Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 Is a Good (and Free) Virtualization Option for Windows Users

By Jason Brooks  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

Review: VPC 2007 lags VMware Workstation in overall functionality but it includes support for Windows Vista.

Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 offers developers and administrators an inexpensive option for satisfying their testing, support and application compatibility needs through the magic of virtualization. The most notable addition to the product, which is a follow-on to Microsoft's Virtual PC 2004, is support for Windows Vista as a host or guest operating system.

VPC 2007, which was made available Feb. 19, doesn't match VMware's Workstation 5.5 in functionality—VPC 2007 does not, for example, support 64-bit guest operating systems, expose multiple processors to guest VMs or run on Linux host operating systems. However, VPC's status as a freely available download does make the product a less costly option than the $200 VMware Workstation. What's more, while VMware Workstation 6.0 is expected to include support for Vista hosts, Workstation 5.5 does not.

eWEEK Labs recommends that Windows users interested in exploring their virtualization options click here and take VPC 2007 for a spin. The download is a relatively slim 30MB, and there's no need to register to access it. Also worthy of consideration is Parallels' Parallels Workstation 2.2, which supports Windows (including Vista) and Linux, and costs only $50.

Microsoft recommends running VPC 2007 on a machine with a processor clock speed of 1GHz or better. However, as with all virtualization software, the most important resource is memory—the more RAM your system has, the more VMs you'll be able to run simultaneously. VPC 2007 also takes advantage of virtualization extensions in newer AMD and Intel processors that can boost VM performace.

Click here to read more about VMware's V13 Suite.

eWEEK Labs tested VPC 2007 on a Lenovo Thinkpad X60 with an Intel Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM running Windows XP Professional. Intel's VT virtualization processor extensions were enabled in the ThinkPad's BIOS, but VPC 2007 did not recognize them.

We also tested VPC 2007 on a Hewlett-Packard notebook with an AMD Turion64 x2 processor, 2GB of RAM and Windows Vista Ultimate. This system featured AMD's brand of virtualization extensions, and VPC 2007 recognized the extensions and offered us the option of enabling them either globally or per-VM.

In any case, we did not see a significant difference in performance with the extensions enabled. We'll be keeping an eye on the impact of these hardware-assisted performance boosters as our testing with VPC 2007 and other virtualization products continues.

VPC 2007 runs on the Business, Enterprise and Ultimate Editions of Windows Vista, and on the Professional and Tablet PC Editions of Windows XP. VPC 2007 explicitly supports only Windows and OS/2 (yes, we said OS/2).

VPC 2007 offers VM additions for improving mouse and video performance, and, without these additions, mouse and keyboard performance was subpar during our tests. VMware also provides these sorts of additions for VMs that run under its products, but we've typically found performance good enough with VMware apps that we haven't had to bother with installing the additions.

We did manage to install and run Red Hat Fedora Core 5 as a guest OS, albeit with some rough patches. Our biggest problem seemed to be the absence of those keyboard- and mouse-boosting VM additions. During installation, our mouse and display worked, although not well.

For example, when typing configuration details into the interface boxes of Fedora's installer program, our keystrokes lagged or registered multiple times. Similarly, on the Windows VMs with which we tested, our pointer performance was poor until we'd installed the additions.

Upon booting into Fedora's graphical interface, we had to switch to the compatibility VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) driver for our display to be viewable. Our pointer, however, did not work. We managed to control our Fedora VM by enabling its desktop sharing functionality and accessing the VM using a VNC (Virtual Network Computing) client. In practice, however, if we really needed to use Fedora with a GUI from a Windows host, we'd likely use a different virtualization tool.

Probably our favorite feature of VPC 2007 is its support for creating Differencing Virtual Hard Discs. We were able to install an operating system on a virtual machine, share that machine's virtual hard drive over the network, and then create new machines with drives based on that parent drive. From that point on, only the changes between that parent drive and the new differencing drives were stored. Considering that the software that shipped on the fresh Windows XP Professional SP2 and Fedora Core 5 isos with which we tested required large numbers of updates to become fully patched, we managed to save a lot of time as we spawned new VMs based on updated parent VMs.´

Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.


Parallels' Parallels Workstation Parallels Workstation supports both Windows and Linux, and, unlike VMware Workstation, one license includes the rights to run VMs on either platform; the Parallels product is also an affordable $50

VMware's VMware Player Player is a good (and free) option for running VMs, but its inability to create VMs means you'll have to install the also-free VMware Server or pair the Player with VMware Workstation; VMWare Player can open VMs created using VPC 2007

VMware's VMware Workstation VMware Workstation remains our favorite product for desktop-based virtualization chores such as development and testing, but the product does come with a $200 price tag

Check out eWEEK.com's for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Jason has been a member of the Labs staff since 1999, and was previously research and technology coordinator at a French economic development agency. Jason covers the mobile and wireless space, including mobile operating systems such as Palm, Windows CE, Symbian and Linux, as well as the devices that run them. Jason has performed some of the most comprehensive tests published to date of the nascent Bluetooth wireless technology, including interference testing among Bluetooth and other wireless technologies such as 802.11. Jason also provides analysis of the desktop computing area, including Windows, Mac and Linux operating sytems, as well as productivity applications such as Microsoft Office, StarOffice, Lotus Notes, GNOME and KDE. Jason's review of StarOffice received the most hits of any story published on www.eweek.com.

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