Microsoft details frugal licensing policy for Virtual PC on Vista

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.

TOPICS: Windows

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. 

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • To complete the picture

    ... You can have as many copies of NetBSD, Novell SUSE, OpenBSD, Red Hat, FreeBSD, Mandriva, Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, etc. as you like with no additional licensing costs.

    IMHO, if you absolutely [b]must[/b] have apps that only run on MS platforms [1], your best bet is to install them to a VM running under Linux. You get the security and reliability advantages of Linux but can still run your MS applications in a secure sandbox.

    [1] Games excepted
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • No Licensing Cost/ssh Reverse Tunnel to Office PC

      Agreed. Yagotta!

      I guess we are part of that 'handful' who use Linux. What a handful, indeed! ;)

      Here's something some of you might find interesting:

      Assuming you have a legitimate need to do so and approval from your employer, you can access AT NO COST your office Windows-or-Linux PC Desktop via your home PC, assuming the home PC uses a static ip, 'without' a VPN and through the Firewall if you:

      1) At home, if using Windows, download and install Cygwin (, start the sshd server from a Cygwin or Linux terminal window.

      2) At office, if using Windows, download and install Cygwin, and start sshd from a Cygwin or Linux terminal window.

      3) Set up a 'reverse' tunnel using ssh secure shell from a Cygin or Linux terminal window.

      Example ssh usage:

      ssh -R 5900:{work pc ip}:5900 -f -N {home machine ip ex:10000} -l {home username}

      4) At office, load and Install WinVNC (or TightVNC). Launch the office WinVNC *server* (be sure it is listening on port 5900).

      5) At home, secure shell to the office via the already established 'reverse tunnel' with:

      ssh username@office_pc_ip -p 10000

      6) At home, cnce you've established the tunnel to your office PC, then load WinVNC (if Windows) or vncviewer (from a terminal window if Linux) and when prompted for an ip, type: localhost:0

      If your office PC is secured and requires a Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring you to a login prompt, Winviewer or vncviewer should allow you to pass through a 'CTRL+ALT+DEL' keyboard sequence. For example, with Linux, vncviewer allows you to press F8 to bring up session options, one of which sends this key sequence

      Be advised, without ssh encryption, VNC if used by itself over a network sends the password as clear text!

      Tunneling VNC through ssh is quite 'doable' for accessing an office Windows PC especially if using ssh compression over a broadband connection, slightly less 'tolerable' (be patient) over dial-up 56K POTS.

      For Linux server connections, don't waste your time trying VNC (X11 will come to a crawl).

      Use FreeNX on your server PC and the free NX Client found at There are no licensing costs for this scenario.

      The above scenario works only if your office network security admin allows unfiltered firewall outbound port 22 traffic.


      OK folks. Thanks David and thanks Yagotta!
      D T Schmitz
      • P.S. / Email

        P.S. David,

        If you've established an office ssh reverse tunnel home pc, then you can 'port forward', again with ssh to access your email server's port with:

        ssh -L port:localhost:port -p 10000 username@office

        ssh is 'standard issue' on Linux and used extensively for system administration support.

        Not necessarily for the 'faint of heart' but it works reliably and is SECURE especially if you are required maintain HIPAA-compliancy in a Healthcare setting!

        D T Schmitz
  • VM and issues I've had.

    I've tried a number of VM packages and for reasons unknown, they don't work well with the advanced features of most video drivers.

    I do expect this to get better over time though.
  • The license for PC Express seems fair

    unless you have a ton of RAM, and most people do not, you are not going to be using more than one virtual machine at one time.

    David, instead of setting up your little virtual machines for finance etc. why dont you make you whole pc that secure to start with. There is no reason why you could not, even with Windows. You're supposed to be a geek, work with it. :)

    Your virtual PC approach is overkill.
  • The view from outside

    Now, I dislike MS as much as the next guy and always expect the worst from them, but I still appreciate their business sense and was certain their reply would be "you can use it on any number of VMs on a single (physical) machine". I'm appalled that they expect their customers to pay hundreds of dollars more to make the software they bought a bit more useful.

    I am not a Microsoft customer. I am one of the "handful" that are allowed to install their OS as many times as they need to get the most from it. I really can't understand the people who choose to buy a product under terms that prohibit them from using it as they see fit.

    I expect some Microsoft customers will not like this latest policy, but they shouldn't complain as this is their own doing. Microsoft can only do this as long as its customers continue to be the sheeple they are. By accepting ever-worsening terms as fate and ignoring the many alternatives, MS customers make sure they will keep paying more and getting less. When will they ever learn? And how much money and rights will they shed until they do?

