Virtual Labs (see links below)

Microsoft has prepared a number of virtual environments which you can use to train yourself on various Microsoft technologies. (See the links below to try these out.) These labs are completely free to use. You access the labs online via your browser. When you do so, you become logged on to a virtual computer where all the software necessary for your lab work has already been installed for you. You then follow a set of lab excersises designed to help you come up to speed quickly on the particular technology you are exploring. The labs are timed. That is, you will find yourself automatically logged out of the virtual environment after the time allotted for that particular lab work has expired. Typically, this ranges from 30 - 90 minutes, depending on the lab you have selected to work through. However, after the time expires, you are free to re-enter the lab again for another 30 - 90 minute session, and you can repeat these labs as often as you like.

For example, if you were exploring a lab related to development in Visual Studio using C# and SQL Server, you might find yourself logged into a virtual computer where Visual Studio and SQL Server have already been installed for you. As you work through the lab exercises, you may be led step-by-step through building / deploying some sample data-driven application. In addition, there is nothing preventing you from taking a detour away from the guided lab work and doing a little exploring on your own. The virtual environment will for the most part function just as if you were working on your own personal computer / server with Visual Studio and SQL Server installed, though there are some limitations.

These Virtual Labs are a great way to explore some new technology or brush up on existing skills, without having to take the time to set up your own personal development environment first on one of your own machines. Take a look at some of the software development areas covered in the list below. (These are links to various labs on Microsoft's site.) For some of these, there may be multiple labs available. Go ahead and explore some of the ones that interest you. It costs nothing, and you don't have to complete any of the labs. You can exit the lab whenever you like. When you exit, the virtual computer will reset itself to the same state it was in when you first entered the lab. So keep in mind that if you only work partially through a lab exercise, you will not be able to exit and later "pick up where you left off". Once you re-enter the lab, any development work you did in a previous session will be gone.