Virtual (Machine) Reality

Virtual Machines are great. Free stuff is great. Free Virtual Machines are awesome.

Many people are unaware that Microsoft offers Windows virtual machines (VMs) for free. In fact they offer Windows VMs with the latest updated versions of Visual Studio installed on them. This is super useful for software development and testing.

Microsoft also provides virtual machines from Windows 7 to present with various preinstalled browser configurations. These VMs are intended for web developers to use for compatibility testing, but they can be freely used by anyone for other purposes as well.

Whatever suits your virtual fancy

Microsoft has their own VM hosting platform called Hyper-V, and (not surprisingly) these VMs are offered as Hyper-V images. But Microsoft also offers VMWare, VirtualBox, and Parallels images as well.

Since Hyper-V is included with a Windows 10 Professional (which is what I run at the office) I  primarily use the Hyper-V images, but in the past I have used the VMWare images on occasion at home for testing some hobby projects. Most of my fellow Mi4 developers prefer VirtualBox.

Nothing lasts forever…but you can always get something new

The catch to these VMs is that they expire, but when they expire, you can simply download a new one. The development VMs expire on a fixed date but new ones are released shortly before that expiration date. The VMs for web development testing expire 90 days after they are first spun up.

After the VMs expire they will still boot up and can be used for up to an hour before automatically shutting down. This allows you time to backup any data from an expired VM before you blow it away.

How I use them….

I always have a copy of the development VM. I know I use VMs more than some of the other Mi4 developers. In fact they probably think I go a bit overboard, and they might be right. Maybe it’s because I never got one of those big virtual reality headsets for Christmas in 1994. Anyway, when they have something that they want to test on a different machine they usually come to me because I’ve always got at least one running.

Some of the things I use the VMs for are

  • General software development testing scenarios
  • Testing software updates for possible breaking changes before installing them on my main machine
  • Service connectivity simulations
  • Using multiple instances of applications with different logged in users
  • Trying out software that might not uninstall nicely or that I don’t intend on using long term
  • Keeping track of the Astros’ playoff run

The VMs came in handy when we created an internal webpage for a client that allowed them to execute SQL stored procedures and automated batch and powershell tasks from a webpage, but that will be the subject of a future post.

Other Free VM Offerings

Oracle also offers Linux and Solaris free development virtual machine images with various configurations of Oracle preinstalled. These offerings are for VirtualBox only.

The folks over at haveVMWare images of various Linux distributions available for download. These offerings are for VMWare only.

Happy VM’ing

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