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It used to be that I download .vhd images from Microsoft, and then use it for 2, 3 months before it expires: http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=11575 But it is quite troublesome because I always have to download the image and install it, and it expires after a couple of months.

But then recently, I just found out, why not create a brand new Virtual Machine with empty virtual hard drive, then install my Windows XP SP1 on it using the retail version of XP CD, and then upgrade to the latest fixes and SP3, etc, and then also activate the XP using the serial number, and then, shut down the machine, and burn this .vhd image to a DVD-R and now I will have a virtual machine or I can start a brand new machine any time, and as many time as I want to. Would this work?

(also, I can occassionally start with that fresh .vhd, boot up the machine, and then do any major Windows update, and then burn another .vhd. I just probably need to do it every half a year to create new .vhd to keep the XP machine updated with fixes and security patches. The Virtual PC is mainly for fun, for experiment, or for testing IE 7 when doing software development). Does the above sound quite reasonable and/or will there be other ways to do it?

Update: I just recall that sometimes, we upgrade to a newer version of VirtualBox, and Win XP might say "The hardware have changed, and activation is needed once again"... so in those cases, I hope activation works, or else, it is going to be trouble... this is if we need to use VirtualBox and we upgrade it. Otherwise, Virtual PC on Win 7 might be ok as it doesn't seem to be upgraded.

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Use AntiWPA to get rid off the activation checks. I've been doing lots of research on creating a compact VM for browser-testing purposes, published on SO. Currently, I'm in the progress of migrating from WinXP to Win 7 to unlock IE9 and 10. I will still be able to test IE6, 7 and 8 (Cameyo looks very promising). –  Rob W Jun 10 '12 at 10:54
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I do just that. I had a previously unused retail CD which I installed ont a new VBox VM, updated it to SP3, installed my favorite/necessary apps and tweaks, and backed it up. If I ever damage it (or rather, whenever I damage it!), I have the VHD image from backup to restore from (and it's way quicker than a full re-install ever was).

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Even better is to take advantage of VirtualBox's ability to do snapshots. Then the most you have to do is rollback to the snapshot, which is far quicker than restoring an image from backup. –  afrazier Oct 12 '11 at 3:41
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