My first experience with Virtual PC was years ago, when I had a Macintosh but also tons of Windows-envy, so I bought VPC for Mac OS so I could run Windows-only programs.
Fast-forward to 2004. I think Virtual PC is a should-have for every computer enthusiast. No longer a Windows programmer/developer but just an end user, I myself use it for the following:
- Web surfing. By setting up a separate, virtual PC for web surfing, I can keep viruses, trojans and spyware away from my underlying PC, which I use to do real work. Should a virus or worm hit the virtual PC, I just delete that VPC file and re-create another virtual machine.
Let's face it, since Windows is so popular and runs on 95+% of all personal computers, you'll always have virus writers attacking it relentlessly, no matter how Microsoft tries to improve security. (Back in the late 80s when I was a Unix guru, I used to witness a lot of hackers trying, often successfully to some extent, to crack Unix.) Esp. if you (ahem!) visit mature websites a lot, you should set up a virtual PC to isolate your treasured host system from getting infected.
BTW, AVG is a free personal-use-only anti-virus program from grisoft dot com. It's reliable and contiuously updated, just like the other major AV programs. Be sure to install AVG on your host machine (as well as virtual machine). It's just great.
- Testing new hardware. I'm a gadget freak. Since hardware drivers can often wreak havoc on a system, I use a virtual machine to test-install drivers first. VPC 2004 fully emulates Intel/AMD hardware so when you install another copy of Windows (which you need to buy separately), everything runs smoothly and as expected. It's even plug-n-play if you virtual machine runs WinXP.
- Playing with Linux. Nowadays it's easier than ever to install various Linux distributions, but 1) installing Linux often still requires you to create a separate partition, something I just detest, and 2) if you want to try more than one Linux ditribution it can be a mess to manage. VPC 2004 makes everything as simple as 1-2-3. One, create a virtual machine. Two, install Linux on that virtual machine which pretends to be a complete PC with one hard drive. Three, set up your device drivers within Linux without worrying about messing things up in the underlying system.
VPC 2004 so far has proven totally fast and stable. The only "downside" is, you are not getting any OS with this, so you need to buy a separate Windows installation package (or get Linux). But then, for a hundred bucks, you can create as many virtual machines as you want, and even run them at the same time if you have enough RAM.
Speaking of RAM, be sure to have *at least* 512MB on your underlying system, even if you just plan to use VPC to run plain ol' MS-DOS.