Testing trial version software typically requires a separate, dedicated computer -- if only for the sake of avoiding conflicts with existing programs in your production environment. If your supply of extra machines is tight though, this can be a real issue.
One possible solution to this problem lies in a technology that Microsoft has been aggressively expanding its use of in the last year: virtual computing.
VMWare's "virtual appliance" system is a set of downloadable virtual machines, each of which are dedicated to specific tasks that can be set up and run like an application, but with the flexibility of a whole separate computer. Microsoft is now offering the same option for many of its products via the VHD Test Drive program.
The idea is simple enough. Users can download a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD), the file format used by Microsoft Virtual Server (and Virtual PC and VMWare as well), pre-loaded with operating systems or server software. Among the most popular available downloads are Windows Server 2003 R2 and Exchange Server 2007.
The VHD Test Drive editions of both Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2007 are 30-day trial editions, but you can use them to see how Exchange Server 2007 is set up and installed, how to migrate existing email into the system, and how to get used to any changes in the interface that might throw you at first.
Aside from the time limits, the products are fully functional. If you wanted to, you could create an email store in the VHD Test Drive, migrate it and mount it in a real working copy of Exchange Server 2007. Virtual Server/Virtual PC is also a free product, so you only need a running Windows computer for virtual testing.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of Windows Insight, a newsletter devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for all flavors of Windows users.
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