Microsoft's latest operating system Windows Vista comes in a luxuriant range of flavors; still, in the end, the choice is between Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate editions. Apple would argue that multiple editions are synonymous with consumer confusion and that a single operating system version is more than sufficient. This is also valid, more or less, for Microsoft as the company has included all editions of Windows Vista on a single media. My Windows Vista Business DVD for example, also allows me to install Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Basic N, Home Premium, Business N, Ultimate and even the Starter edition.
The Redmond Company permits all Vista users to deploy and test-drive the various editions of the operating system. All you have to do is simply own a license, and an installation disk. And while dual boot or multiple boot configurations are often regarded as the most accessible solution by end users, hardware emulation technology is in fact not only the best alternative, but also the best solution. Dual and multi-boot solutions often manage to cause unwanted interference and conflicts, and managing various installations of different operating systems across multiple hard disk partitions can also generate potential headaches.
It's My Virtualized Way or the Highway!
Not a big fan of dual or multi-boot? Don't want to handle boot configurations? Don't feel like repartitioning your hard drive? Then virtualization is the right answer for you, and Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 is the tool of the trade. Almost simultaneously with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft has also made available the 2007 release of its virtualization technology as a free download. Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, weighing in between 30.4 MB - 60.9 MB went live for the general public in mid February 2007.
Hardware emulation technology is delivered as a response to streamline the migration process from one operating system to another, in this case, from Widows XP to Windows Vista. There are always questions related to the compatibility of legacy and custom applications on the new platform and Virtual PC 2007 provides a temporary workaround to mitigate the inherent functionality issues associated with the transition or upgrade process. The bottom line? With Virtual PC 2007, you will be able to run a single or multiple virtual machines, each tied to its own operating system, all on the same computer. Unlike dual and multi-boot, virtualization brings a high level of flexibility into the equation of running different operating systems on the same computer.
Halt! You Cannot Install Here!
Are there limitations to what you can do with Virtual PC 2007? Well, the sad part is yes, there are. Although Virtual PC 2007 has no physical restrictions set in place, Microsoft only allows you to run the following operating systems as host platforms: Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Ultimate, Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Windows Server 2003 Standard x64 Edition, Windows XP Professional, or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.
Microsoft fails to be more generous when it comes down to guest operating system, well... just a tad more generous. You will be able to install as guest operating system in a virtual machine under Virtual PC 2007 the following: Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Ultimate, OS/2 Warp Version 4 Fix Pack 15, OS/2 Warp Convenience Pack 1, OS/2 Warp Convenience Pack 2.
You will notice that Microsoft has "virtually" ostracized Windows Vista Home Basic and Home Premium. The Redmond Company has explained this course of action as designed to protect home users from threats targeting virtualized environments. Additionally, hardware emulating technology is traditionally addressed to processional and corporate ecosystems, therefore, as far as the interaction between Windows Vista and Virtual PC 2007 is concerned, the actual choices are Business, Enterprise and Ultimate.
For Vista Business and Ultimate: "You may use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device. If you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use BitLocker. We advise against playing or accessing content or using applications protected by other digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other rights management services or using full volume disk drive encryption."
But always keep in mind that there is no physical impediment designed to stop you from using Virtual PC 2007 with all editions of Windows Vista. As a matter of fact, Microsoft even plans to add support for the remaining two editions of the operating system in the future.
Think about it in terms of a receipt. You'll need Windows Vista Business, and the Vista installation media and Virtual PC 2007. You can download Virtual PC 2007 from here, and you can even download a free copy of Windows Vista Enterprise time-bombed for 30 days via this link. Additionally, you will of course need horsepower. Go with the recommended processor for high-end editions of Vista, but make sure you have at least 1.5 GB RAM, although anything in excess of 2 GB of physical memory is the best way. And have plenty of free disk space at your disposal! Bear in mind that Vista alone eats up some 20 GB of your HDD.
Building Your Virtual Machine for Windows Vista Ultimate
There is already a resource in place right here on Softpedia, a sort of a step-by-step guide to install and configure Virtual PC 2007 in Windows Vista, and you can use it as an excellent reference. However, we are talking about Windows Vista Ultimate here, so the virtual machine we will be building requires a tad of extra attention. Having already deployed Virtual PC 2007, launch the application and click on New. In the New Virtual Machine Wizard Select the Create a Virtual Machine option, hit next and enter a name and a location for the VM. The upcoming step is very important as it involves the configuration settings, but fortunately, Virtual PC 2007 provides a pre-set Windows Vista option.
By default, the memory allocated to the virtual machine, even for Vista, is 512 MB RAM. Not nearly enough for the Ultimate edition, but we will address this issue further down the road, namely just after you hit next. Select Adjusting the RAM option and go all out. For me this has to mean 1 GB of RAM, that's all I can spare out of my 2 GB. Move on to create a new virtual hard disk and give it 20 GB of space. Hit next and you are all done.
Launch the Virtual Machine you created and configured for Windows Vista Ultimate. Please use the images I have included below as visual reference for the guidelines. There are a couple of commands you have to remember. Right Alt + P will pause your machine and Right Alt + R will reset it completely. When it launches, the machine will perform actions similar to any boot operation. Go under CD in the menu and either select Use Physical Drive, and point it to the Vista DVD or Capture ISO image if that is the case.
Moreover, Virtual PC 2007 will eat your mouse. Clicking inside the virtual machine means that you will not be able to use the mouse on the rest of the desktop. In order to get Virtual PC 2007 to release your mouse you will have to press Right Alt.
And thats about it! The installation process of Windows Vista will kick and will do the rest of the job. There are however a few things that you need to know. When Vista will ask you for the product key you have the possibility to simply click next, without entering a serial number. You will now be able to select the operating system you want to install, in this case, Windows Vista Ultimate. The deployment will move on with a clean install, and you will see that it will automatically select the virtual hard disk you created earlier in the Virtual PC 2007 wizard. Nothing could be simpler: no dual boot, not partitions, no unnecessary formatting...
One other thing that you are bound to notice is the fact that the installation will drag its feet in the virtual machine compared to a traditional deployment. This is perhaps the biggest trade-off for running Windows Vista in Virtual PC 2007, the operating system will take its due time, you just have to be patient.
At the end, you will have full access to Windows Vista Ultimate, without dropping a cent of the $399. The price tag will only be an issue if you decide to continue using the high-end version of the operating system, and Microsoft supports streamlined upgrade between editions. Testing Vista Ultimate is free. And you will be able to enjoy a full 120 days of Ultimate. The Windows Software Licensing Management Tool will come in handy in this respect. Open an elevated command prompt before the 30 days activation period runs out by typing "cmd" in the search box under the Start menu and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter. In the command prompt window enter "slmgr rearm" in order to reset the licensing status of the operating system.