Tech: Workaround virtual machines graphical limitations when running Microsoft Vista

As many of you already discovered or read somewhere the upcoming Microsoft Vista operation system features a brand new graphic interface (Aero) with a lot of transparencies, fading effects and other cute things (something usually labelled Glass).

To see Glass in action you’ll need a performant display adapter with a lot of video RAM onboard, which is the opposite of what today’s virtual video cards offer inside virtualization platforms (no matter if they are developed by VMware, Microsoft, Parallels, etc.).
So, for now, you’ll have to run Vista inside a virtual machine without Glass effects. And this won’t change until virtualization softwares will be updated to emulate more video RAM and support enhanced Aero effects.

Meanwhile, since today, there is a sort of workaround.
The just released new build of Vista (February CTP aka build 5308) offers a new Terminal Services technology called Composition Remoting (formerly Avalon Remoting).
This technology delivers rendering informations over Remote Desktop so a remote client can see all available effects locally disabled on a connected server.

So if you have an installed virtual machine with Vista build 5308 and you can install the same build on a host OS you’ll be able to:

  • not see Glass effects inside the virtual machine
  • see Glass effects inside the host OS (quite obvious)
  • see VM’s Glass effects inside Remote Desktop from the host OS

Sincerely, I won’t call this a workaround since the main point of virtualization technologies when applied to betas is avoiding to waste a real physical machine with something unstable, to be deleted in a near feature.
If I’m able to install Vista on the host OS why should I install it also on virtual machines? Well, maybe it could be useful for distributed development and testing but in that case would Glass be necessary?

Mike Kolitz, from the Microsoft Virtualization Team, explains how to work with Composition Remoting here (he refers to Virtual PC / Server virtual machines but the procedure works independently from platform).