XP Virtual Desktop Powertoy under Windows Server 2003 (The ITPro way….)

I really like the Virtual Desktop manager powertoy for XP. Unfortunately, it's just not available under Windows Server 2003. Or is it? Read on....

Part of my on-going mission is to run Windows Server 2003 as my main desktop. Not because I'm sadistic (actually I probably am, but that's for another blog) - it's just easier when you have a powerful machine and need to demonstrate certain Windows Server features, I prefer to run Windows Server on the desktop directly and then run Virtual Server to host Virtual Machines underneath. Yes, I could run XP in a Virtual Machine or dual-boot, but that's somewhat defeatest.

Having a developer background, I could take the developer approach and use something like orca from the Platform SDK to edit the MSI installer to change the operating system version..... However, this is IT Pro land - we don't install SDKs. My mission was how to install this powertoy in Windows Server 2003 using IT Pro tools alone.

So you download the .exe and run it - first problem you get is that it says you need XP. Yes, I knew that. Run the installer again and you get a helpful hint about where the extracted MSI has been placed, and whether you want to replace it.

At this point, I took a copy of it and placed it on the desktop. This is not strictly necessary though.

Download and install the Application Compatibility Toolkit, Stop the Windows Installer Service and Kill off any msiexec.exe processes still running in Task Manager

In the Compatibility Administrator, create a new application fix with the Program file location being c:windowssystem32msiexec.exe. The name and vendor can be anything you want. When you click next here, scroll down on the right hand side to the bottom and select WinXPSp1 and confirm with next until the wizard ends. At this point, your screen should be similar to that below.

You've very close now. Right click msiexec.exe in the treeview from the above screenshot and select "Run Program". When prompted, add /i "C:Documents and SettingsAdministratorDesktopVirtual Desktop Manager Powertoy for Windows XP.msi" noting the use of double-quotes.

This time, the install will complete successfully. All you have to now do is right click on the taskbar, select toolbars and then Desktop Manager.

Here it is in preview mode for four desktops.

To tidy up, I removed msiexec compatibility to stop future installs not working quite as otherwise would be expected.
I hope you find this tip useful. Please note that Microsoft will not support what I've done here, so the usual disclaimers apply here.

Comments (14)
  1. Aaron Junod says:

    Could not be a better time for this. Let’s hope this trick works with the toolbar suite too! Thanks a ton!


  2. ToddS says:


    I can see how this method of installing would be powerful, and I would love to be able to use Virtual Desktop Manager (as well as the new MSN Desktop Search) on my development box (Win Server 2003 RTM). However, I cannot get these instructions to work. I also notice that you are running Windows Installer 3.1 which makes me wonder are you doing this on your SP1 box (thus the 1289 build number on msiexec.exe)? Do these instructions work on an RTM version of 2003? Also, I don’t see a "Per User Compatibility" tree item on my Compatibility Administrator. Is this a newer version of that application as well? Thanks.

  3. John Howard [MSFT] says:

    ToddS – yes, this was under SP1 RC1, and you’re right (and very observant!), msiexec.exe is version 3.1.4000.1289. Unfortunately 🙂 I don’t have a single Windows Server 2003 box (physical or virtual) which is still running the base Windows Server 2003 code, so I can’t test it.

    However, I would imagine this to be a generic solution, not specific to Windows Installer 3.1 or RC1 of SP1. I’m using the public download of the application compatibility toolkit, so it should look the same. Did you download using the link in my original post, or are you using a version already installed?

    Let me know where it fails for you – would be interested in hearing. This _should_ be fairly generic to force installations, but obviously there’s no guarantees….

    Aaron – looks like you’re trying to do exactly the same as Todd. Please let me know how you get on so this is a bit more widely published.

    Thanks both of you.


  4. ash says:


    Couldn’t get this to work. Tried to install the MSI 3.0 Redist as well.

