My cousin has kids. He wants them to be able to use windows and install whatever they like but he wants them to only do it to a disk image so if there are any problems or nasty virus he can quickly restore the image to an earlier state. I know an alternative is to restore the HD using something like ghost but he is worried about partition viruses and other problems (what if he wants to change the partition size, etc).
Is there a way he can have windows log into a VM on the machine instead of the desktop?
There are going to be a lot of problems with trying to get a VM to start up automatically, enter fullscreen mode, etc. What I would recommend instead to solve this problem is using something like Windows SteadyState. SteadyState essentially does exactly what you want, albeit in a slightly different way under the hood. All changes to the disk are saved on a virtual partition. When the system is shut down, most changes are discarded. Only files saved/modified in specific parts of the filesystem (which you can specify) are preserved. You can choose at shutdown whether or not to preserve changes, which requires entering the password of an authorized account. SteadyState also has some built-in options for configuring group policy-like settings on regular user accounts, so you can, for example, prevent the kids from editing the registry. Using this would be faster (since you’re not using a layer of virtualization), cheaper (since steadystate is free, and windows licenses to run in a VM are not) and likely easier to maintain.
They have steadystate for XP and Vista. I don’t think Windows 7 is supported yet, but it might be, you’d have to check.
Whilst it would be possible to start virtualisation software on startup, I do not think there is any user level virtualisation software you can use that will not allow local access to the host machine
If I was you, first create a guest account for the kids so that they are not able to make any system wide changes on the host machine and simply create a shortcut to the virtualisation software.
This should allow them to start up the virtual machine and do what they want without making changes on the host.
As for starting it up automatically – it depends what software you are using as you have not specified.
something like ghost but he is worried
about partition viruses and other
problems (what if he wants to change
the partition size, etc).
Ghost will restore any partition to its pristine state and thus taking care of any viruses.
A Ghost image can be applied to any partition regardless the size (as long as the used disk space does not exceed the partition size, that is).
I’m going to have to agree with the others. While possible, it isn’t a good approach. I’d recommend software such as Deep Freeze for this purpose. He can let his kids do whatever they want on the computer and easily fix any problems with a restart. If he wants anything he does on the computer to be persistent, he can unfreeze the machine when he works on it.