Use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 to run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same physical computer. Switch between virtual machines with the click of a button. Use virtual machines to run legacy applications, provide support, train users, and enhance quality assurance.
Virtual PC lets you create separate virtual machines on your Windows desktop, each of which virtualizes the hardware of a complete physical computer. Use virtual machines to run operating systems such as MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2. You can run multiple operating systems at once on a single physical computer and switch between them as easily as switching applications—instantly, with a mouse click. Virtual PC is perfect for any scenario in which you need to support multiple operating systems, whether you use it for tech support, legacy application support, training, or just for consolidating physical computers.
What you'll need
1. A Windows XP setup disc with a license.
2. The free Virtual PC 2007 download.
3. About an hour, depending on how fast your computer is.
Now, lots of lifehackers say that other virtualization software, like VMWare or Parallels for Windows is better or faster than Virtual PC. That may well be true, but Virtual PC is free, which is just cheap enough for home use. Virtual PC is best suited for casual users who fancy an occasional foray into an older version of Windows.
This particular article is for running an XP virtual machine inside Vista, which is almost guaranteed to work reasonably well. Here's my logic: if your PC is beefed up enough to run Vista, it'll run XP just fine as a virtual machine.
Virtual PC can be used to run other operating systems inside Windows XP, also - but be warned: without a fast physical machine with lots of RAM, your virtual machine may be slow too.
Create a new XP Virtual Machine
Once you've got Virtual PC 2007 downloaded and installed and your XP disc at the ready, from Virtual PC's Action menu, choose "New Virtual Machine Wizard" and you're off. Within the VM Wizard, you'll set how much RAM to allocate to the XP virtual machine, and you'll also set up a new Virtual Hard Drive with a size you set that XP will use to store data.
The Virtual Machine Wizard, like most Windows wizards, is easy enough to work through, so I'll spare you the text.
Once your new VM is installed, insert your XP setup disc into your CD drive. Then, within Virtual PC, select the XP vm, and hit the Start button.
Install Windows XP
Now, you've got to install Windows XP onto your new virtual partition. If you've ever set up XP from scratch before, this'll be old hat.
You'll be prompted to format a "new partition," which is the virtual hard drive you set up earlier. Also, you'll be asked to set XP's date and time and other regional settings. The first time you click inside the XP VM, Virtual PC will attempt to "capture" your mouse pointer. Once it's inside the VM, you won't be able to move it out of the window without using a special key combination (Right-Alt, by default.) Here's the initial VPC prompt about mouse capturing:
This mouse pointer capturing business is really annoying, especially for someone used to using VNC to remote control computers. Happily using some extras for VPC, we can stop the Right-Alt madness. More on that later.
I completed XP setup in about an hour on my Acer laptop. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Run your XP virtual machine
Once setup completes, XP will "reboot" and start running inside a window on Vista. Here's what that looks like:
Now, there are tons of virtual machine settings and properties you can fiddle with to your heart's content. But before you do that, be sure to install the Virtual Machine Additions to your XP VM for a few must-have extras.
Install the Virtual Machine Additions
To get extra VPC features like sharing the mouse and folders between guest OS and host, start up your XP VM, and from the Action menu, choose "Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions" (the key command is Right-Alt-I). VPC will go through its paces and prompt you to reboot the XP VM. (Click to enlarge image.)
Once VM Additions are installed, you can move your mouse between your XP VM and Vista host without having to press Right-Alt to free the pointer. Additionally, you can share folders from the host PC to the VM. Check out the Settings area to do that, as pictured (click to enlarge):
While Virtual PC 2007 isn't the best virtualization software ever (I'm still drooling over Parallels desktop for Mac, with Coherence and Windows support), it's pretty damn good for free, and it may be just the thing you need for a little retro XP action, fast.