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Desktop Virtualization Revisited Part Two: Microsoft’s Virtual PC

Small, simple, stable and priced right: Is Microsoft's Virtual PC a good introduction to the world of virtualization and a great way to pull Linux into a Windows environment?

Microsoft’s foray into desktop-level virtualization came to them via Virtual PC’s purchase from Connectix in 2003. Since that time, Microsoft has made significant improvements to the product but dropped support for Mac OS as a guest and host operating system (OS). Virtual PC now includes support for Windows Vista as a host OS and as a guest. The latest version is Virtual PC 2007 SP1.

Virtual PC is a free download from the Virtual PC site. It is a small (~37MB) download and installs easily to your PC. The filename is simply, setup.exe but I suggest that you change it to something more descriptive (virtualpc_2007_sp1_setup.exe, for example) in case you need to reinstall later. Installing Virtual PC is easy—launch the installer, click through the install wizard and you are ready to setup your first virtual machine.

Read Part One of this series: Sun’s xVM VirtualBox.

Virtual PC Essentials

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Virtual PC, you have very few options in the small and simplistic Virtual PC Console (See Figure 1). You have the option to create a new virtual machine via the New Virtual Machine Wizard, create a new virtual hard disk using the Virtual Disk Wizard or setting some generic global options for all virtual machines under Options.

The vanilla Virtual PC Console
The vanilla Virtual PC Console

Virtual PC offers the following global options: Restore VMs when starting Virtual PC, Performance, Hardware Virtualization, Resolution, Sound, Messages, Hot Keys, Mouse Capture, Security, and Language.

For this Desktop-level Virtualization series I’m using a Windows computer (Windows XP) as the host with Linux guests. I’ve selected Debian 5.0 running XFCE for the standard Linux guest VM.

Virtual PC Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Easy to Install and Use
  • Small Footprint
  • Free
  • Excellent Support for Windows Guests
  • Supports a Variety of Guest OSs
  • Actively Developed
  • Windows Vista Support
  • Hardware Virtualization

Disadvantages:

  • Windows Only Host
  • Limited Linux Support
  • Emulation Software
  • No VM Cross-Compatibility

Setup a New VM

To setup a new VM in Virtual PC, click the New button or select File->New Virtual Machine Wizard to launch the New Virtual Machine Wizard. Click Next on the Welcome screen. You’re prompted to select from three options: Create a virtual machine, Use default settings to create a virtual machine and add an existing virtual machine. If this is your first time to use Virtual PC, I suggest that you select Create a virtual machine and click Next to continue. Select a location and name your new virtual machine.

This step creates a file with extension .vmc that defines your new VM. Click Next. Select your operating system from the dropdown list—for Linux, you’ll choose Other and click Next. Select the amount of memory you want to allocate to the new VM by either accepting the default (128MB) or by selecting Adjusting the RAM. If you select, adjusting the RAM, a slider appears for you to choose the amount you’d like to use. Click Next to continue.

You’re now at the Virtual Hard Disk Options screen where you’ll select an existing virtual hard disk or create a new one. Select A new virtual hard disk and click Next. This screen prompts you for a name, location and size for your new virtual hard disk. Make your selections and click Next and Finish. Your new VM is defined and added to the virtual machine inventory in the Virtual PC Console. See Figure 2.

The virtual machine inventory in the Virtual PC Console
The virtual machine inventory in the Virtual PC Console

Next: Install Some Linux

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