Windows 7 and Windows Virtual PC-how to use transparent applications to run 2 things at once

Here’s a scenario that I run into all the time.  I’m using Office Communicator as my primary communications tool, so I need to keep it running all the time to get voice and IM through.  I also do development on OCS, which means using communicator for testing.  Now, since my development OCS system is not the same as our production OCS system, switching between the two means going offline from the rest of the company.  Sometimes, this is not what I want to do.  Having a Tanjay (Office Communicator Phone Edition) helps, but what would be really useful would be running 2 full voice enabled instances of Communicator at once.  Of course, this is impossible….or is it…

Yes, that screenshot shows 2 OC instances in the system. tray.  Both are fully voice capable, and both are connected using the same account.  The trick is to run one instance as a seamless application using Windows Virtual PC.  Microsoft has information on Windows XP mode on their VPC site, but any virtual machine that’s running windows 7, Vista, or XP can publish seamless apps.  Basically, a seamless app is a remote desktop window into the VM that contains just your application, which means that you avoid running inside of a full on virtual desktop.  Here’s how to set up a windows 7 VM:

  1. Make sure that you have hardware assisted virtualization enabled in your BIOS.  Some manufacturers leave it switched off at the factory.
  2. Download the RC for Windows VPC
  3. Create a new VM
  4. Start it interactively, and install Windows
  5. Once you’re in the virtual desktop, install and enable integration features.
  6. Install your app inside the VM (in this case, office Communicator)

Once you’ve installed an app, check the start menu.  You should see something like this under Windows Virtual PC:

These are all of the published applications from the VM (if they don’t appear, make sure that Auto Publish is enabled in the VM settings).  Other than Communicator, I’ve used this for installing things like the Visual Studio 2010 beta, and the Office 2010 tech preview that I don’t want to mess up my main OS with.  As for advantages over Virtual PC 2007, other than the fact that the seamless applications are easier to work with, support for USB devices (like USB headsets) seems much better, so I can get 2 way voice in communicator.  This means 2 MOC clients on 2 different domains on the same machine.

Of course, as with any virtualization, there’s a performance hit.  I noticed that my laptop was a lot less responsive when running a VM in the background (understandably), so I don’t think I’ll be running seamless apps all the time.  It makes for a cool demo though.

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