Why Virtual PC Guy?

The other day I wrote up the story of how I became Virtual PC Guy.  One question that I left unanswered in that post was why I chose Connectix Virtual PC over VMware Workstation.  Today I would like to elucidate on this question.

Before I get going – I want to be crystal clear on some things here:  I am discussing why I made a decision to use Connectix Virtual PC 4.0 over VMware Workstation 2.0.  I will be talking about how these products were back in 2001.  I am not trying to say that these are reasons for other people to use one product over the other today.

When I started using Connectix Virtual PC, I had already spent a lot of time using VMware Workstation.  I had ruled out VMware Workstation before Connectix Virtual PC for Windows was released.  As I spent more time using Virtual PC I became happier and happier with my choice.

Thinking back – there were three main reasons why I went with Connectix Virtual PC over VMware Workstation:

  1. Operating system compatibility

    This was the critical issue for me.  Remember that I was multi-booting my primary computer with 5 operating systems and was wanting to use virtualization to stop multi-booting.  Of the 5 operating systems that I was running, VMware workstation 2.0 could only run on two of them (Windows NT 4.0 and RedHat 7.2) and it could only run these two operating systems well as guests (it could run Windows 98 – but not any of my old DOS / 98 games – so this was not an option for me).  This meant that VMware Workstation 2.0 could get me down from 5 operating systems on the hardware to 4. 

    Compared to this, Connectix Virtual PC could run all of my operating systems, and the majority of my programs.  I went with Connectix Virtual PC and ended up with Windows 2000 on my physical computer and all my other operating systems inside virtual machines.

    I was digging through my personal archives the other day and came across these screenshots from early 2002 that highlight this issue:

      Virtual PC VMware
    OS/2 os2-VPC os2-VMWare
    Slackware 8.0 slackware-VPC slackware-VMWare
    QNX 6.0 qnx-VPC qnx-VMWare
    CPM cpm-VPC cpm-VMWare 

    This issue alone was a show stopper for me.

  2. Usability

    I have always enjoyed the Virtual PC user interface.  I personally found it to be simple and intuitive.  I appreciate that it only exposes what I need to know, and is easy to navigate.  Compared to this I found the VMware interface to be cluttered and confusing.

    It sounds like a strange thing to discuss when talking about virtualization software, but you might be surprised if I told you about the number of users that I have talked to where the usability of the software was a major influencing point in their decision as to which software they would use.

    At the end of the day – you have to deal with the user interface every day – so it had better be a pleasant experience, or it will really get on your nerves.

  3. Community / employee attitude

    This was another big one for me.  During this period, I spent a lot of time on the newsgroups / web forums for both companies.  The prevailing attitude that I encountered on the VMware newsgroups was an elitist one that looked down on people who could not get things to work.  And if you were trying something that was unsupported, very little help was provided.

    Compared to this, the Connectix forums were a friendly place, were developers would often participate and help users to troubleshoot problems on any guest operating system – regardless of whether it was supported or not.

Now, the obvious question that I am sure some of you are thinking about is – if I had to decide today, would I make the same decision?

To be honest – I do not think I can give a good answer there.  VMware have certainly raised their game on operating system compatibility and community engagement (I still hate their user interface :-), but we have improved in these areas too.  Also, in my time working on the Virtual PC / Virtual Server / Hyper-V, I have gained deep insights into both our and VMware’s architecture – and there are many areas where I prefer our approaches over VMware’s.

But – I have to accept that I am now hopelessly biased.  Biased beyond repair.

A question that I wonder from time to time is: “If I stopped working at Microsoft, would I continue to use Windows as my primary operating system?  And if not – which operating system would I use?”

This is a really hard question for me to answer.  Most of the time I conclude that I probably would continue to use Windows as it best serves my needs, but I also have to accept that I am making that conclusion through such a heavy bias from years of working at Microsoft that I do not know how valid it is.

So with all that said – what about you?  What were the key factors that influenced you when you were trying to decide what virtualization solution to use?