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Is there a way to install programs and make changes to a virtual machine and if they work ok have them applied to the "actual" machine? For example in this question when fiasco_averted says "...only let the person do his work in a VM, then mirror the settings on your own on your machine." is there a way to do this using virtual box?

I'm using Windows 7. The reason I ask is I'm thinking about doing a fresh install and want to get everything set up right.

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That's completely dependent on the OS, and independent of the VM software (indeed, “how to make changes to a physical machine and automatically make the same changes to another physical machine” would be exactly the same question). What OS are you interested in? – Gilles Jan 3 '13 at 10:14
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I believe there is software that will attempt to copy settings from one computer to another, but it is worth pointing out that it may not be the best way to go about it. A virtual machine is not an identical copy of a physical host and installations do different things based on differences in hardware, so a simple clone of the changes may not work and may be subtly broken.

If you really need this functionality, you are talking about Cloning and you should be able to use that to try and find a product that would fit your needs. You could also try asking on SuperUser or ServerFault since questions about cloning are more power user or server admin related.

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Typically you script the making of changes (how you do this depends on what you're changing) run the script against the VM, test, and if happy run the same script against the real machine.

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Yes, and the best way that I know how to do this is with the tool called Puppet, which is a configuration automation tool that allows you to control one to millions of systems. With the standard FREE Puppet you can manage up to 10 nodes.

There are Puppet training and documentation online. The community is really engaged and any questions that you need to ask will be answered pretty rapidly.

There is also a ServerFault Puppet group.

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