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I'm a software developer and my workstation is running Win7 Ultimate, 64bit. I want to run a virtual PC on which I can deploy and run the web-software I create, as a virtual web-server PC. I want the VM to also be Windows as that's what I know, the version isn't too important but on that PC I want to run things like MySQL, TomCat, etc. I see VMWare make 'Player', also I see VirtualBox and I know MS also have solutions too, which I've heard good things about.

Does it make much difference which I use as far as creating & using VMs? Or are they all pretty similar?

EDIT: On the MS side, didn't they used to provide free time-limited VMs for testing older OS/browser setups? Is that still available, and compatible with any/all of these tools mentioned above?

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The Virtual PC disk images that you refer to are still available, from here. – Neal May 25 '10 at 20:38
You already accepted a answer but I just wanted to note that 'Player' is fully featured in creating and running VM's. It just does not have some advanced features Workstation has like image snapshots. But it's features are definitely on par with Microsoft's Virtual PC – Scott Chamberlain Aug 1 '12 at 13:52
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Personally, I use VirtualBox for all of my development needs. I have it running Windows 7 32-bit, and the VM runs Visual Studio 2010 just fine. I keep my machine images on a portable USB hard drive, so it's really easy to load up the development machine wherever I am (work, home, etc) and I get the same environment.

Microsoft's VirtualPC has the benefit of being able to install applications on the guest and then be launched from the host (Microsoft calls this feature "Seamless applications"). With your Windows 7 installation, you can use (for free) the Windows XP mode to give you another way to test your applications - you can even have (shudder) Internet Explorer 6 to test on.

Check out Using Windows 7’s “XP Mode” to run IE 6, IE 7 and IE8 side-by-side for instructions on how to set up your Windows 7 system and VirtualPC / XP Mode so you can use IE6, 7, and 8 all at once:

screenshot from blog post

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+1 BTW, VirtualBox also has "seamless" mode. It's seriously cool, and a bit freaky. – T.J. Crowder May 25 '10 at 14:37
How do I get IE6 with virtual XP mode? – Mr. Boy May 25 '10 at 15:46
+1 for Virtual Box. But it's seamless mode is unusable. For running Windows on Windows, you probably want Virtual PC. – Andrew J. Brehm May 25 '10 at 15:50
@Andrew I agree, on a single monitor with a Windows host, seamless mode is just confusing. On a dual monitor setup, though, you can put VirtualBox on the right and press Host + L to go into seamless mode (you have to tell the guest OS you only have one monitor), and you'll end up with 2 systems running side-by-side, one on each monitor. – Jared Harley May 25 '10 at 16:12
@John see the information I added to my answer – Jared Harley May 25 '10 at 16:19

I've had good luck with the VirtualPC that's included with Windows 7, as long as you're in an all-Windows environment. Plus you get the added benefit of "XP Mode", even though I haven't tried that yet.

I haven't tried VMWare at all, but since that seems to be the industry standard, you probably can't go wrong there.

VirtualBox worked well for me in a Linux environment, but what really bothered me is the same environment that I hosted from Linux got corrupted when I hosted it from Windows - apparently you can't host the same disk from both Linux and Windows, which in my opinion kills the whole purpose of using a platform-independent product like VirtualBox in the first place.

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FWIW, I've happily transferred disk images from Windows to Linux and back with VirtualBox. The real trick is moving a Windows VM from an ACPI system to a non-ACPI system or vice-versa; Windows uses a different HAL for ACPI and non-ACPI systems. But you can still do it: – T.J. Crowder May 25 '10 at 14:41
@T.J. Crowder - Thanks for the link - I'm guessing that wasn't the issue - it booted fine, no BSOD, no "hardware" problems, just the hard disk losing data, files getting overwritten with random data from other files, and lots of problems when running chkdsk. At the time, I found someone else in a forum somewhere who had the exact same experience (of course I can't find it now), so I know it wasn't just me. But maybe both of us just did the same wrong thing - I definitely didn't do anything from that virtualbox wiki. – Joe Enos May 25 '10 at 21:24

Windows XP Mode is where it is at if you want a free fast Windows VM for Windows 7. It's freely available for Ultimate Editions of Windows 7 and comes with a complete copy of Windows XP in a virtual machine.

Windows 7 has several built-in tools to help with program compatibility and Windows XP programs should be installed directly on Windows 7. Windows XP Mode runs many older Windows XP productivity programs and that are not natively compatible with Windows 7, thus helping realize cost savings and reduce possible operational downtime by extending the life of existing software. Visit the Windows 7 Compatibility Center to find software that works with Windows 7.

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