The Virtual PC team today announced that Virtual PC will now be free!

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For those who don't know, Virtual PC is a software product that allows you to run another operating system (Windows XP, Linux, or even Windows 3.1) "virtually" from inside a single computer. You'll see that PC load in a window and act as if it was a virtual PC (more info here). I'm a big VPC fan and I think this is great to hear.  In fact, our developer division fully embraces Virtual PCs, so much so that the Community Tech Previews for Visual Studio "Orcas" will come as VPCs and, as an MSDN subscriber, you can download a VPC with Windows, SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 Team System fully installed.

PC's Five Year's from now
I'm always surprised that virtualization doesn't make IT news anymore as one of the big things that will change the landscape in the future. In less then five years, Intel is aiming for a
32 core processor chip runing at 20GHz.  I also don't think it's a stretch to think you'll have multiple terabyte hard drives in five years.  If you combine the PC power in five years with advances in Virtual PC, you can start imagining running your day-to-day work environment, from Office to Visual Studio, in a Virtual PC. 

  • Backups - Backing up a Virtual PC is as easy as copying the file. No really, that's it, copy/paste and you're done.
  • Deployment - Want to setup and configure your 10,000 employee shop? Just script each PC to download the approved company image and voila, your done. If somebody hoses their PC up, they can get up-to-speed in a matter of minutes by downloading the base image
  • Experimentation - Want to experiment with new features, just take your current VPC and create a differencing drive and go to town on it. The changes are only stored in the new drive and your "base" drive doesn't change.
  • Compatibility Testing - Want to easily test Windows XP Japanese with SQL Server 2005 English and Visual Studio 2005 Japanese? Easy, create a script to install the different permutations on a virtual PC or virtual server

Simplifying A Server Farm
For Virtual Server, you could imagine having a hefty 8proc PC (with 32 cores each) hosting an entire server farm and assuming they can include fault tolerance, If a server goes down, one could be automatically brought back up to replace it.  

Simplifying Product Evaluation
Second, if I'm a company selling a complex client or server product, let's say
Cognos for BI or BizTalk for process integration and I want my customers to try/evaluate my product, the current way to do this would be: 

  • The customer would have to sit through and try to install and configure everything themselves including samples, connections, security, and other considerations rather then actually evaluating the product.

Alternatively, you could imagine a world where vendors could package a Virtual PC as trialware that would include: 

  • A complete and ready-to-use system pre-configured and tested with videos, samples, tutorials, security, and everything an evaluating customer would want to more easily learn and understand the companies product.

The arguments against this would be

  • large file size - You could fix this by using differencing drives
  • OS required - Microsoft could fix this by creating a Windows Vista OS that could have a built-in expiration date. Heck, if the server vendors want it, maybe we could license them to use the trial version. Assuming server vendors end up with higher sales because of this, it would financially make sense for them
  • no setup/configuration evaluation - Being given a virtual PC with all the problems solved may scare IT folks in that they won't know the pain or intricate details involved in software setup and configuration.
  • Doesn't work in my business - You could imagine a wonderfully working Virtual PC with great built-in demos, but the deployment in a companies data center could go radically different. Maybe this could be fixed by just having a vendor-provided server image.
  • Security - What, if any, are the security implications, especially if you're talking about running a vendor-created virtual PC in your datacenter. That may not fly, but, alternatively if you do have an official, secure Server image, the vendor can easily take that and have their consultants optimize and configure their software on that image.

If nothing else, I think the combination of powerful PCs in five years, and the availability of free, easy-to-use virtualization has the opportunity to radically change business as usual.  If nothing else, I'm hoping it minimizes the time end users and IT Administrators would have to setup and configure PCs. With lots of processing power in the future to remove any performance issues, having a virtual machine one click away is certainly a better experience than having a dual-boot solution.

The plot thickens...