4/30/2009 Update: Now that the Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) is available to MSDN / Technet Subscribers, and soon to the rest of the world, this post is starting to get a lot more traffic. The steps outlined in this article still apply to the RC, however you will need to substitute step #2 with the appropriate steps based on where you are downloading the RC from.
Yesterday we made the Windows 7 Beta available for public download. Hopefully you’re as excited as I am that the beta is here! The Windows 7 Beta is already getting some rave reviews for its new features, performance, and stability. But it is a beta, and with that comes the potential risk that some things may not work as well as they will in the final release.
If you have a spare test machine that supports the system requirements then I highly recommend installing the beta on your test machine. But if not, one way to mitigate the risks of using pre-release software is to use virtualization technology such as Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.
Creating a Windows 7 Beta 1 virtual image (aka virtual machine) is fairly similar to the process you would go through to install the Windows 7 Beta “on the metal” (non-virtualized). But for people who have never used Virtual PC before there are some differences.
Here is how to install the Windows 7 Beta with Virtual PC 2007.
1. Download and install Virtual PC 2007 SP1. If you already have Virtual PC 2007 installed, make sure you have SP1 by clicking on Help –> About and confirming that the version number is at least 126.96.36.199. If not, then you can follow the same link to upgrade to SP1.
2. Download the 32-bit edition of the Windows 7 Beta from here. The file is about 2.5GB, so while you are waiting for the download to finish it’s a good time to go whet your appetite by watching some Windows 7 preview videos here and here.
Note: It is important that you download the 32-bit edition of the Beta even if you’re running on 64-bit hardware since Virtual PC 2007 only supports 32-bit guest operating systems. If you want to try the 64-bit edition in a virtualized environment, then I suggest using Hyper-V to do so (if I get a chance I’ll write up a separate blog post for Hyper-V, as this article applies specifically to Virtual PC 2007).
Note 2: Be sure to record the Windows 7 Beta product key you are given since you’ll need this later.
3. Open Virtual PC (Start –> Programs –> Microsoft Virtual PC) and click New… to launch the New Virtual Machine Wizard. Click Next.
4. Ensure that “Create a virtual machine” is selected and click Next.
5. Provide a name and location for your virtual machine and click Next. I suggest saving this in the same location that you will create your VHD file (step 8).
6. The next dialog prompts you for the operating system you will be running. Since Virtual PC 2007 SP1 isn’t familiar with Windows 7, just select Windows Vista from this list. Click Next.
7. The next dialog asks you how much RAM you would like to assign to your virtual machine. This is always a balancing act to determine the right amount of RAM to allocate to your virtual machine and how much to allow your host operating system to utilize, but as a rule of thumb I suggest allocating 50% of your physical RAM to your virtual machine. For example, if you have 1GB of RAM in your computer, try assigning 512MB to the virtual machine. Click Next when you have allocated your RAM.
8. Select “A new virtual hard disk” and click Next.
9. Give your new virtual hard disk a name and location. I suggest using a location that has at least 16GB of disk space available. An external (e.g. USB2) hard drive works well for this purpose since it’s portable and it allows your computer to load balance disk IO between your system drive and the external drive. For “Virtual hard disk size” leave the default value and click Next when ready.
10. Click Finish.
11. Your Virtual PC Console should now have a new entry representing your new virtual machine. Highlight this entry and click Start.
12. Your virtual machine should now boot up and look for an operating system to boot to. Since you haven’t installed an operating system yet, it will eventually time out with the message below. It might take a minute or two to time out while it looks for a network device to boot off of, so be patient.
13. Now from the top of the Virtual PC 2007 window click on CD –> Capture ISO Image and select the Windows 7 beta ISO image you downloaded in step 2. It should be called 7000.0.081212-1400_client_en-us_Ultimate-GB1CULFRE_EN_DVD.iso. This will mount the ISO image as a DVD drive available to your virtual machine.
14. Now simply select your virtual machine and press <Enter>. If you’ve done everything right so far, then your virtual machine should now launch the Windows 7 Beta setup!
15. The first few screens should be self-explanatory. When asked what type of installation you want, be sure to choose “Custom (advanced)” since you are not upgrading from a prior version of Windows.
16. The rest of the setup steps should be fairly straightforward, so I won’t document them all here. But you may notice that Virtual PC “captures” your mouse when you click inside of the window and you won’t be able to move your cursor outside of the virtual machine. We’ll address this later (see “Virtual Machine Additions” below), but for now you can press the <right-ALT> key to release your mouse pointer. That’s the ALT key to the right of your space bar.
Enabling Networking: You will need to enable networking for your virtual machine in order to activate the Windows 7 Beta with the product key you received when you downloaded it in step 2. In order to enable networking, click Edit –> Settings –> Networking. If “Number of network adapters” is set to “0” then you’ll need to increase this value to “1” the next time you shut down your virtual machine since you can’t modify this value while your virtual machine is running. Next, select your physical network adapter from the “Adapter 1” drop-down. Click OK when finished. Your virtual machine should now be capable of using your network adapter.
Note: If you are completing these steps on your work machine, be sure to first check with your IT staff to determine if you’re allowed to enable networked virtual machines. Some companies have a policy against this to help protect against the risk of viruses. If you don’t activate the Windows 7 Beta you can still try it out, but it will stop working after 30 days.
Ctrl+Alt+Del to log in: When you get Windows 7 installed and it’s time to finally sign in it will expect you to send the usual Ctrl+Alt+Del characters to log in. But since you are running within Virtual PC, you will need to click Action –> Ctrl+Alt+Del in order to send this command to your guest virtual machine instead of your host operating system.
Virtual Machine Additions: After you log in for the first time I suggest installing the Virtual Machine Additions. This will allow your mouse to move in and out of the virtual machine without the need to press <right-Alt>, in addition to some other integration enhancements between your host and guest operating systems. To install virtual machine additions simply click Action –> Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions and follow the prompts. You will need to reboot in order for these changes to take effect.
Congratulations! You now have the Windows 7 Beta installed in a virtual machine using Virtual PC 2007. Remember that this won’t run quite as fast as Windows would run if you installed it into a non-virtual environment, but virtualization is a great way to try out pre-release software in a risk-free environment. I hope you have as much fun exploring Windows 7 as I have been. Bookmark http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/ for all of the latest news, and don’t forget to send us your feedback by clicking the icon on the desktop (you will need to have networking enabled in order for this to work).