The use of virtual machines to support separate guest operating systems is popular in regard to embedded systems. A typical use would be to run a real-time operating system simultaneously with a preferred complex operating system, such as Linux or Windows. Another use would be for novel and unproven software still in the developmental stage, so it runs inside a sandbox. Virtual machines have other advantages for operating system development and may include improved debugging access and faster reboots.
Some virtual machines, such as QEMU, are designed to also emulate different architectures and allow execution of software applications and operating systems written for another CPU or architecture. Operating-system-level virtualization allows the resources of a computer to be partitioned via the kernel. The terms are not universally interchangeable.
koding.com has a free VM running Ubuntu. The specs are pretty good, 1 gig memory for example. They have a terminal online you can access through their website, or use SSH. The VM will go to sleep approximately 20 minutes after you log out. The reason is to discourage users from running live production code on the VM. The VM resides behind a proxy. Running web servers that only speak HTTP (port 80) should work just fine, but I think you'll get into a lot of trouble whenever you want to work directly with other ports. Many mind-like alternatives offer similar setups. Good luck!
A special case of process VMs are systems that abstract over the communication mechanisms of a (potentially heterogeneous) computer cluster. Such a VM does not consist of a single process, but one process per physical machine in the cluster. They are designed to ease the task of programming concurrent applications by letting the programmer focus on algorithms rather than the communication mechanisms provided by the interconnect and the OS. They do not hide the fact that communication takes place, and as such do not attempt to present the cluster as a single machine.
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