Or, more elaborately: How to work as a consultant without "cluttering up" one's (Windows) OS with more or less temporary installations of all sorts of software necessary for client projects?

(I understand if you think this falls under the 'too broad' label, but please point me in a more appropriate direction before closing.)

My setup

Since 4 months I'm working as a consultant at an IT company, and as such working on a series of very different projects that each require their own set of tools.

I've installed LinuxMint as the base OS on my work laptop (to preserve my sanity), and I use Virtualbox on top of that to run Windows 7 ('cause I have to use some MS products). I then have a few additional Virtualbox VM's in which I do my client project work (I have one VM per client, to avoid messing up my main OS). All of these share a folder in my Linux user's home folder so I have "my data" available and up to date across all the VM's.

My problem

But of course, all these VM's aren't great at making the most of my RAM, because I have to dedicate a solid chunk to each VM. I have mostly reached a balance of memory for each VM, but sometimes I need to shut down, adjust, and restart.

Also, although I gain a very neat roll-back-and-forward capability, I feel the virtual VM's are a bit clunky: I need to keep each of them up to date (with Windows updates as well as updates to all the other programs), and not all programs like having shared storage like this (especially, I constantly need to delete and re-download my Outlook OST file -- wish I could just get Mozilla Thunderbird/Lightning to work).

I'm wondering ... what do other consultants do? Do you just accumulate a bunch of cruft, and/or reinstall Windows frequently -- or which neat tricks do you use to keep your main workstation lean and nimble?

Update to respond to some comments:

  • "sufficiently powerful base machine" - Yes, I've received as much of an upgrade as I'm likely to get, and it's (mostly) adequate.
  • "swapping out disks" - Too cumbersome for me, because I would want to have a browser and email client open even when juggling a client project.
  • "you should never have more than one VM running" - Not quite; I have a minimum of two, sometimes more. One is my "work" VM with my email and Skype, the other(s) my client project. Sometimes I have to interlace working+waiting between to projects, and then it makes sense to have both open at the same time.
  • "Why are you running Outlook on each VM?" - I'm not; I'm only running Outlook on one VM, but I frequently get hit with the error related to OST timestamps.
    • "Evaluate whether you really need multiple OSes/VMs" - I'm pretty sure I do; I need different versions of various programs, and I don't think I can have both installed without interference.
    • "superuser.com" - I've posted there as well, just replying here to follow up. Feel free to close if you want -- and thanks for your comments.

Plus ... I guess there's just no way to get away with doing updates in one place and have it propagate to all (sub) images. Ah well, it was worth a shot.

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    Hi, Klaymen! This SE site is more about navigation the workplace from an office politics and interpersonal relationships point of view. This question might be better suited to one of the SE sites about networking, or system admin. – AndreiROM Feb 23 '16 at 16:15
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on a different SE site. – AndreiROM Feb 23 '16 at 16:16
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    Try superuser.com – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 23 '16 at 16:26
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    I have a few ways of doing it depending on the situation, I keep a current backup image of my work machines so I can just format and load them any time I want. But my normal way is I just to swap out hard drives on my laptop (takes a couple of minutes) or if I'm on a desktop, add a hard drive and OS. I don't use VM's – Kilisi Feb 23 '16 at 18:58
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    If you have one VM per client, you should never have more than one VM running, right? – Erik Feb 23 '16 at 19:19

First, if you're going to be a consultant, you need to get over this OS bigotry. The "preserve my sanity" crack is enough to make me dismiss you as a serious professional outright, but I'm going to finish this answer for the sake of the site. You're going to have to get "comfortable" in all the current OS's, as well as the legacy ones that are still active.

Next, load up with a high-power system (CPU and RAM, primarily), and virtualization software for your different needs for OS'es. It's either that or purchase multiple machines and ruin your back carrying them around.

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    Bigotry is a strong word, I just get very frustrated too quickly. But your main point is that my method of using several VM's isn't uncommon, then? That's both good to know, and kind of disappointing at the same time. Thanks. – KlaymenDK Feb 23 '16 at 18:13
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    No, you don't have to get over this "bigotry" to find useful employment as a consultant/contractor. You just have to make it clear to potential employers that you don't (or in my case, basically can't, since I'm dysiconic) use Windows competently. – jamesqf Feb 23 '16 at 19:13
  • Funny you mention it, because I did make it clear when I was interviewed. I was hired as a Java developer ... but have been assigned to Powershell and Azure projects. O_o I'm hoping it's a phase. – KlaymenDK Feb 23 '16 at 19:24

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