Friday, February 04, 2005

Virtual PC

Friday, came around, as it always does. Although today, the final day of the working week was different. The decision had been made to act, and I was going to follow through with my plans. Something had to be done and I was not alone in holding such a strong opinion. The alternative which had been suggested, even used at times was impractical and time consuming. Yet, I had a workable solution which could give both support and the testing element of development some much needed assistance.

Virtual PC is a Microsoft product, if by brand name only. The original technology was designed by the Connectix Corporation, which was then eaten by the Seattle computing giant. The software emulates multiple operating systems on one host PC. In essence you can have Windows 95, 98, ME and OS/2 running on a standard Windows XP system. (All dependent on available hard drive space). The beauty of the software is that it is completely independent of the host, and therefore gives you the freedom to manipulate the configuration with no risk of damaging other programs or settings of the host computer. If you are wondering what I could do a Virtual PC, let me explain.

Version three of our software is built on SQL architecture, leaving behind the world of Visual Basic and Access. A minor SQL database running locally on the user's laptop thanks to Microsoft Database Engine. The nature of the product means it can only be exist in one instance on the operating system. This would be fine, in an ideal world, if each client release was identical. Of course, this is not the case, and each client has a slightly different version customised of the product. Therefore, if customer A calls with a query on a report and I have customer Z software installed on my PC, there is no other option. I have to manually uninstall the product and then install the software for customer A, then look into their query. There had to be another way, an answer.

Well, until I find that answer, this will have to be patch. My plan is to create a base image of Windows 2000, updated with Service Pack 4 and then install a copy of v3 for each client into their own Virtual PC. This will take some time, but I the objective is to be able to load and access a working version of the software on my PC within minutes and be able to replicate exactly the issue the end user is experiencing. With some way to go, as this personal project takes place in the background, in between answering calls, reconfiguring Personal Digital Assistants, loading laptops, and beginning the laborious but nevertheless necessary task of documentation.

In my hunt around the web to discover more about Virtual PC and it's rivals of which there are many, I came across this blog by a member of the Microsoft development team. Useful resource to note the limitations and upgrades to the software. In time, I will stumble upon other sites that will aid me in my project, but for the time being, this journal is enough. If you think of anything, let me know.

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