Windows 7 Virtual PC FTW (For The Win) for virtual workstation development

I have constantly fought both Virtual PC and VM Workstation when working on virtual machines for development purposes. While VMWare had the features I liked it also had a price tag and a rather smug attitude. I usually ended up having to use the free version of VMWare which was crippled or Virtual PC which was not much better. Both were missing features that I wanted.

Now that I am using Windows 7 on my developer laptop I figured I would put the Virtual PC through its paces and see if they finally solved my pain points. At this point is has been over a week and I am sold on Win 7 and virtual pc.

 

1. Removed the annoying system tray application.

I know it is pretty nit picky but I just bothered me that I needed to run that little system tray application.  That is gone now and when you go to your Virtual Machines it shows you all of them and the location that they are running from windows explorer.

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2. Support for my USB devices

One of the uses for my Virtual PCs is to have a virtual machine that works with some of my devices like video camera or x10 that I want to work on a moments notice after I repave a machine.  Virtual PC did not support this so I had to do this in VMWare before. See the USB menu and the Attach menu items below.

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3. Connect to the Network over my Wireless Connection

This one was a real pain to deal with. VM Workstation could do this out of the box. Virtual PC would not. There was a work around where you could install a Loopback adaptor on your host machine and do some route commands to make the network work properly but it was a pain and not portable.  No when I teach the Headspring Agile Bootcamp or other classes I can share the main setup for our Continuous Integration server over our wireless network. This makes it real easy to start the class and run this virtual machine from my machine or say copy it over to a machine on the network. Since we teach the class at different venues having this different options really help.

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4. Access local drives

This seems like a pretty basic requirement but before Virtual PC had it but the free version of VM ware did not have it. The work around was to map a network drive but it was so slow.

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What do you like or hate about Virtual PC?

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    About Eric Hexter

    I am the CTO for QuarterSpot. I (co)Founded MvcContrib, Should, Solution Factory, and Pstrami open source projects. I have co-authored MVC 2 in Action, MVC3 in Action, and MVC 4 in Action. I co-founded online events like mvcConf, aspConf, and Community for MVC. I am also a Microsoft MVP in ASP.Net.
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    • DoniG

      The main complaint I have is not being able to run a 64 bit guest, even when using Win 7 x64. This is especially annoying now that all the servers are going x64 only.

      I assume Microsoft will fix this when they realize all their PDC demo machines need to run VMWare to host the x64 VHDs…

    • Jeremy Wiebe

      Just curious, but have you ever looked at VirtualBox? I haven’t done any serious performance comparisons, but it seems to have a much larger feature list than Virtual PC (it has had USB support for quite some time).

    • Nolan Egly

      Hey Eric,

      Other than not being free, what other issues did you have with VMWare Workstation?

      I’ve been using it for about a month and love being able to switch between different development environments without having a lot installed on the host. VMWare workstation also has dual monitor support (just don’t let your machine hibernate or the VM crashes when waking up for some reason). The only real downside I’ve had is occasional disk thrashing when the guest OS starts paging (I quit opening 3 instances of Visual Studio) and the slight lag that happens sometimes.

      As far as Virtual PC, my previous experiences have been fairly poor performance compared to VMWare on the same hardware. Maybe this has been improved since I last used VPC.

      Do you use virtual machines for everyday development tasks, or just for prototyping/demoing?

    • Alex

      I’ts to slow compared to Virtualbox/VMWare

    • James Hicks

      The issues I had with the new virtual pc beta on win7 beta was:
      1. No support for copy/paste or drag/drop files between guest and host. this was a big deal for me as I do most of my browsing in IE8 on my host. I really need the support to copy/paste from that browser into the VM. And I don’t run Office inside the VMs so I need the ability to quickly drag/drop files without having to share disks/folders
      2. Flakey USB support
      3. Lack of support for x64 guests. Our production servers are running win 2003 x64 but our developers are on x32. We want our developers on x64 as well.
      4. Limited feature set when the guest is not Windows XP

      I think the VPC team spent too much time trying to tailor the product for XP guests. After using VPC beta on win 7 for about 4 months, I switched to VMWare workstation. Since then, my productivity has went up because I don’t have to fuddle with an inferior product.

    • http://www.lostechies.com/members/erichexter/default.aspx erichexter

      @all

      My main development is still done on x64 Win7. Since I am a consultant I use the virtual machines to spin up new environments for older technologies.. say Vistual Studio 2005 or an older version of IE. Or trying out a build server or setup artifact to ensure that it can work on a new clean machine. I find that being the main uses I use for my virtual machines. My main goal for the use of the virtual machines is being able to keep my main environement clean and allowing me to try out new or old things in a place where I can easily archive, share, and delete.

      I really looked at the Boot to VHD as a way of running a x64 instance if I needed to. I find that having my laptop as x64 and being able to test on x86 on a virtual machine has been valuable for me.

      I really look to my base laptop for pure performance and I guess I expect some performance lag in my viertual machines. I found that Virtual PC and VMWare both have performance and quite honestly I think they both stinck compared to running against my OS.

      I have not used Virtual Box but if it is free I will try it out.

      I really never tryed to copy and past across any of the virtual machines. I cannot talk to which product does that the best.

    • Julio Gonzalez

      If you liked Virtual PC in Windows 7, I think you should try the “Boot to VHD” feature, specially if you develop on a laptop.

      http://www.hanselman.com/blog/LessVirtualMoreMachineWindows7AndTheMagicOfBootToVHD.aspx

      http://blogs.msdn.com/knom/archive/2009/04/07/windows-7-vhd-boot-setup-guideline.aspx

    • http://leghumped.com/ Echilon

      The ability to rrun IE5 as a native window for testing makes XP mode well worth the upgrade to Win7.

    • http://weblogs.asp.net/bsimser Bil Simser

      VPC advantages: good desktop integration, good scripting support, fairly snappy getting vms up and running, no issues with different configurations against same disk images, free.

      VPC disadvantages: no x64 support, basic snapshot support, poor guest desktop resolution support, no multimonitor support (?), poor usb integration, no drag and drop (removal of feature that used to be there in previous version – bad!)

    • Todd

      My gripes with Windows Virtual PC (coming from virtual PC 2007) is horrendous access across the network (mapped drives are MUCH slower than VPC2007) — some stupid idea that when you resize the screen the desktop logs itself out (You can get around this with saving credentials but WHY??? Why create the security risk of saved/auto logon credentials to resize the desktop window???? On existing VHDs that I uipcovered to the lastest Integration features it took over 30 minutes to upgrade just top copy over the USB drivers, and put on the installation features. Lilke other developers I passed on VMWare because of cost and VPC2007 worked well enough for me to keep development snapshots and didn’t get in my way and had decent enough performance. Also, integration features seems to want to put VMs to hibernate and have removed the “shutdown” command from start. Can still do from the “X” on the upper right corner but WTF? Now, it’s just plain weird and I would already have bought VMWare except they are coming out with a new version in a month for workstation and have no “software assurance” or upgrade policy other than “buy it again”. So, I wait for Workstation 7 and will by that version and dump this completely. No multi processor, no multi monitor, just a half baked effort in my opinion.