Free, pre-activated copies of Windows XP Service Pack 2 are available for download straight from Microsoft. The free variants of XP SP2 have been made available together with a version of Windows Vista RTM, also up for grabs at no charge. The Redmond company is simply marking a new chapter of what has become a tradition of free Windows client offerings. In this context, both XP SP2 and Vista RTM can be downloaded side by side, with Microsoft steering clear so far of offering the two operating systems, plus their latest service packs, namely SP3 for XP and SP1 for Vista.
No less than three different versions of Windows XP SP2 can be downloaded from Microsoft without users having to empty their pockets. IE6-XPSP2_VPC.exe, IE7-XPSP2_VPC.exe and IE8B1-XPSP2_VPC.exe are the XP SP2 releases made available for download. The VPC label is a clue pointing to the packaging Microsoft has chosen. All versions of the operating system are served as Virtual Hard Disk images designed for integration with Virtual PC 2007, Microsoft's also free virtualization solution.
Users will essentially be able to build three virtual machines under Virtual PX 2007, and run each version of XP SP2 as a guest operating system. Microsoft informed that all the XP clients had been pre-activated, and in this context, users no longer have to deal with the activation process or with a license, other than the one provided by default with the releases. The only catch is that all three downloads are time-bombed. This means that the XP SP2 copies can be used for approximately three months, as they will all expire in September 2008, more specifically on September 9.
Microsoft is offering the free XP and Vista operating systems as VHDs for content developers and designers that need to test websites on several versions of Internet Explorer. In this regard, the only difference between the three XP copies is the default browser. IE6-XPSP2_VPC.exe comes with Internet Explorer 6, IE7-XPSP2 with Internet Explorer 7 and E8B1-XPSP2_VPC.exe with Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1.
The free copies of Windows XP SP2 packaged as Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Images are available for download here (just look for the files labeled IE6-XPSP2_VPC.exe, IE7-XPSP2_VPC.exe and IE8B1-XPSP2_VPC.exe).
The Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Image containing Windows Vista is available for download here (look for the downloads labeled IE7-VIS1.exe, IE7-VIS2.rar, and IE7-VIS3.rar. - you will need all three files, placed in the same folder before you run IE7-VIS1.exe).
Virtual PC 2007 is available for download here.