Virtually Impossible

I received a new laptop at work, which is always a treat, but also always a pain trying to get the necessary programs and data migrated from the old one to the new one. My usual crutch is to create a “virtual” copy of the old laptop to run on the new one for the transition period. I end up using the virtual copy less and less as time goes on. Then eventually, I run short on space on the “new” laptop and have to delete the old copy.

I’ve done this through my 2 most recent laptop transitions, and also used the same technique when we got Susan a MacBook to replace an old Dell laptop. The biggest problem I’d had to date was a licensing issue with Susan’s — the Windows license on it was an OEM license, and when going to authorize it, it wouldn’t take my semi-legitimate MSDN license. I finally wore someone down on the phone until they let the registration go through.

With this laptop, though, I’ve had nothing but trouble. And it has nothing to do with the new hardware, AFAIK. I started with my favorite Virtualization engine, VMware. They offer a free “Player” application and also a free “P2V” application for taking a Physical computer and creating a Virtual copy of it. Even getting the P2V process going was challenging, though, as it required software running on both systems, and dealing with Windows permissions, with the old laptop being a member of the work domain, and the new one not yet. And then copying 62 GB over the wireless network wasn’t going very quickly, so I cancelled the process then connected the two systems to the wired network. At that point, name resolution stopped working in one direction, making other things that much more difficult. The process, once I was able to get it started, did go much quicker over the wired network, though. Starting up the newly created VM in Player, though, did not go well. It started with a BSoD related to some supposedly missing file. A little web searching led me to running a “repair” from the install disc, which got me to the next error, which was a different BSoD. That one seemed to have to do with the VM being configured with one kind of storage, and the installed system expecting another kind. You might think the P2V process would manage all of this appropriately, or at least I would, but you’d be wrong, or at least I was wrong. Anyway, after many fruitless hours of web searches, regedits from the repair console, extracting VMware disk metadata from the virtual disk file, modifying it, and re-inserting it, I gave up. I’ve never had such a miserable experience with VMware.

On to Microsoft. Sure to be a slam dunk. Well, the new version of Virtual PC is weird, and is implemented as some shell extensions so it doesn’t even really look like an app. I first tried an application that converts virtual disks from one format to another. I can’t really remember the failure mode of that attempt, but the VM wouldn’t boot. I was willing to accept this, given the heritage of the virtual disk file, and the myriad of changes I’d made to it since first making the image. I then moved on to creating a virtual disk with a Microsoft (sysinternals) tool. I figured I’d try a “simpler” wired network this time, with both nodes on a small hub, but the throughput was terrible. I then remembered that it really was a hub, and not a switch, and I disconnected the other system I had plugged in there, and disconnected the internet connection, and then things really moved along quickly. When I came back a few hours later, though, the app complained that the network connection was lost. Didn’t look it to me, but what do I know. I re-configured the two computers’ network interfaces to have static IP addresses, and I addressed the shared folder for storing the newly created virtual disk with the IP address of the target instead of its name. But that new copy ended up having an even weirder failure mode. The VM would begin to boot, but then simply power down. No BSoD, no error message, no nothing. I did some searching but my GoogleFu failed me, and I could find no similar reports.

At this point I was feeling pretty beat up, but in doing some research on the VHD file format (Microsoft’s virtual disk format), I read that VirtualBox also supported it. So I figured, what the heck. Since it doesn’t require making a new virtual disk, but was just a quick download, the cost to try was low. But of course that failed to boot as well — just gave me a blank screen. However, I was able to go into the settings and figure out by myself some changes to try (mainly the bus on which the virtual disk was configured), and was able to get the VM to boot. It certainly took a lot of doing to get to that point. Even so, the story doesn’t end there. The VM would boot OK, but I couldn’t access the network. The error in Device Manager was that not enough resources were available for the device. And there were a handful of devices in that state, not just the network interface. I tried deleting old hardware drivers, etc., but never got those errors to go away. Some internet research later, I learned that installing their “Guest Additions” solved many errors. So I did this, but still no luck. Some more searching (my GoogleFu had returned!) later, I came across someone who had the same problem, and his solution was to change the PCI bus driver. I did this, and voila! All was well.

All in all, it was a surprisingly miserable experience to get to this point. But thank you, Virtual Box, for coming through in the end!

4 thoughts on “Virtually Impossible”

  1. You had way too much fun! Next time suffer and put the files you care about on a bus-powered “travel” USB drive. 😉

    1. But it’s never just the files. It’s this little app, and that little app, etc. If it were just the data files, I’d have copied them to the new computer and been done with it.

Comments are closed.