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The Developer's Guide to Building Virtual PCs

Walk through a step-by-step Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 installation of SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional. Once it's built, you can clone your Virtual PC, back it up, perform experiments on it, restore it, and even distribute it to others.

irtual PCs are extremely useful for development, testing, and setting up deployments that require applications to be isolated from one another. During the past year or so, I've built more than a dozen Virtual PCs with Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, and used a few more that Microsoft supplied with the product.

Because developers need to replicate their customers' problems, the ability to run their software in the same environments as their customers is important. If you develop on Windows XP, and a customer discovers a problem on Windows 98 Second Edition, it helps you immensely to have a Windows 98 SE installation.

Several years ago, I filled my office with computers running different operating systems. As long as I was trying to cover only the gamut of Windows desktop systems localized for US English, I was able to keep up. Once I expanded my spectrum to cover servers, systems localized for a variety of countries and languages, and a variety of Linux distributions, coverage on a one-computer-per-system basis became impossible.

Just when I began pricing removable hard disks, Microsoft acquired the Virtual PC product from Connectix and re-released it under its own name. Since Virtual PC was covered under my existing MSDN subscription, it was easy for me to try it out, and I never needed to look at VMWare's products.

Installing an operating system on a Virtual PC is just as much work as installing it on a real PC, at least the first time. Once the Virtual PC (VPC) is built, however, the advantages become obvious: you can clone the VPC, back it up, perform experiments on it, restore it, and even distribute it to others.

For example, Microsoft gave reviewers and testers a DVD containing a VPC configured for "Indigo" development during one of the beta tests. Installing all the software for this configuration onto a virgin machine would have taken eight hours; installing the VPC took only 20 minutes. When the testing was over, deleting the test environment was just a matter of deleting the directory, which took a minute or two. Compare that with the two-day "scrape your computer down to the bare bits and reinstall from scratch" process that Microsoft recommends for installing the release version of Visual Studio 2005 over previous betas.

What You Need
Microsoft Virtual PC 2004
SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional

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