Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 RTMs

Microsoft this week completed its first conversion of virtual machine technology acquired from Connectix Corp. into a product.

Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 released to manufacturing on Monday amid controversy about its compatibility with Linux and an aggressive price structure that will increase pressure on virtual machine software market share leader VMWare. Virtual PC 2004 will be generally available by the end of the year, according to Microsoft.

Virtual PC is one of three technologies Microsoft is carrying forward from the acquisition of Connectix Corp. in February. Connectix also had virtual machine technology for Mac, which Microsoft has committed to continuing, and was in pre-release stages of work on a Virtual Server that is a strategic product for Microsoft in the server space. Microsoft officials say Virtual Server will ship in the first half of 2004.

Virtual machine technology allows a user to run more than one operating system on a machine. The virtual machine software abstracts the hardware from the guest operating systems, causing each guest operating system to function normally as if it had complete control of the system.

While there are many potential uses of virtual machine technology, Microsoft is positioning Virtual PC as a solution for migrating applications from older versions of Windows, DOS or OS/2 to Windows XP.

The company has chosen its support policies carefully to further that goal -- allowing the product to run only on Windows XP Professional and Windows 2000 Professional as host operating systems. Supported guest operating systems are limited to Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, Windows Me, Windows 98, Windows 95, MS-DOS 6.22 and IBM OS/2, an aging operating system with a history closely tied to Windows.

The listing of the supported operating systems has led to allegations that Microsoft has technically disabled the ability to run Linux, Free BSD, NetWare and Solaris on Intel within Virtual PC -- all of which were possible in the Connectix Virtual PC product. Early users have also reported that those non-Microsoft or IBM operating systems have been dropped from the product's wizard. In trade press interviews, Microsoft officials counter that Linux and the other operating systems can still be run on Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, but they are not supported.

Microsoft dropped the price $100 from the Connectix price of $229 to a new price of $129. The new amount is a significant savings from the price of the more flexible VMWare Workstation 4, which costs $299 for download or $329 for a packaged version.

The more expensive VMWare Workstation 4 offers customers more flexibility in their use of virtual machine technology, even on the Windows operating system. That product can run with either a Linux host operating system or a Windows host operating system. And the Windows host can be Windows Server 2003, Windows XP Home Edition or Windows NT 4.0 in addition to the Windows host operating systems Microsoft Virtual PC supports.

VMWare is more inclusive of guest operating systems, with support for additional Windows clients such as Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, and support for NetWare, and Free BSD and four flavors of Linux.

Changes from Connectix Virtual PC to Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 are primarily under the covers. Microsoft rearchitected Virtual PC, reviewed it for security and conducted rigorous testing, the company said. Some new features grace the 2004 version. Support for network adapters is increased to four per virtual machine. There is new XML file-based configuration to make it easier to copy one virtual machine to another computer. Memory support has also been raised to support up to 4 GB of RAM.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.