Virtual PC - Run multiple OS within Windows

Virtual PC is freeware from Microsoft to run different operating systems within Windows. Which means you can run Windows XP, Vista or Windows7 just like any other program inside a window in your current Windows.

Installing Virtual PC is very easy compared to traditional method of running multiple OS like partitioning the hard drive, implementing dual boot etc. You can find more details on virtual PC, installing Virtual PC, create virtual machines etc. in this guide.

Virtual PC uses

  • Sandbox for trying out softwares : If you try out different softwares regularly you can use Virtual PC to install these softwares, so that you will not mess up your main Windows installation. Only after testing in guest OS, you can install the chosen ones in your Main windows installation
  • Running unsafe and risky software : Some times you may want to run a software given by your friend but you are not sure if it is safe to run or virus infected. In that case you can copy that file to virtual PC and run it from there. Since the host OS file system is completely hidden from guest OS, you need not worry about virus infecting host OS.
  • Easier to Rollback : Harddrives of virtual machines are single files, so when you want to save the state of the system, just make a copy of harddrive file(vhd file). When you first install guest OS, you can make a copy of hard drive file. so in case you want to make guest OS rollback to fresh install you can do easily using this file. Also, if you want to delete all the files of one virtual hard drive, you need to delete only one file in host OS.
  • No Dual boot or harddrive partitioning to run multiple OS : Dual booting (and hardware partioning if installing multiple OS in same drive) used to be traditional way to install multiple OS. No need of all this, in case of Virtual PC
  • Software development and testing : Virtual PC is ideal for software developers and testers who need to test software in different operating sytems.

Limitations of using Virtual PC

The resources you get for Virtual PC OS is subset of what you have in host PC. For example, if you have 3GB RAM in host PC, you can allocate only values below 3GB for guest OS, like 1GB or 2GB etc. if you allocate RAM very close to what available in host PC, Virtual PC will issue a warning.

Installing virtual pc

Latest version of Virtual PC is called Windows Virtual PC, it requires Windows 7 for installation and also your PC hardware should have hardware virtualization support. If you are using Windows XP or Vista or your computer do not have hardware virtualization support then you can download Microsoft Virtual PC

Creating Virtual Machine

After downloading and installing Virtual PC, you have to create virtual machine before you can install any OS into it. For creating Virtual machine, there is a wizard which will ask you details regarding the virtual machine to create, like the amount of RAM to allot, file name of virtual hard drive (vhd file), etc.. After you create a virtual machine you can adjust its properties using settings option in Virtual PC console. Once virtual machine is created and configured, it is ready to install operating system into it.

Instaling operating system in Virtual Machine

When you select the new virtual machine in virtual pc console and click start, you will see the usual black screen (with RAM checking, harddisks check etc) which you see when you switch on the computer, except that it is running inside a window. Before installing OS it will display "Reboot and Select proper Boot device or Insert Boot media in Boot device". To install new operating system, insert the installation disk in CD drive and choose, "Use Physical drive E:" from the CD menu of your virtual machine. Now restart the virtual machine using reset in Action menu. Now if the installation CD in CD drive is bootable CD, the installation process will start and it will install just like you install in normal PC.

To make the Virtual OS full screen and get a feeling of running standalone, you can use shortcurt Right Alt key + Enter

Virtual PC Additions

Installing Virtual pc additions in the Virtual OS add these features to virtual OS

  • Mouse integration with host OS : Without additions, once mouse pointer is clicked inside Virtual OC, it is captured inside virutal OS, until host key is pressed ( this is usually Right Alt key). With additions installed, move mouse seamlessly between host OS and virtual OS.
  • Clipboard sharing : With additions, Virtual PC and host OS share same clipboard. so what is copied in host is available for paste in virtual OS and vice versa
  • Drag and drop support : File and folders can be dragged and dropped between virtual OS and host OS
  • Enable Virtual PC shared folders : Any folder in Host OS can be shared with Virtual OS and it will apprear a drive inside Virtual OS.

Virutal machine additions are available for install if Virutal OS installed is Windows 98 or above. To install virtual machine additions, choose "Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions" in Action menu after booting the virtual OS.

Note : if you are installing Windows7 in Microsoft Virtual PC make sure you have version or higher or else installing virtual additions will cause Blue screen of death(BSoD) inside virtual PC and also no sound will be there.

Other similar softwares

Microsoft officially support only Windows operating systems within Virtual PC but you can technically install other OS like Linux. In case Virtual PC do not suit your needs there are plenty of similar products both commercial and free. VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems and VMWare Player are two popular similar products ( both free for personal use).