Redmond (WA) - In an anticipated move, Microsoft - demonstrating it won't be charging customers to pay its latest round of EU fines - released Virtual PC 2004 Service Pack 1, its virtual desktop computer BIOS and environment for Windows XP, to the general public for a free download. Previous betas of SP1, which had also been free, were the principal catalyst to the product's recent popularity, especially given its rapidly aging "model year." (Virtual Server 2005 has been available for free for several months.)
Under Virtual PC, a user can create an entirely software-oriented computer with a disk-based image, running a version of AMI BIOS that presents the appearance of a physical computer to whatever operating system you choose to run. Although VPC was designed to run Windows XP and older versions, it can also run Linux installations, enabling Windows users to experiment with applications on the other side of the pond. VPC is mainly used to test applications under development or production analysis in a relatively unadulterated, "white box" environment, eliminating the need for pristine physical PCs, and enabling the user to customize his test PC as he will. Virtual networks can be established using Virtual Server 2005 and VPC 2004 on the same computer, enabling incursion tests and software stability surveys.
According to an MSDN blog post this afternoon by a member of the Virtual PC development team, Microsoft also plans to release Virtual PC 2007 - its next-generation virtualization environment, with support for Windows Vista - for free as well, following Vista's consumer introduction next year.
You still need a real operating system to run on a virtual computer, which is why Microsoft still treats virtual operating system licenses as real "seats," with some exceptions for high-end customers. This afternoon's blog post indicates Vista Enterprise customers will be granted the right to install Vista as many as four times per VPC 2007 installation.