Friday, March 2, 2007

Friday Freebie - Get Your Virtualization On

Windows is Windows, right? I mean sure, the new versions are pretty and everything, but under the hood, things are still pretty much the same, aren't they? Well, yes and no. Windows is a strange beast - a program may work fine one day, and not the next. Thanks to the wonders of the Windows registry, it's tough to tell just what's going on. And that only gets worse when switching to a new version.

So let's say you just scored a new PC, and of course, it has the latest and greatest from Redmond, Vista. What happens when you realize a beloved old program no longer works? Do you dig out that old machine? Nope - you virtualize, with Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.

Hardcore computer guys love virtualization - it's the process of running multiple operating systems at the same time on a single computer. No rebooting necessary. And now, you can do it easily (and free). Check it out - here's a shot of XP being "virtualized" on Vista:

And here's how Windows 98 looks on that same Vista machine:

Groovy, right? Useful - maybe not so much. Virtualization is marketed toward businesses and enterprise-level customers, where development and hardware costs can be prohibitive, and certain pieces of software may be required despite their age. For the average user, it's usually easier to just upgrade that old program to a newer version. Still, this is a cool technology to play around with, and a must for the serious PC guys out there.

Now the bad news. Officially, the product only supports operating systems back to Windows 98, so DOS is at your own risk. I can tell you that DOS will work (just pick "Other" as the OS, and install away), but the Virtual PC Additions that were available for DOS in the 2004 version have been removed. So, there's no mouse driver, CD support, processor throttling, etc. Also, no versions of Linux are officially supported - what a shock - but some do work. Check out the site What Works and What Doesn't in Virtual PC for tips and details to get certain versions of Linux up and running (the site is officially for Virtual PC 2004, but the compatibility is basically the same). For robust Linux support, you'll need to stick with, and pay for, VMWare.

On the hardware side, USB devices aren't supported, so no flash keys or external hard drives. Also, you're limited to a fixed number of hard disks and optical devices. Finally, the drivers aren't quite as good as VMWare (they've had more experience), so the performance isn't as blazing. Still, it's more than competent for casual use.

One neat item about the 2007 version - server support has been rolled right in, so there's no need for a separate Virtual Server app anymore. Now all your OSes can live in the same place, which was a smart move.

Jump to the MS Virtual PC 2007 site here to get your free download. Just remember - you need a licensed copy of Windows to install on the virtual machine. You can't just install another copy of the Vista or XP OS you're currently using, as you'll run afoul of product activation. Of course, there's no activation in 2000 or 98, so use your own judgment there...

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