My need for virtualization technology comes out of my business as a web developer. Because I still need to test websites in IE6, I wanted a good way to somehow run IE6. Because IE6 does not run on Vista (at least without innumerable registry hacks), I decided to try a virtualization solution.
The two products I looked at are both free. They are Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, and VMware Player.
Installation and Footprint
The install for both was easy, but I felt that the VMware player took up more system resources and was more cumbersome to run. That’s not to say that Virtual PC 2007 wasn’t without i’s own quirks, but I did find Virtual PC 2007 easier to use. Both are free, so cost is not an issue at this level.
Availability of Images
One of the things I liked the most about Virtual PC 2007 was the fact that there are free Windows XP and Windows Vista images available from Microsoft. They are time-limited images (virtual pc images are also known as “virtual hard drives” or “VHD” by Microsoft), but they are useful nevertheless. Because VHD’s are only compatible with virtual pc, you cannot use a VHD image with VMware’s product. But because both software products emulate only the hardware, another option I had was to go ahead and create my own image. I could easily have taken a licensed version of Windows and installed it on either Virtual PC 2007 or VMware Player.
Linux vs Windows
Because MS has the images available for free, it was easiest for me to setup virtual pc and run it with a Windows XP image. This setup met my needs. However, I did look to VMware player to help me setup a LAMP Server. A LAMP server is a linux/apache/mysql/php installation that is very useful in locally testing php/mysql websites. There were multiple LAMP server images available to download for use with VMware player. These images were created by other contributing users, so I did have some hesitation about installing an image where I couldn’t trace back the security. I did try a few of these installs, but I did feel that managing the overall environment was easier with Virtual PC.
Around this time I discovered WampServer, which is a WAMP installer for windows (note that WAMP is basically the same as LAMP except the “W” is for “Windows” instead of Linux). WampServer installs the component programs all at once, obviating the need to manually install apache, php and mysql (which generally is pretty straight forward but can once-in-a-while be buggy). Because of the seamless install, I actually elected to go with a WampServer setup instead of using a LAMP image on a VMWare Player installation.
So if you are looking to run a Windows virtual OS, then I can attest that Virtual PC is an excellent platform to use — especially if you are using virtualization to test websites in IE6. If you would like step-by-step instructions about how to run IE6 in Windows XP in a Virtual PC enviroment on Vista, this post will help.
Note that I also tested running Windows 2000 and had no problems either. If you are going to use something other than the free time-limited install, make sure that you follow appropriate licensing requirements, because Virtual PC “counts” as if you had a separate computer, so a legal windows license is needed.