different operating system.


Virtual PCs are often used in servers to create smaller, more stable "PCs" that can be more effectively managed and controlled. If one of a server's virtual PCs "crashes," other virtual PCs in the system can keep working. Developers use virtual PCs to test new code "on the fly" without endangering the computer they are working on.


Virtualization software was pioneered in the 1960s and became part of mainstream computing by the 2000s.

Popular Virtual PC Companies

By far the most popular virtualization software company is VMWare. Windows also sells Windows Virtual PC for Windows.

Other Benefits

Virtual PCs can be created and used to try out potentially malicious executable files from the Internet with no danger to the real PC. Virtual PCs are used to run legacy applications, and are a regular part of computer science education.

About the Author

Award-winning journalist David Downs covers the arts and technology for major international magazines and newspapers like "Wired," "Rolling Stone," the "Los Angeles Times" and the "San Francisco Chronicle." He began writing professionally in 2000 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara.