Best 'light wieght' OS for Virtual PC

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From time to time people ask me to identify the best 'light weight' operating system to run under Virtual PC - with the basic requirements of TCP/IP connectivity.

The answer is usually not what they expect.

If you are solely interested in something that can run a program, and connect to the network - with the least CPU / Disk / Memory footprint - your best shot is Windows NT 4.0.  Of course - if you are going to be exposing the virtual machine to a public network - or if high performance inside of the virtual machine is important - then I would recommend Windows Server 2003.

Why?  Because unlike hardware - virtual machines can be tuned for specific scenarios.

On a physical computer - the 'lightest wieght' configuration would probably be DOS with a TCP/IP stack (or a Linux floppy distro).  But inside if Virtual PC we have not spent extensive time optimizing for these scenarios (though they do work).  So a DOS virtual machine will use a lot more resource and deliver lower performance than an NT or 2003 virtual machine.

My personal favorite 'infrastructure' virtual machine is my personal code source server.  Having developed in professional environments for a while now - I find that I am uncomfortable attempting even small personal coding projects with out a source code revisioning server handy to check stuff into - but I do not want to dedicate a server to this - and I like to keep it portable.  My solution?  A Windows NT 4.0 virtual machine with my source server in it.  It uses 32mb ram, and 800mb hard disk space.  The great thing about this is that when I am on the road - I can easily copy my source server on to my laptop and take it with me.  When I get back home - I can stick it back on my main computer.


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  • Ben, out of interest what source server do you use to run under NT4?

    I'm looking for a similar solution as I do a lot of coding both at home and at work and it's a nightmare to keep things sync'd between different servers.
  • Nice...

    So I have to ask, how long before you (MS) wrap the Virtual PC tech into the base OS?

    Seems like it could be one way to allow safe multi-user configurations on a desktop. Primary OS is on a read only VHD, each user get's their own DIFF VHD...

    Now one user can't jack any other user, even if their are a local admin.

    A user jacks up their environment, only their DIFF needs to be deleted/recreated.

    Wrap this into the OS so it's invisible and under the covers. The Loader becomes a shim that loads the the VPC (yeah I know/guess it would have to be totally rewritten...).

    Heck the Loader could be in hardware/flashram. The base OS VHD too?

    So now you have almost instant on and high performance (yeah and high cost since you'd need gig's of flash ram). You also have a "Switch User" that really works with no chance of conflicts.

    I know there are SO many issues with this. Performance, compatibility, 3rd party integration, etc, etc...

    (MS provides OEM's the base VHD. The OEMS add a base DIFF where they install Office/other apps, all users now Diff are chained to the OEM base diff... sounds like fun :| )

    And I might be totally smoking crack too. Just my 2 cents. :)
  • Andy -

    *cough* CVS *cough* :-)

    Greg -

    Unfortunately I cannot comment on any of our future plans for virtualization on this blog.

  • I completely understand...

    I'd rather you post what you can than post nothing at all.

    And I've enjoyed your recent series. I also have some favorite games that won't run on my XP machine, so have been watching your recent posts with a good bit of interest.

    Take care,
  • @Greg: I think you are on the right track with that statement. Imagine a terminal server where user sessions remain across reboots - I have heard the then next version of TS will support this and suspect that Virtualization will be a key part in this.
  • What about Windows PE? (or Bart's PE!) Either provides light footprint for RAM and disk; satisfies base hardware requirement, and would work well w/o saved states & undo drives off of DVD for demo ware, and even applicable when installed to HD.
  • Hi Glenn,

    Without the virtual machine additions - WinPE is not as fast / light as a full blown installation of Windows.

  • Virtual PC Additions run in the guest right? So... what am I missing here??

    Anyway... keep up the blog - read it everyday...
  • Hi Glenn,

    The Virtual Machine Additions need to be installed on top of the guest operating system. WinPE does not allow you to install other software into the WinPE environment.

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Best 'light wieght' OS for Virtual PC