Microsoft Corp. on Monday will announce the release of its Virtual PC technology to manufacturing and that the final product will be available to customers by the end of this year at a lower price than the original Connectix product.
Microsoft in February acquired the Virtual Machine assets of Connectix Corp., a privately held company in San Mateo, Calif., that has been involved in Virtual Machine (VM) technology since its inception in 1988.
Carla Huffman, Microsofts product manager for the Virtual PC, told eWEEK that the software will be available by the end of the year, through Microsofts existing retail and volume licensing channels, for an estimated retail price of $129, $100 less than the Connectix price of $229.
“The core scenario around this product is helping customers solve application compatibility issues, and we wanted to provide a cost-effective price point for them,” she said.
The technology will run almost any x86 operating system in a Virtual PC environment, Huffman stressed. “So Linux can be installed on a virtual machine on Virtual PC. There has been some misunderstanding about this: You absolutely can run Linux in Virtual PC,” she said.
“We have not removed any technical features that supported other non-Microsoft operating systems. So there is no negative impact to customers to running non-Microsoft operating systems on Virtual PC,” she said.
The confusion around the product has been around official Microsoft product support services, Huffman said, adding that Microsoft is treating the use of Linux the same way it treats the use of any third-party application on a Windows operating system.
“We dont support Linux, and we also dont support third-party applications. We direct customers to their Linux providers if they have an issue running Linux on Virtual PC, and if that Linux provider triages that issue as a Virtual PC bug and submits a bug report, well work with them to fix the problem. Were treating them like we treat third-party applications,” she said.
But Microsoft has optimized the product around key customer needs, which is helping them address application compatibility issues they are having with older, custom-written applications when they are buying new PCs and upgrading to newer operating systems, she said.
“So we have optimized our product around running those older operating systems in a virtual machine environment. That is why we support the older Windows operating systems and [IBMs] OS/2, which is a big pain point for those customers facing the end of life of OS/2 in the next year or two and who need to migrate off of it,” she said.
The 250-odd beta testers for Virtual PC have expressed the desire to run other operating systems, especially in testing scenarios, and the product has met their needs in this regard, Huffman said. “We have not heard negative feedback from those testers that the product wasnt sufficient for their needs,” she said.
The Virtual Server product, currently in development, is on track for release in the first half of next year.
Asked whether Microsoft is considering integrating the virtual technology into the core Windows kernel, Huffman skirted the issue, saying Microsoft is committed to developing virtualization solutions for the Windows platform. “Its too early to say how we will deliver these solutions going forward,” Huffman said.
Microsoft spent most of the eight months of development time focusing on the security of the product to ensure that a user cannot do anything in a virtual machine that would negatively affect their host operating system or other virtual machines on the host PC, she said.
New features of Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 include support for as many as four network cards within each virtual machine, up from one previously; and an XML-formatted file-based configuration of virtual machines to ease corporate deployment and provide cross-compatibility with the upcoming release of Virtual Server. It also now has support for up to 4GB of memory, and users can allocate up to 3.6GB of RAM for each virtual machine, with a total of 4GB for all virtual machines and host operating systems on the machine.
Ben Armstrong, program manager for Virtual PC, said beta testers have not run into any legacy applications that dont run on Virtual PC. Microsoft has tried to test a fair range of legacy applications that are representative of what customers would run.
“However, the majority of legacy applications that we see enterprises dealing with today are applications that they have developed in-house, and in that scenario there is nothing much that we can provide as a rubber stamp around whether it will work or not,” he said.
The typical scenario is that corporate IT managers will install Virtual PC and then set up their legacy environment and confirm that everything works. Once they have done this, they can then just deploy the image. If there is a problem, the customer can work with Microsoft product support, he said.
Asked about the future of Virtual PC, Huffman said Microsoft is committed to the product and there will be a next version. The team is focusing on integration with Virtual Server so that the code base is shared by both. “Aside from that, its just too early for me to comment,” she said.