I was reading over on Aaron Stenber's blog about Microsoft using Virtual disks to ship windows and applications and it reminded him of the old days when Microsoft would just ship preconfigured hard drives instead of installs.
I recall that at my last job that they really weren't that far removed from the practice. Going back further ( 1996 Windows 3.1 days ) I once invented a tool while I worked at Electronic Data Systems called `The Cookie Cutter`. This tool was a bootable ISO9660 ( not easily done back then.... you had to be comfortable reading the El Torrito spec and using a Hex editor ) that started up MSDOS and ran a compiled QBasic program that I wrote.
The program would present a series of configuration screens to select an image to load and needed TCP/IP settings. We could select from 18 different configurations ( Banyan, FTP PC-TCP, SmartTerm IP, Novell, MS-TCPIP ), then it would automatically fdisk / format / extract and configure all the needed INI settings to configure the machine. Funny, even back then I wasn't afraid of configuration data being a pain. The only real pain was when 10+ people lost their jobs because of the efficiency improvements in our work flow. I travelled a lot back then and this is what started me down the path of setup. It was sad that we choose to clone our workstations instead of install them because our installs were so bad back in those days.
The other funny thing is that Microsoft seems to think that virtualization is new. The fact is I used to be a rabbid Amiga addict. I actually learned how to install and configure MSDOS/Win 3.1 by using PC-Task to emulate an x86 PC. Sorry American Megatrends, please don't ask where I got a BIOS image from..... :)
Going way back, my first computer experience ever was actually quite embarrassing. My older brother had a friend who owned a Commodore Vic 20. He gave me a book to read and sent me on my way. When I returned he tested me with a simple question. You have a program in memory and you want to erase it, what do you do? The correct answer was to type NEW. I hadn't read the book so I simply reached for the power switch and toggled the power. Not too bad for a 7 year old I suppose.
Despite my less then stellar start, my parents decided to get a Commodore 64 and it all started with Microsoft Basic 2.0 & 6510 Assembler on a Commodore 64. Ahh the Commodore 64 Advanced Programmers reference manual.
It's funny to think that I've been coding for over 25 years and that Microsoft has always been there... whether I wanted them or not. How things change and yet stay the same.