Mental Ward

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Games People Play With Virtual PC

I spent a portion of my morning learing about Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, and found it to be...shall we say...lacking.

Certainly, it's a good value: As Homer Simpson would say, "No payments per month? Yeah, I think we can swing that!" Here's the background: the computer my kids use has Vista as the OS. There are a number of programs they use that haven't been updated for use with Vista (shocking, I know), so I wanted to load XP in a virtual machine (VM) and have them use the programs (mostly simple games) in the XP VM.

Downloading the bits didn't take too long. Then the typicall install process, which was pain-free. I created a VM with about 1GB RAM and a 30 GB virtual hard drive (.vhd, where the files are kept), and loaded XP (with SP2) on it. So far, so good.

The fun really began when I tried to load the first game into XP. It's called "Jewell Quest 2", and worked fine in an older XP machine that has since been decommissioned. It loaded the game OK, but when we tried to play it, the animated cursor the game uses went haywire. It was nearly impossible to control in the VM.

Thinking it might just be that game, I shut down the VM and restarted it. When XP had fired up, I loaded another game (Nancy Drew -- yes, that Nancy Drew, who has now become a series of video games) into the DVD tray, expecting it to find the DVD the way it did previously.

No dice. Nothing came up except an error message: "Unable to open CAL or CIF TREE file...Check path in your .ini file". That was it. I tried rebooting the VM again. Same message.

So far, Virtual PC is about as successful with these games as Michael Jackson is at looking like an earthling. Later in the day, my daughter did manage to get one game working correctly, so that lifts Virtual PCs batting average to .333. Good for a major-leage ballplayer, not so good for a VM.

Note, of course, that your mileage may vary. This is a very, very small sample in one household. However, if I'm having problems, given that I'm a power user and editor of a virtualization magazine, how many problems are other people, who don't play with this stuff all day, having? And how quickly will they give up on virtualization if it doesn't deliver on the main advantage of PC virtualization, which is using an alternate OS to run programs incompatible with the host OS?

Peter Varhol, who did a product roundup in our launch issue that compared offerings from Microsoft, VMware and Parallels, had good things to say about Virtual PC, so it may be just me. But so far, I don't think I'll be turning to it very often. Beyond the advantage (and a potentially significant one) of being free, I don't know, at this point, why I would choose it over competing products.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/03/2008 at 12:48 PM


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