Virtualization is becoming a hot topic lately, and there is no doubt it provides a ton of benefits. But you don’t have to be a system admin that is virtualizing servers to take advantage of it. If you deal with computers every day you can benefit via your own PC, especially if you are a developer. You can set up a virtual machine on your computer today for free with a product like Windows Virtual PC. As opposed to server virtualization, this is called PC operating system virtualization.
Here is a list of the top 10 benefits and reasons for using a virtual machine:
- You want to use a different version of an OS – Maybe you want to play with the latest Windows OS, or you created a product and want to make sure it runs on different versions of Windows
- Got Beta software? Don’t want a beta product screwing up your computer? Install it in a virtual PC
- Don’t want to clutter your computer with multiple versions of SQL Server, Visual Studio, Microsoft Office, etc? Keep your main computer clean and put different development environments on a virtual PC
- Move a virtual PC to another computer – Say you created a virtual PC with the latest version of Visual Studio, SQL Server, a bunch of tools installed, and a few Visual Studio projects you work on frequently. In the old days if you got a new computer you would have to re-install all that software. Now, just copy the virtual PC, which is one file, to the new computer. Done!
- Have a few “base” virtuals – I have a Windows 7 virtual that has all the patches and settings I like. If I want to create another virtual, I just copy the file of this base virtual and start with that. No need to start with an empty virtual and have to install Windows 7. You can “build up” a base virtual with the things you will use for all the other virtuals so you are only installing those things once
- Undo option – This is a great feature: Say you start a virtual, install a bunch of software, and then you notice the new software you installed is causing problems. You wish you could just start over. You can! With the undo option turned on (it’s off by default), you can exit your virtual and specify you want to discard all the changes. If everything you installed went well, then just commit the changes when you exit the virtual
- Support for older apps that don’t work on the latest OS – Have some software that won’t work on the latest Windows OS? Before virtualization, that meant you could not upgrade your PC to the latest OS, or you could not buy a new PC with the latest OS (or if you did, you had to keep your old PC around just for this one app). Now, just create a virtual with the old OS and install the old software on that. Then you can buy that new PC with the new OS and just run the virtual machine on your shiny new PC
- No need to set up dual-boot on your PC – Those days of installing two OS’s on your PC and using the dual-boot option are gone. Need to use a new OS? Just create a virtual
- Don’t have to worry about screwing up your computer – Want to install new software but are worried it might mess up your computer? Or worried that an upgrade might wreak havoc? Install it on a virtual first to make sure it does not cause any problems. Or just keep it on a virtual so it does not interfere with any other software on your PC
- Get a virus, no problem – Surf the web on your virtual. Go to all different risky sites. No worries, if you get a virus on your virtual, just delete the virtual or, if you are using the undo option, discard all the changes
So download Windows Virtual PC and get started today. Note that Windows Virtual PC requires Windows 7. If you have any older Windows version, use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 instead (along with this hotfix rollup package).
I happen to still use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 over Windows Virtual PC because it’s a pain to upgrade your existing virtuals. I also like the icons that show disk access & network in Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 that don’t exist in Windows Virtual PC for some strange reason. But the newer version has some really nice new features. If you decide to install Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 on Windows 7, make sure to read this.
I have about 25 virtual PC’s with all sorts of configurations. For example, I have a virtual for each version of SQL Server and ones for each version of Visual Studio. I keep all the virtuals on a second internal drive, which you might want to do for performance reasons.
There are two other popular virtualization software packages: Oracle’s VirtualBox and VMware Player. Both are free products. The advantages over Windows Virtual PC is they both allow you to create virtual machines with 64-bit OS’s, both support Linux as a guest OS, and VirtualBox also supports Max OS X and many others as a guest OS. One more point: Windows Virtual PC will run on a multi-processor computer, but it uses only one processor. VirtualBox and VMware Player will use all of your CPUs. Oh, forgot one other point: Windows Virtual PC does not have multi-monitor support, unless you do this workaround. VirtualBox and VMware Player both have multi-monitor support.
Windows Virtual PC only runs on Windows, but VirtualBox runs on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, and Solaris. VMware Player runs on Windows and Linux. VMware has a free VMware vCenter Converter that can convert physical machines into virtual machines, and will also convert Microsoft Virtual PC to the VMware format.
For more info read What is the Best Desktop Virtualization Software, How to Decide?, VMware Vs VirtualBox Vs Virtual PC 2007, Comparsion white paper and watch Comparing VM Software: VMWare, Virtual PC, VirtualBox or Virtual PC vs. VirtualBox.