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Virtual PC and VMware: A Comparative Review

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Putting VMware and Virtual PC to the challenge, John Tränkenschuh learns that both products have some specialties - and some drawbacks.
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Dueling Virtualization Tools

Years ago, my favorite co-consultant was the guy who shipped his own hub and four portables to each engagement. His security engagements were as much security tutorials as they were fast remedies, made all the more convincing given his dedication to maintaining a test environment.

These days, we security professionals can have it all. We can configure a hefty portable with subnets and with computer systems thanks to virtualization tools like Virtual PC and VMware workstation. Have you ever wondered which might be better? This article will help you decide.

My target installations are Windows XP Home and Damn Small Linux (DSL), a very likable, compact Linux that provides the best of Debian in a small system footprint. Choosing such different operating systems provides interesting comparisons:

  • How responsive will the virtualization software be when running something as feature-rich as XP Home? Many of my presentations discuss home security, where XP and Windows 2000 are the predominant "kings of the hill."
  • How well can the virtualization software accommodate an unknown Linux distribution that may have quirks? Does the software truly emulate a PC, or is it only able to run a special OS or two on a PC?
  • Linux seems to prefer set hardware types, which you find out when you scour the Internet to get your brand new soundcard working. Will the virtual PC's emulated hardware be generic enough to run common Linux?

I'm sponsoring both software packages on a dual-core AMD HP portable with 1.25GB RAM, running Windows XP Pro (because the encryption and other features make it a must-have over mere XP Home).

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