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Doug's Mailbag: Virtual Insanity

Here are a couple of responses to the relationship between VMware, XP and Windows 7:

Your blurb needs some clarification. It's not so much that VMware Player "is faster and just plain better than XP Mode." VMware Player is running XP Mode -- it's Microsoft's Virtual PC that VMware wants you to dispense with! The VMware Player runs under Windows 7 (and runs VERY WELL, I might add) but it is still running XP Mode.

Microsoft wants you to download and install XP Mode and Virtual-PC and run XP Mode natively. (I suspect that this precludes you from running any OS except XP Mode under Virtual-PC under Windows 7.)

If you instead download (for free) and install VMware Player under Windows 7, you can then run any OS you want under Windows 7. (I don't know about Mac OS X, but it poses and interesting possibility.)

If you want to run XP Mode under the VMware Player, just go to Microsoft and download the XP Mode components for Windows 7 and install them. VMware Player will then import the XP Mode virtual machine directly into VMware Player.

I have not tried to work with Virtual-PC but the VMware Player is exceedingly easy to use. It can install any X86 or X64 compatible OS from media or form an ISO image directly into VMware player, just as it if were "bare metal."

I've wanted to experiment with Linux ever since I piddled with Slackware back in the 1990s. I can do that now with any flavor of any Linux or Unix OS without compromising my Windows 7 capabilities or environment -- without resorting to third-party bootstrap loaders -- and without re-partitioning my hard drive.

I always enjoy reading your pieces in Redmond Report -- they are "straight" and thought provoking which is no bad thing in today's marketing age! Regarding Win7 and Virtualization, this has been an issue for me on a personal and a professional basis.

On the personal basis, I use an old mail/news product called Turnpike that will no longer run on Win7 X64. A long story, but basically MS has broken how 32-bit shell extensions work in X64 (or should I say do not work on X64). So until I get a new client, I am doomed to run the old client in some sort of virtualization mode. I tried XP mode and was very disappointed. It just felt clunky and flaky. It was slow, and from time to time it was necessary to reboot the VM since it stopped working. It was a very sub-optimal bit of code that I could not wait to get rid of. I then loaded Sun's Virtual Box software and it's been very good. Not perfect...but more than fit for purpose. I have used it constantly for the last six months and am unlikely to ever want to use the MS offering ever again.

I spend most of my time as a trainer and in the classroom. Hyper-V is harder to manage than I'd like. For everyday use (almost all of my work involves running and using multiple VMs), the lack of power management is a deal breaker. For a few classes, I have found a way around the issue (I dual boot back to Server 2008 R2 using boot from VHD) and run Hyper-V but as soon as the class is over I reboot to Windows 7. And for some classes I use VMware Workstation. Now that was the product MS should have bought. It's stable, fast and about as perfect as can be -- the only downside is that it is not free!

To my mind, what MS should have done was to create a stripped down version of Hyper-V that is power management aware (and can handle compressed VHD drives) for use in Win7. Hyper-V is a great product and I run it on three machines in my home network. Very stable (well, the version in Server 2008 R2!) and performs well. Great for the data centre, but no use on client systems. Instead we get the old Virtual Server code which, to my mind, was never a real contender. MS really did buy the worst of the two products when it bought Connectix -- and Virtual PC/Virtual Server. Unfortunately, in their focus on the data centre and the cloud, MS has left the desktop virtualization offerings largely as they were. I find it sad that MS dropped Training as a key scenario for Hyper-V, even though MS's official training courses require us to use it.

Anyway -- to your question: I have tried just about every virtualization product out there. For use on Win7, I prefer Virtual Box -- it's fast, reliable and free. If VMware were to give away Workstation, I'd probably use that. But XP mode/Virtual PC 7 are products that can remain on the DVD.

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Posted by Doug Barney on June 18, 2010 at 11:53 AM