As a part-time IT crank, people ask me a lot of questions. One of the questions I get asked a lot is “What’s the difference between ‘emulation‘ and ‘virtualization?'”
This is a good question–both are ways of using one type of computer to do things as if it was some other type of computer. They are different in how they work, but is that what matters to the basic end user?
I’ll answer that question first: No. It is not.
Here then, is the best working distinction between the two, as far as users are concerned:
Emulation means that someone has figured out how to make games from some other system work on a computer that currently has a resale value greater than $1000. So when someone says “Have you tried the Intellivision emulator?” they actually mean “You should have your childhood destroyed by realizing how crap Body Slam Super Pro Wrestling actually was!”
Virtualization means that someone has figured out how to make a computer that currently has a resale value over $1000 pretend that it is a computer that you didn’t actually want to buy, except that it won’t play any of the really good games that you would have played on that other computer. So when someone says “You can do all the work you would normally do in Windows in this virtualized environment on your Mac.” they actually mean “We really REALLY don’t want you to play games on this computer.”