Create a virtual Windows PC on a mobile device with MojoPac

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“MojoPac Freedom” is the free edition of the MojoPac desktop virtualization software.

It allows you to install a Windows XP environment on a portable hard drive, Ipod, or other device that, when plugged into any PC, behaves as a self-contained Windows XP environment that can have the programs that you need installed and the desktop customizations that you are used to.

Picture this: you’re off to a 7-day visit to your in-laws over Christmas, during which time you would like to do some overdue graphic design work with GIMPshop, create a few blog postings using your favorite blog-publishing program, and perhaps put in a few hours of gameplay with that latest MMORG that you’re into.

More importantly, you also need to be checking your email locally for work with Outlook as well as have all of your archived emails for reference just in case. Oh, and you’d also like to be able to move music and video in and out of your Iphone (i.e. you need Itunes installed as well).

what_overview

For a scenario as described above it seems obvious to take a laptop, as it’s just not practical for you to be installing all this software on your in-law’s computer. However, there is in fact another option: use MojoPac to create a virtual PC set-up with all the programs and data that you need stored on a USB drive or even on your Ipod, and then simply plug that device into any computer to instantly get all of your programs along with an entire virtual PC environment on demand.

One of the nicest things about this software is the ease of setting it up. You have to create an account at the MojoPac site, which involves picking a username and password and submitting a working email, but you can actually do that from the installation process itself. The process takes a mere few minutes at the end of which your new mobile-device borne virtual PC will up and running (see installation section below).

My experience with MojoPac: I tested this software by installing it first on a 2-Gig USB stick as then on a 12-GIG partition on a portable USB drive. Here are my notes on this program:

  • Compatibility: not all software can be installed with the MojoPac environment (a list of supported programs can be found here). While I was able to install MS Office 2003, Itunes, and a number of other games and programs just fine, many other freeware titles that I attempted would not install. Moreover, some that did install would simply not function properly. If a program you need is not working post it in the support forums and it may be supported in future versions.
  • Reliability: I tested my MojoPac-enabled device with some 8 different computers. For five of these it worked just fine, for two it displayed an error message and required a reboot to work, and on one PC it would not work at all no matter how hard I tried. Something to keep in mind in case you absolutely positively must have your programs working for that important presentation.
  • Performance: will depend mostly on the speed of data transfer of your USB device. The MojoPac site states that the virtualization process itself does not tax performance to any notable degree, and they stress that you can play the latest graphically intensive games at full performance. That said, your MojoPac PC will very likely be slower than the host PC unless you have a really fast USB device that you are running it on.
  • Installation: you do not need to have Windows XP or any Windows CDs around; MojoPac will install everything that it needs on its own (which is one of the coolest things about this program). Currently MojoPac only works on Windows XP, but a Vista version will be available shortly. Its possible to install MojoPac on a directory on the host computer instead of a device, but I haven’t tried this myself.
  • Size on disk: the Windows XP installation that MojoPac put on my device is approx 200 megs (128 megs minimum required, 2 Gig minimum recommended). The portable device will have the typical Win XP folder structure (Windows, Program Files, Documents and Settings, etc.)
  • Switching back and forth: between the host PC environment and the MojoPac PC can be done at the press of a button via a docked MojoPac bar on the top of your screen or from the MojoPac icon in the system tray. There are times when your activity within the MojoPac PC is interrupted by security software running in the host environment (firewalls or antispyware/antivirus). In most cases MojoPac will notify you of the windows which pop up in the host, but not always. If your MojoPac PC seems stuck and you don’t know why, try flipping over to the host PC and see if something’s up.
  • Accessing other drives/devices: the MojoPac PC will simply not access hard drives connected to the host PC, although it will access other hardware (e.g. CD drive, mouse, keyboard, etc). From the settings it is possible to allow it to access the host PC drivers, which games and other programs need to function. To copy data back and forth between the host and MojoPac PC’s you will need to switch to the host PC and transfer data to the MojoPac device. Strangely (but happily) the host and MojoPac PC’s share the clipboard.
  • Technical support: although in theory you do not get technical support with the free edition, you can still send them error reports, create technical support tickets, and (hopefully) get the issues resolved.

Reasons why you might want to use this software: Portability/convenience; (here are some examples):

  • You don’t want to lug a laptop on your bike ride to work every day, but you want access to your very own non-work PC environment.
  • You’re a blogger, graphic designer, musician, or whatever, and you would like to carry your favorite desktop blogging/graphic design/electronic music tools with you in your USB wherever you go, pre-installed and configured , in case you might need them. (Along these lines: if you’re a gamer that just wants a PC with your games/game clients in your pocket at all times, just in case there’s an opportunity to fire them up).
  • Or say you are unsure whether the computers at the place where you are to give a presentation are equipped with the necessary software that you will need, so you bring the software with you, all pre-installed on your MojoPac just in case.
  • You like to carry your Itunes pre-installed with MojoPac on your Ipod itself.
  • You use a desktop email client such as Outlook, and would like to download your email from anywhere and have access to your old emails at all times.

Reasons why you might want to use this software: Security/Privacy/PC sharing; (here are some examples):

  • This refers to being able to surf the internet securely without leaving any traces behind (URL history, saved/cached files, cookies, search history, etc.) Note, however, that if your MojoPac device falls into the wrong hands that person will not be able to access your virtual environment without your password, but will certainly be able to browse and access your files (MojoPac is not intended for file encryption). Note: my guess is that using MojoPac will not defeat any keyloggers installed on the host computer, though.
  • If there’s one PC around and, say, a lot of people that want to use it, each can have their own computer on a USB, leaving the core system free of their data and/or programs (and remnants of their internet browsing).

Reasons why you might want to use this software: to solve work IT policy issues; (here are some examples):

  • If you are restricted in what you can/cannot install on your work computer, install the tools and programs that you need on MojoPac instead. This will keep your work PC free of your personal programs while giving you access to them at the same time on the MojoPac PC.

Differences between the free and paid versions: the paid versions feature technical support and licensing for commercial use, as well as enterprise security/management/deployment tools.

The verdict: a very interesting software with a lot to recommend it. Has a definite wow factor, but its less than 100% reliability means that you should probably still be looking for portable applications of your favorite software and using those whenever possible. That said, I expect this software to just keep getting better, more compatible, and more reliable in future releases. Give it a try for sure.

Mojopac video demo:

Version Tested: 1.8.0.0

Compatibility: Windows XP 32 bit only with 256 megs of RAM minimum, 512 megs recommended. (Vista version in the works). High end USB 2 device or Video iPod, iPod Nano and iPod mini. Minimum space required 128 megs, 2 gigs or more recommended.

The program page no longer exists, but you can download ver.2.0.0.0 of the program here.