    • They should follow Apple's lead here

      Apple sells OSX individually for $129 or as a "family pack" for $199. The family pack authorizes five installs. Might be something for MS to consider, a slightly more expensive "VM-Ware Pack".
      tic swayback
    • Neglect

      You neglected to tell the "sheeple" what OS they should be switching to...
      Up to that point you seemed proud.
  • But can VPC run 98SE and Linux?

    I have some older games that ran fine under 9x, but are horrible under XP. If I had some VM abilities and 98 back on my system, I can enjoy those games again without needing to reboot my system with XP's multiboot. I'm also trying to get back into Unix/Linux, so I would also like install and load that into a VM as well.

    Vista's VPCX sounds more like a "demo" or tryware, a teaser to get users to buy the full VPC. For my gaming and Linux, one machine, even if it's a VM, won't cut it. If Vista is more like XP/NT than 9x, I don't think it's worth it. I'll look elsewhere, maybe the opensource VMWare.

    This is probably moot for me anyway; My system is a 700MHz Athlon with 256MB RAM, plus my C: is NTFS, meaning I need to reformat before I try (re)installing 98 or Linux.
    Mr. Roboto
    • Yes and No

      VPC can run these, but Games is the Rub.

      The PC made is a pretty bad model based on a generic video card, simple network card (sometimes dicey) and poor sond.

      As a desktop for work is ok, As a games box. Very bad.

      VMware or other real virtual machines would be much better than VPC.

      If MS was to update VPC ( and they should) virtual machine specs it might be a good idea, but for now VPC is a very poor choice IMHO anyway
    • Here ya go

      The above web site will list all the Os's you can run in Virtual PC, and how to set up some that need a tweak. (Ubintu required me to edit x11.conf to set video from 24 bit to 16 bit).
      Troll Hunter
  • It's another case for Linux

    The market is a harsh task-master; this policy will evolve ;-)
  • Bull.

    Tell me, how is microsoft's copyright going to be violated by having multiple VM's on the same machine.

    Would I be violating MS' copyright if I installed the same copy of Win98 on multiple partitions on the same computer? The answer, according to MS, is whatever makes them the most money.

    This "licencing" thing has gone too far.
  • What about OEM Windows?

    Say you get a PC pre-installed with Windows and wish to run Linux as the primary host and simply use Windows in a VM.

    Even though you are running Windows on the machine it is licensed to run on, the VM will look like another machine to Windows and most likely fail to activate.

    Nice little way to try and force Windows to be the primary OS on a machine. Of course, you can always pay for Windows again.
    • Greedy overreaching license interpretation

      I thought my license was the right to be able to execute only one copy at any time. Hence no two-PC installs, even if I "promise" to turn on only one or the other at a time, because that installation is "able" to run in two places at one time. But even with VPC or VMware, I have only one CPU, and it is able to execute only one thing at a time. The same goes if I install in two partitions on the same PC, with multiboot startup selection. I think Microsoft's interpretation of the license is excessively greedy and overreaching, if they think multiple copies on a single PC with a single CPU requires redundant remittances. If I arrange my CPU to be able to think about two different places in the OS at one time, is it guilty of a cybernetic thought crime?
  • VM packages

    I've tried a number of VM packages and for reasons unknown, they don't work well with the advanced features of most video drivers.

    • features

      Most advances features doesnt work...

  • So in other words, don't bother

    With the driver issues, hardware requirements and the fact that there is no license cost savings, VM is not likely to be popular on Windows Vista machines. Too bad.

    As you can see from other posts here, it looks like VM will continue to thrive in Linux boxes. Good for them.
  • Frugal? What about apps?

    If install microsoft office in each of three windows VMs on one PC, do I need to have three licenses for it??

    Windows is cheap compared to office.
  • Service Desk

    I went through this all with my local MS rep and my rep out in Redmond (separately and hoped one would respond with the answer I was looking for - no dice) Our company supports a few different versions of Windows and Office. I was hoping that with Virtual PC, our Service Desk people would be able to load up their workstations with a few different configurations/combinations of Windows and Office versions so they could support Microsoft products better throughout the business. When a user called in and said they had X configuration, then the Service Desk technician could switch over to their X configuration and talk apples-to-apples with the end user. Unfortunately the "license for every Virtual session" killed that idea as it was too expensive. I asked my rep to take it up the ladder, but we'll see if anything happens.