OK, so I’m climbing a learning curve with x64 Vista and Microsoft Virtual PC that is at times frustrating, at other times just plain weird, but always interesting and even sometimes moderately entertaining. I’m starting to get the hang of this whole Virtual Machine thing at long, long last and have learned some interesting lessons that may help those who have themselves yet to venture down this path.
The old aphorism: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” resonates with the first of my recent Lessons Learned with Virtual PC 2007. I’ve recently set up a baker’s rack in my office, and now have all of my test and experimental machines racked up next to my desk. Ordinarily, I use Remote Desktop Connection to access and work with those other machines from the comfort and convenience of my dual-screen-outfitted desktop. One of the first lessons I learned with Virtual PC 2007 is that the number of levels of indirection for mouse and keyboard when installing an OS into a new virtual machine is limited. That is, I actually have to use the mouse and screen on the Virtual PC 2007 host machine to install a guest OS onto that machine. I can open and load an existing VM via a remote session, but no joy in performing installation tasks. Good to know.
At this point, the biggest benefit to using VMs is that I can create a reference machine for some target environment, install all the patches and updates, add whatever other scaffolding I want (antivirus, antispyware, necessary apps, and so forth), then save that machine for re-use. I just need to remember to load that VM from time to time to update it, then save it again so it becomes my point of reference for continued/continuing reuse. I’ve also learned to be very specific in naming the virtual drives I create for such machines, so I can tell them apart, and to copy the “reference versions” (for later reuse) to another hard disk, so I can always get back to a pristine state by copying over the backup version from that drive to its primary location as needed.
This approach makes it much easier and safer for me to install and test software to write about it, and then to rid myself entirely of it after the work is done. I’m still running only one VM at a time and figuring out how to make things work, while discovering a whole new set of virtues for shared or networked drives (they’re easily accessible to both host and guest systems, and thus provide a perfect means of file/information transfer between the two otherwise distinct and independent systems). As I learn more about how to make this environment stand up and bark, particularly while working with Windows 7 (I’ll be installing Build 7001 shortly) I’ll keep reporting back with new observations and lessons learned.