If you are looking for an unbiased view of Windows Virtual PC, don’t read this! I love(d) Virtual PC 2007 (henceforth VPC2K7) and was very excited to hear about a new version because there are some things that I wanted to see fixed (like the addition of USB support and 64-bit guest OS support). When Windows Virtual PC released (henceforth WVPC), I was excited about some of the enhancements but very, very disappointed with what was lost. Here’s a brief look at what was lost and why it’s not cool.
So, the new WVPC is heavily driven by Terminal Services functionality which brings to bear the very cool Windows XP mode. WVPC also has support for USB drives which is nice as well. It makes transferring files between machines a little bit easier…since we don’t have Shared Folders anymore.
And that’s where we’ll start with the losses…Shared Folders. I loved Shared Folders. It was so nice to setup a local tools directory on the host machine and just dump all of my wares there. I could even install and run most of the Support and Resource Kit Tools directly in this folder. That saved me some precious space in my VMs and on my computer because I didn’t have to duplicate those files on every VM. In the old VPC2K7, it was so easy to set up Shared Folders to map a network drive to my tools directory on the host machine.
You can still kinda do this today in WVPC but how you do it is a little bit different and less reliable. Because WVPC is based on Terminal Services, you can carry your host drives through to the guest operating system. This isn’t nearly as nice for two reasons. One, it requires that the Integration Components are active (different than just being installed) on the guest OS. Two, it carries the whole drive through so I have to browse to my tools directory – which can be a pain if it is nested deep in the drive.
Logon in VPC2K7 is very straightforward. You are essentially presented with a console window to which anyone can log on just as if they were sitting in front of a terminal. That means that you can logon with a blank password if your policy permits. If you are allowed to logon locally, then you can log on to the box. Straightforward.
Logging on to WVPC is more complicated. It requires that you have Terminal Services logon rights. If you want to leverage Integration Components then you have to logon with an account that has a password. This can be very frustrating when you are trying to test conditions with blank passwords or for normal users (that wouldn’t have these rights). Also frustrating when you want to test Terminal Services logon.
Drag-n-drop in VPC2K7 is probably one of my favorite functionalities. For those few that may not know, it provides the ability for me to simply copy a file from my host machine to my guest machine (or in reverse) simply by dragging the file over the VM like it was folder. This can also be done from the guest machine to the host machine.
In place of drag-n-drop, WVPC has…nothing. I’ve heard that it was taken out because it was a security concern. When you use drag-n-drop, it uses a clipboard behavior to copy the file between source and destination. Apparently, the file stays on the clipboard and this is the security risk. Okay, fine, I can see if this was an issue if it was on Virtual Server or Hyper-V but this is a desktop virtualization technology. In the scenario where this would be an issue for most Virtual PC users, it would be a bigger issue that someone was on my desktop in the first place.
Changing common settings in VPC2K7 is very easy as well with the context icons at the bottom of the guest window. These context icons make it easy to quickly change or add Shared Folders, add media to the DVD drive, or adjust the network settings. All of this functionality I used very often.
WVPC requires me to go through more menus to get to these guest machine settings. Not sure why we go backwards in ease of use as we go forward with the application version. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that WVPC is based on Terminal Services but I am not sure why.
I could live with all of this if WVPC added one thing – support for 64-bit guest operating systems. Why is it that it leverages hardware-assisted virtualization but it does not support 64-bit operating systems? This is even more unforgivable now that 2008 R2 has released and it is available as 64-bit only. This means that I can’t use Microsoft own desktop virtualization software to test a Microsoft operating system. It leaves me with two choices – VMWare Workstation if I want to use my Windows 7 box, or Hyper-V. BTW, it’s kinda funny but VMWare is actually touting the fact that they have drag-n-drop functionality with VMWare Workstation.
C’mon Microsoft, don’t tie the hands of your admins. I understand the value of Windows XP Mode and it is cool but don’t take away what I had. Or, if the functionality is mutually exclusive, then give me a choice how to use it. I personally don’t need the application virtualization ability but I do miss all of the perks of Virtual PC 2007. And for your own sake, don’t make it so I can’t even use your virtualization technology to support your own operating system. At least give me a testing only version like you did for Exchange 2007 (which you should be doing anyway so that you don’t make me upgrade my test lab just to run your new OS – and no, I don’t want to hear how cheap hardware is now – I want to use the hardware I have already invested in).