Windows Tip Sheet

Virtual Computing Rules

It's hip, it's cool, it's virtual computing. Well, it's cool for geeks, anyways.

You know how sometimes you get so used to working with something that you forget how cool it is, and then you're surprised when you meet other people and they haven't heard about it? I bet you have two or three cool tools that you think everybody must know about. My cool tool is Microsoft Virtual PC or, if you prefer, VMWare Workstation.

The whole concept of virtual computing is cool. Virtual PC (and VMWare, for that matter — for the purposes of this discussion, they're identical) runs on your computer and runs other operating systems in a window. Basically, Virtual PC emulates an Intel computer, which you can configure with up to three hard drives, four network adapters, as much memory you want, and so forth. You then install Windows (or Linux, or whatever) on it, just like you would on any other Intel-based computer. So your computer effectively has two operating systems running: The "host" operating system, which in my case is Windows XP Pro, and the "guest" operating system, which in the figure below is Windows 2003 Standard.

Microsoft Virtual PC is my cool tool
With my version of Microsoft Virtual PC, the host runs Windows XP Pro and the guest operating system is Windows 2003 Standard. VMWare also allows Apple Macintosh, Novell, and Unix or Linux to run on the same box in virtual PCs. (Click image to view larger version.)

But the fun doesn't end there. Provided you have enough RAM on you host machine, you can run multiple guest operating systems at once. The RAM is really key: Suppose you have two guest systems running and that you've allocated 256MB to each. Your physical computer, then, must have 512MB of physical RAM installed, plus extra physical RAM to run your host OS, so about 712MB total, at a minimum.

Perfect For Labs and Pilots
Why is Virtual PC (or VMWare) so cool? Labs and pilots. Imagine being able to pilot an AD migration over and over and over again, running both your NT PDC and your new AD DC on the same physical computer, all safely within a virtual machine window. And I'm serious about the "over and over and over" part, thanks to another cool feature that Virtual PC and VMWare offer: Undo drives.

See, each hard drive hooked up to a virtual computer is really just a file on your host machine (a .VHD file in the case of Virtual PC). When you start a virtual machine, you can have Virtual PC treat that file as read-only; any changes made to the hard drive are written to a separate VHD file called the "undo" drive. In effect, the virtual machine's current hard drive state is the combination of the two VHD drives. When you shut down the virtual machine, you have the option to commit changes, which merges the temporary "undo" drive into the main VHD. Or — and this is the cool part — you can simply discard the "undo" drive, leaving your virtual machine back where you started. This feature allows you to "go back in time" and discard whatever you did to the virtual machine — perfect for a test lab or pilot project!

So what's your cool tool? Something you take for granted and assume everyone has heard of — but maybe they haven't? E-mail me at and let me know!

Micro Tip Sheet

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More Resources
Microsoft Virtual PC Web site:

VMWare Web site:

About the Author

With more than fifteen years of IT experience, Don Jones is one of the world’s leading experts on the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 35 books, including Windows PowerShell: TFM, Windows Administrator’s Scripting Toolkit, VBScript WMI and ADSI Unleashed, PHP-Nuke Garage, Special Edition Using Commerce Server 2002, Definitive Guide to SQL Server Performance Optimization, and many more. Don is a top-rated and in-demand speaker and serves on the advisory board for TechMentor. He is an accomplished IT journalist with features and monthly columns in Microsoft TechNet Magazine, Redmond Magazine, and on Web sites such as TechTarget and Don is also a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s prestigious Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award, and is the Editor-in-Chief for Realtime Publishers.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Apr 15, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

VmWare is state of the art software compared to VPC

Wed, Dec 22, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I had issues in the past with vmware especially relating to storage. however the newer versions are very powerful and capabilities like vmotion are incredible. also use virtual server and its a fine product. we pretty much have decided to go virtual all the way so we also use Datacore sanmelody for virtual capacity which is another neat bit of software for windows environments.

Wed, May 26, 2004 Jeff Tucson

I don't think the VMWare posts are plants. If you compare VMWare and Virtual PC, VMWare has a lot of advantages, but the price difference is considerable. I use VPC and it is fine for a large majority of my lab needs. There are some hardware issues such as SCSI and USB that it does not do, so it comes down to the price versus what you need. Microsoft does address the SCSI issue with Virtual Server. I don't think they will change the functionality of VPC all that much in the future.

Thu, May 20, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

What a bunch of planted posts by VMWare!

Wed, May 19, 2004 Ian Oz

I have been using VMware for ages in my role as a technical trainer - for example the 2152 course has students working with disk management and dynamic disks; impractical with real hardware - real easy with VMWare! I can even get them to simulate a disk failure and recovery!

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Othel cool tool: Virtual CD ROM, a great tool to mount iso files like a disk drive

Wed, May 19, 2004 Oscar Soto Santiago CL

yeah, i love VMWare, you can do virtual clusters with VMware Workstation (a little hard) and GSX server (so easy) and with ESX server. I 've been using for two years and all my clients had seen a lab for migrating NT to AD 200X, and Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 200X, and they feel like a real migration.
Just one thing. In a lab environment we shoud use evaluations version.
In fact, the licensing of windows 2003 have mentions about Virtual software.
Microsoft includes virtual computing for their official courses, like 2400 Exchange server and it's a great Idea. Just one hour o configuring and you have 10 o more real PC with 4 Virtual machines inside. 40 machines. wow.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Jason Minneapolis, MN

I can't say enough good things about virtual computing. IMO VMware currently blows away VPC. If MS wants to take a run at VMware, they have their work cut out for them. VPC will never eliminate VMware as long as VMware supports an array of other non-MS operating systems and VPC doesn't for competition purposes.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Keeping a virtual machine, guest os, or whatever you call them for each configuration in the company comes in handy for help desk situations also. For example if you have someone in a remote location that needs to set up a dial up connection in windows 95/98, virtual pc can help jog your memory as to what screens to step the person through. For companies with a lot of different configurations, the ability to have any needed screen at your fingertips is a nice tool to have. Especially when virtual pc doesn't break the bank.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

The current version hosts on a desktop os but you can install any OS (Linix, OS2, NT4 workstation, NT4 server ect..)

i currently have VPC running on a test system with 2gigs of ram and 8 servers running (2 2k, 2 2k3, 2 NT4, and 2 2k3 w ad) as a test setup for changes to a end to end business sollution that i support. Works great. exchange is installed, SQL server 2k and ISA server.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Alex Anonymous

Microsoft may want to incorporate virtual machine technology into the testing process, so there could be hands-on exams where the test takers configure real servers but it wouldn't require expensive investment in actual hardware.

Wed, May 19, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Virtual Pc is for Desktop OS like xp, w2kpro, Win98se. Also, because it is virtual it does not recognize some hardware, like scsi controllers and usb. So this would create problems for devices uses this hardware. Not sure how Windows 2003 standard server was installed with this desktop product.
Microsoft has a beta product for servers. Maybe you used the beta product?

Wed, May 19, 2004 Paulson WSU

I heartily agree, we have been using Virtual PC to give our laptop equipped MIS students a sandbox that also is a virtual lab. We set up the environment, give them a problem, and let them explore and learn!

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