What Is a Virtual PC and Who Needs It?

March 14, 2009

in applications,computer performance,Windows

by David Hakala

“Virtual PC” is both a Microsoft product name and a generic computing term. The “PC” part refers specifically to Intel x86 hardware platforms, which are the basis of most familiar PCs (Personal Computers). A “virtual machine” is not necessarily an Intel x86-based machine.

A virtual PC allows one to run multiple operating systems on one x86 hardware platform simultaneously. Microsoft Virtual PC is Microsoft’s software for enabling the running of various Microsoft operating systems in a virtual PC environment. You can have multiple copies of one operating system, or copies of several different operating systems running simultaneously. You can switch from one virtual PC to another with a click of a mouse key.

Creating this sort of computing environment is called “virtualization” or “virtualizing.” The benefits of virtualization include:

Running legacy applications: favorite old games and other software may not run under Windows XP or Vista. But you can virtualize a suitable operating system and run the programs anyway, while retaining modern operating systems in another virtual PC.

Saving software development time: software must be tested on its own computer, running alone and with other applications in background. It’s easy to write code on one virtual PC, switch to another, load the program and test it. No jumping from chair to chair to code and test.

Security: software running on a virtual PC cannot affect programs running on other virtual PCs, even though they are all on the same hardware. A virtual PC can be configured so that software running on it cannot accidentally erase files or cause other problems, while the user retains rights to do such things on a different virtual PC.

Microsoft’s Virtual PC product is described and available for free download here: http://www.microsoft.com/Windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc/default.mspx

Microsoft’s Virtual PC requires a 400 MHz Pentium-compatible processor (1.0 GHz or faster recommended), and approximately 35 MB of disk space. It runs on Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Ultimate, Windows XP Professional, or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Windows Vista SP1 (Enterprise, Business, Ultimate), Windows XP SP3.

You also need as much hardware capacity as the sum of all the minimum requirements for the several operating systems and applications that you plan to virtualize. Don’t try the virtual PC trick on an old PC that already runs one copy of Windows and a couple of applications slowly.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at