Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
More and more organizations are consolidating physical hardware using virtualization. But virtualization technology and tools aren't limited to big-dollar corporations. With the free-as-in-beer VMware Player, and the very cheap VMware Workstation, you too can use this fancy technology to utilize the processing horsepower of cheap multi-core hardware available off-the-shelf.
Playing with distributions
VMware Player is available as a free download for both Windows and Linux, and Ubuntu users on x86 and AMD64 machines can even install VMware Player from the Ubuntu repositories.
VMware Player can't make VMs on its own, but you can find virtual appliances on VMware's Virtual Appliance Marketplace. Once you have the player up and running, download an image from the marketplace and point it an image of a pre-configured virtual machine.
If you are new to Linux, or haven't tried it at all, get an appliance for a Linux distribution and off you go. It not only saves on installation time, but also enables you to run a complete operating system inside a little window. How cool is that?