A couple of days ago I got to try the recently-made-free VMware Player on my work computer. This software allows you to play virtual machines on your system, and with a little hackery from digg, you can create your own VMware systems.
Basically this allows you to run any operating system on top of Windows XP, as if it were on a separate computer.
I used the instructions from the hackery site to get Ubuntu Linux running in around 20 minutes. They also have a bunch of ready-mades on their website that should work instantly.
You can install a complete operating system, everything from formatting the “drive” to changing the IP address, without affecting the actual system it is running on. I don’t know all the details about how this works, only that the player uses a file that acts like the hard-disk and the rest of the system.
The really cool thing about this software is that it creates virtual network cards for your virtual machines, so it should be possible to create a little virtual network of “computers” that could all communicate with each other and could be used for learning and testing how a network is set up. I set up an Apache web server on my virtual machine and was able to access it from the real computer it was running on. Pretty fun.
I’ve read a lot about network systems, but haven’t gotten a chance to really implement anything on a larger scale, but this program might allow me to do just that.
One issue though is that your real machine has to be pretty kickin to handle multiple virtual machines. I almost crashed my work computer, which is the fastest system I’ve used, with two virtual pc’s, itunes, and our ticket management program open. But you can control how much RAM each virtual machine you create uses, which I didn’t really mess around with yet.
If you have a XP (or Linux) machine that is wasting most of its clock cycles just idling, try some of the ready-mades out. Next work day, I am going to try to get a few virtual machines networked together and then finally start implementing a firewall with ipcop, or perhaps openbsd.
You could also install an unpatched version of XP or 98 as a virtural machine and see how long it takes to get infected with the Mblaster worm. Or try out that new Sasser worm that was emailed to you out, just to see what it does to your system. I won’t hurt your real set-up one bit, and clean up is as easy as clicking “delete”.