Microsoft details frugal licensing policy for Virtual PC on Vista

Summary:Since I've been recommending the use of client/side virtual machine (VM) technologies such as VMware Workstation or Virtual PC for running all of your applications on your Windows PCs, I decided to check with Microsoft to find out the exact details on Microsoft's policy regarding the practice. I don't want any one getting into legal trouble as a result of my recommendation.

Since I've been recommending the use of client/side virtual machine (VM) technologies such as VMware Workstation or Virtual PC for running all of your applications on your Windows PCs, I decided to check with Microsoft to find out the exact details on Microsoft's policy regarding the practice. I don't want any one getting into legal trouble as a result of my recommendation. Given that Windows Vista represents the first time that any version of Windows will include VM technology (Virtual PC), I wondered whether Microsoft might allow end-users For any extra copies, you need an extra license. to make as many copies of Windows as they want as long as they were all for the same computer (with VM technologies, each VM runs a separate copy of the operating system).  In case you missed any of my discussion regarding the benefits on of this approach, there are three big ones that make whatever investment that's necessary well worth it. 

The first of these is that it allows you to put a firewall around specific sets of applications so that one set can't interfere with the other.  For example, imagine a personal finance configuration that includes Quicken and a browser with nothing but bookmarks for the personal finance-related sites that you visit and a personal firewall that's screwed down so tight that nothing else but the traffic from a handful of online sites can get through.  Just like most large companies, our email systems are tucked away behind a corporate firewall.  In fact, the only thing I need to run a VPN for is to get at email and one shared network directory.  Unfortunately, some of the other software I use doesn't cooperate with the VPN software. For example, when the VPN is connected while telecommuting from home, Office insists on checking in with the printer on my home network.  But, when it can't see it (because the use of the VPN, Office crashes).  So, in one of my virtual  machines, I have a configuration of Windows that includes the VPN software, a copy of Outlook configured to access the email server, and a drive mapping to the shared directory.  Nothing else (not even a record of my local printer).  So the first major benefit is segregation in the name of stability.

The second major reason is because VMs are stored in plain old files.  And files can be copied!  So, let's say your system starts to flake out on you (like my Thinkpad is doing... it's LCD monitor won't stay on).  All you need to do is copy the VM to another machine, start up the Virtual Machine software (either VMware or Virtual PC), and start the VM.  Boom.  You're right back where you left off.  No mess. No fuss.  No having to install all your applications again.  It's that simple. 

Thirdly, try backing up your entire system today. Yeah, everything.  The OS.  The apps. Your data.  What happens if you have to restore all that.  It's actually a hassle.  But with software like VMware Workstation, backing up your system is as simple as clicking "Shapshot."  Restoring your system is as simple as cloning that snapshot.  A couple of clicks... and you're back in business.  It's that simple.  Or, just copy the VM files to a CD, and copy them off the CD to another system with the VM software on it.  VMware even gives away a runtime that can "play" any VMware virtual machine for free. 

So, now that you're caught up on the benefits, let's get to the news from Microsoft.  Except for the handful of users that do their personal computing on Linux, just about any user that follows my recommendation will end up with a minimum of two distinctly separate instances of Windows: the instance that came preloaded on the system and the instance that gets installed into the first VM (if you're going to use the VM software, you're obviously going to have at least one VM).  If you have 4 VMs, that's 5 instances of Windows.  You get the picture.  So, given that Microsoft is actually going to ship Virtual PC with Windows Vista, I was curious as to whether or not the company is going to change its licensing policy when it comes to copies of Windows that run in VMs.  For a PC with 5 VMs, will the user need five licenses to Windows?  Here's what Microsoft's Windows Client director of product management Barry Goffe said:

Goffe on what type of virtual machine technology is included in Windows Vista: 

Virtual PC Express enables only a single VM. That is key difference between Virtual PC and Virtual PC Express. With the former you can have an unlimited number of VMs and with the latter you can only have one.  Virtual PC Express [will be the version of Virtual PC that's included] in Windows Vista Enterprise and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Goffe on how many additional copies of Windows users are entitled to load into virtual machines and what types of user can do it:

In order for a customer to get Windows Vista Enterprise, that customer has to have either a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement or Microsoft Software Assurance agreement. An additional benefit of these two licensing programs is that the customer has, in addition to the right to install Windows Vista Enterprise, the right to install a second instance of an operating system. This right to a second OS instance can be used to ensure the OS running in the VM (on top of Virtual PC Express) is properly licensed - for no additional cost. For a user of Windows Vista Ultimate, they would have to purchase a second Windows OS license to take advantage of the Virtual PC Express feature.

Goffe on what happens if users of either of the Virutal PC Express-enabled versions of Vista upgrades to a full blown version of Virtual PC (one that allows more than just one VM):

For any additional VMs on the device, customers must purchase retail (otherwise known as shrink-wrap or FPP) copies of the operating system.  For the example described above, the volume licensing customer would receive the right to install one copy in a virtual machine.  The customer would then purchase 2 additional retail licenses to install in the 2 additional virtual machines (making 3 VMs total).  These rights are associated with volume licensing of the operating system rather than with the Virtual PC SKU and so it makes no difference whether the customer is using Virtual PC Express or Virtual PC.

Goffe on whether this licensing is strictly available to Virtual PC users or if customers of VMware can take advantage of it too:

The secondary install right is associated with volume licensing of the operating system rather than Virtual PC. The customer may chose to install their second instance physically (in a second partition) or in a virtual machine running any vendor's virtualization software. Additional VMs beyond this must be licensed and acquired as stated above.

So, there you have it.  Basically, in a nutshell, there are are two editions of Vista that will come packaged with Virtual PC and it will be Virtual PC Express (not the full blown Virtual PC).  Virtual PC Express can only run one VM.  If and only if you're on a volume licensing plan, you're entitled to one extra instance of Windows on your systems.  For any extra copies, you need an extra license (you pretty much have to purchase these retail). If you're not on a volume licensing plan, it doesn't matter whether your system comes with a version of Virtual PC or not.  You're not entitled to load more copies of Windows unless you buy each one of them separately. 

Topics: Windows

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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