Using Microsoft’s VPC Images with VMWare Fusion

We all know the sinking feeling when we have to test a website in Internet Explorer. You built the site, it looks beautiful in Firefox and maybe Safari too, but now you have to open up Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, and make sure it plays nice with all three of them. Even better, Microsoft has made it so that you can only have one version of IE installed on a computer at a time. True, you can use things like Multiple IEs or other similar products, but they never play quite right.

Fortunately, Microsoft has supplied us with Virtual PC images of Windows with Internet Explorer installed. Unfortunately, Virtual PC is a Windows-only program so you need a PC to run them on. Or do you?

You don’t! If you’re using OS X you can use VMWare Fusion to run those Microsoft VPC images, after a little tweaking. It is much easier if you have a copy of Windows available to you during the install process, (that’s how I did it), but I don’t believe this is an absolute necessity. Here’s how it works:

Basically, you need to download the VPC images, extract them, and convert them into VMWare Fusion virtual machines. It sounds trickier than it is.

First, download and extract the VPC images. If you can use Windows to do this it’s easy, (the images have self-extractors), if not try p7zip, (see instructions in this forum thread).

[edit: July 15, 2009]: Then, somehow, you have to convert your VHD files into VMC files. The easiest way to do this is to use Microsoft’s VPC to make a new virtual machine from the VHD files, but you do need windows to do that. You will be converting these .VMC files into VMWare native virtual machines.

To convert the VPC images to something else, use VMWare vCenter Converter. It’s a stand-alone program for Windows or Linux that easily converts VPC images to VMWare Fusion virtual machines, as well as several other formats. You can even choose between Fusion 1.x and Fusion 2.x. It will even install the VMWare tools pagkage for you. I did the conversion under Windows, but there’s probably a way to get the linux version to run under OS X, at least hopefully.

Once the conversion is complete, fire up OS X & VMWare Fusion and open your new Virtual PC image. There are some things that run on the first startup of each machine, give it a few minutes then hit cancel on all of the “Please insert the XP SP3 CD” messages that remain, it doesn’t seem to hurt Windows. I think it’s looking for a battery driver in my case, (maybe I should try to install the Bootcamp battery driver?).

That’s it, enjoy testing. I am able to run, slowly, all 3 IE versions with the Windows XP images, and my computer isn’t as slow as when I run only my Bootcamp Vista install under VMWare Fusion. I’m thrilled to have these 3 new debugging tools at my disposal.