    This is what I did

    Win2K3Ent (no Service Packs, otherwise fully patched)

    Installed the ACT

    Stopped Windows Installer service

    Made sure no msiexec’s where running in Taskmanager

    Definied msiexec in ACT as you specified

    (even rechecked with your image)

    Tried to install Deskman, but got the warning that I’m not running WinXP 🙁


  5. John Howard [MSFT] says:

    Update – found a Windows 2003 Server without SP1 RC on it (is actually my home server). I felt brave so used it to experiment on just now. I didn’t break it, and still have Internet access(!)

    It was running msiexec 2.0.3790.0
    I installed MSI 3.0 as documented in KB884016 from
    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=5fbc5470-b259-4733-a914-a956122e08e8&displaylang=en and rebooted.

    Recreated the msiexec compatibility (as the exe has a different signature), and nope, didn’t work – the installer still complained it wasn’t Windows XP.

    Copied the RC msiexe.exe onto the machine and recreated the msiexec compatibility and nope – still doesn’t work – exactly the same error.

    So, it looks like the solution is to install the RC code for SP1. There’s lots of caveats associated with this, but for what its worth, I’ve got it on installed on numerous machines (mostly virtual) and haven’t encountered problems so far. For a test machine
    though, it’s probably in the "good enough" bracket, but it’s your decision.

    Otherwise, wait a few months for the final SP1…..
    I’ll keep digging – I may find a solution 😉

  6. ToddS says:

    Here’s what I did (copied from my Wallop blog). This doesn’t work for the MSN Toolbar Beta.

    Follow John’s directions until you get the pure .msi file. Then run msiexec.exe with the /a flag. It will look like this msiexec.exe /a "C:Documents and SettingsadministratordesktopVirtual Desktop Manager PowerToy for Windows XP.msi". This will perform a network install so select a place to put the extracted files. Once this is done you’ll have a System32 directory with three files msvdm.dll, PowerToyReadme.htm, and vdm.chm. The readme is obvious and the chm is just the help file. This leaves the dll. Copy it to the WindowsSystem32 directory and then register it with regsvr32 (regsvr32 /c msvdm.dll) and *POW* it’s installed. Right click on the tool bar and select "Toolbars" and "MSVDM" and now you have 4 virtual desktops to (ab)use.

  7. John Howard [MSFT] says:


    There’s a result. Forgot about the /a switch. Great research!

  8. Aaron Junod says:

    Spent some time playing around tonight and still no go on the desktop toolbar. This did work for intellipoint, though, which rocks.

  9. John Howard [MSFT] says:

    I did manage to get the beta MSN toolbar running this morning (again though, this is under the RC of SP1). This was a little more complicated to "fool" the installer.

    – Download MsnToolbarSuiteSetup_en-us.exe

    – From command prompt run "MSNToolbarSuiteSetup_en-us.exe /t:c:x /C" to extract the files to a temporary directory (c:x in my case)

    – In c:x two files now exist: Setup.exe and MsnToolbarSuite.msi

    – In the ACT set the compatibility mode for setup.exe extracted above.

    – Do a test run of setup. Yes, the installer complains once about not being a supported OS, but it goes through eventually.

  10. Aaron Junod says:

    I had tried that (other then I used a diff method to extract the files). No go on my box, which is 2k3 with all updates except the sp1 RC. It seems as if the first warning is no longer there, but then msiexec throws the warning again once it gets to the msi. It’s almost like I want to setup ACT to run setup.exe in compat mode, then also tell msiexec to run in compat mode, but since setup.exex launches the msiexec, it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe it was just too late. I’ll try again today too.

  11. Aaron Junod says:

    Answer at slashdot. Install is starting now.


  12. ToddS says:

    Is it just me or does it seem to basically kill your machine on everything? IE takes longer to load, Windows Explorer takes longer to load. Is this just the lookout engine redeployed to be located in more places than just Outlook? Maybe my home beta box will settle down after indexing is finished.

    Thanks for the complete instructions on installing. It’s very helpful to know what commands we can use (never heard of TBSDEVCODE though). Is it because they used WiX (old version too) to develop the installer that /a doesn’t work?

  13. John Howard [MSFT] says:

    ToddS – looks like TBSDEVCODE is unique to MSN installer (unless anyone knows any better). I hadn’t noticed any performance drop, but I am using the SP1 RC so this may be part of the reason.

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