Back to VMWare Workstation

I’m pretty disappointed with Windows Virtual PC (the latest version). It’s April 2010, and it still doesn’t support 64 bit guest operating systems, which I believe is a pretty glaring omission. I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s server virtualization (Hyper-V) but the client side is just so lacking, I’ve been forced to find another solution. For a number of reason (chief among them video performance) I do not want to put Server 2008 on my laptop.

Microsoft actually forced the issue themselves. The latest waves of server releases (SharePoint, SQL Server) are 64 bit only. As a developer/architect I need to run these servers from my laptop, which makes it impossible to use Windows VPC. Originally Windows VPC also required hardware virtualization, which made it unusable on some of our systems, but they have recently removed that restriction. Good.

I was originally  a VMWare user, and I only switched to VPC after I noticed that it performed considerably better on Vista 64 bit systems. VMWare had become a dog. I was also hoping that using Microsoft virtualization would make it easy to move VMs between client systems and Hyper-V. Alas, that was not to be the case.

Given all that, I recently installed VMWare 7, and I’ve been quite impressed with its capabilities and its performance. Don’t get me wrong,it would be much simpler,and cheaper for me as a Microsoft Partner to use MS technology across the board, but until such a time as they support 64 bit guest operating systems (which is something they have been very quiet about), it’s simply not an option for me.

XP Mode and Sharing Documents

I’m quite liking the the Virtual PC and XP Mode on Win 7. One thing that I just sorted out and thought I should share is how the file sharing works. If you’re used to Virtual PC, you’re likely familiar with shared folders. You would normally use either that or mapped drives to share files between the VM and the host operating system. However, XP Mode doesn’t use Shared folders as such, it doesn’t quite work that way.

Any application running in XP Mode that opens up a file dialog will open to the “Documents” folder (what used to be “My Documents”). However, it’s not the same Documents folder as the one for the user that is currently logged in. Where is it then?

What XP Mode considers to be its Documents folder is actually the Public Documents folder on the host. By default, it’s available under Favorites in Windows explorer.

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Pretty simple really. Anything put there by the host is available to the XP Mode applications, and vice versa.

Using Windows 7 XP Mode with Cisco VPN

It”s pretty well known that there is no 64 bit version of the popular Cisco VPN client. In order to work around this problem, I”ve always kept a 32 bit virtual machine on hand and installed the client there. It can be a pain, particularly when you want to use dual monitors, but it has its advantages too. For example, depending on the VPN configuration, local network access is lost when the remote network is connected. Using a VM avoids that.

When I first heard about XP Mode, I was interested in how it might help get around this problem. I finally got around to testing it out today, and I like what I see.

For those that don”t know, XP Mode is a special VM that tightly integrated with Windows 7. With it, you can run applications that are incompatible with recent versions of Windows right from your Windows 7 desktop. In reality, they”re running in an XP engine, and the UI is “bubbled up” into Windows 7. The experience is pretty seamless.

Essentially,any applications running in XPMode are running in the same XP virtual machine. Therefore they can take advantage of any networking services installed. All that is necessary to get the Cisco VPN running is to install it onto the XP Mode virtual machine. Once installed,and connected, the virtual network is available to all applications running within the virtual machine.

Although it”s difficult to tell from the marketing noise, neither Windows Virtual PC (the latest version of Virtual PC is for some reason versionless) or XP Mode are included with the RTM of Windows 7. Once acquired, they install as an update, and exist as a feature. The new Virtual PC should import prior VMs just fine, but I found a few hiccups including one non-importable image.

How do you get up and running?

  1. Install Windows 7
  2. Download Windows Virtual PC and XP Mode Release Candidates from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx
  3. Uninstall prior Versions of Virtual PC
  4. Install Virtual PC
  5. Install XP Mode
  6. Start up your XP Mode machine and install the Cisco client. Import any profiles necessary
  7. Install any applications desired
  8. Shut down the XP Mode machine (pretty non-intuitive, eh?). To shut down the Virtual mode machine, you need to press Ctl-Alt-End. The normal start menu approach only allows you to log off.
  9. You will now see all of the applications, including the Cisco client installed under the Windows Virtual PC menu item in your start menu. Fire up the Cisco client, connect, and run any of the other applications that require VPN access. One caveat – in my build, the initial application start needs to be done twice.

That should do. Enjoy.