Installing Windows Vista under Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 SP1 using the ISO as the installation media

System Requirements:

  • Virtual PC 2004, SP1
  • Windows Vista DVD-ROM ISO

The Problem:

It’s very nice of Microsoft to make the ISO available to so many people for testing, and I hate to think how many downloads and DVD burns that will equate to – though I shant dwell on the fact it took 3 download attempts to actually get the thing, the first keeling over at a robust 89% before the Akamai server decided it didn’t want to resume and reset the file stream to 0%, and the second a hearty 71% before I was graced with the same announcement.

What if you either don’t have access to a DVD Burner, the test PC you plan to install on has a DVD drive that doesn’t accept the burn media from the DVD-Writer (like me) or you just don’t like wasting Disc’s on one hit wonders (like me).

In amazing thoughtful form, the Virtual PC ISO mount driver cannot seem to address ISO’s over a couple of GB, handy when a Vista ISO weighs in at 3.12GB. So here’s a nice 100% Microsoft way to get aroung the problem.

The Fix:

When I was working on Windows 2000 SP4, SP4 URP and on the short lived Windows Security CD beta’s, Microsoft introduced a nice MFC utility to the beta core to instill a sense of environmetntal responsibility in us – after all we were getting weekly builds.
The Virtual CD Control Panel Driver application is a ISO mounter in a stand-alone form running at the driver layer (VCdRom.sys), with no resident applicaiton layer (aside from the service start/stop/mount MFC application). Unlike its counterpart in Virtual PC, it isn’t restricted to the size of the volume it can mount – at least any ISO I have ever tried.

The driver identifies itself to Windows as a de facto Optical drive, complete with drive letter. The short answer to the problem is that the Virtual PC Physical drive mounter doesn’t actually care what it is mounting so long as it is identified as an optical drive. By piggy-backing the ISO through the VCdRom driver, you can get around the limitation’s of Virtual PC.

The Virtal CD Control Panel runs under any NT 5 based OS, is completely free and is a Microsoft application – be it an unpolished one.

Download: Virtual CD Control Panel 1.21

The VCdRom driver is naturally a software based solution, as a result there is bound to be a nominal impact on performance, however in the greater scheme of VPC2004 performance hits, it is indistinguishable from a pre-Additions installation of any OS.

When mounting one of the formal beta ISO images, you will encounter an error message stating that the mount failed with the driver. Under these conditions, the most likely culprit is the literal name of the ISO. As an Exmaple the Public Beta 2 release ISO is catchily named:
vista_5384.4.060518-1455_winmain_beta2_x86fre_client-LB2CFRE_EN_DVD.iso

A 67 character file name, or a nice round 536-bit ASCII string with a couple of periods thrown in for good measure. The simple fix: Shorten it and drop all but the suffix identifier period. Vista.iso will do nicely in the event you cannot think of anything creative.