Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate users have a awesome privilege: they are allowed to run the new Windows XP Mode. Essentially, they get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Let’s face it, Windows XP is one of Microsoft’s most beloved operating system in history. Users loved it so much that Microsoft had to actually extend its life by continuing to provide security patches for it long before they initially planned on doing so. But anyways, the main advantage of being able to run a virtualized Windows XP machine in Windows 7 is to provide backwards compatibility with your older programs. If the developer of your favorite application still has not (or don’t intend to) release a Windows 7 version, than utilizing Windows XP Mode is the easiest way to continue using the application. As you’ll see, Windows XP Mode is really easy to implement. Depending on your situation and needs, Windows XP Mode can be a godsend.
If you have already upgraded to Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, then I’m hoping that you already know about Windows XP Mode (I mean, you did research on the extra features you’ll be getting with these higher editions right?). If however you are still debating on which edition to upgrade to, Windows XP might be the icing on the cake. Although Windows XP Mode is meant mainly for businesses that still need support for important legacy applications and hardware, home users can enjoy that leisure as well. The good news is that Windows XP Mode doesn’t just have to support older applications. What I mean is that with Windows XP Mode, you have a full fledged virtual machine awaiting your commands. That means you now have a second system to play with! You can use this virtual system to test out new software before unloading them onto your windows 7 side. Although both operating systems operate very differently from each other, you’ll at least get a feel for how the application looks like and behavior in general before using it on your production machine.
Before we begin, there are some important notes you need to go over. There has been some confusion as to how Windows XP Mode will work in Windows 7 along with other requirements and prerequisites.
- By utilizing Windows XP Mode, you should be aware that by running XP mode, you now have two operating systems running at the same time! Therefore, more resources will be needed in order to keep both operating systems happy. However, do know that Windows XP Mode won’t be running every time you turn on Windows 7 as well. Windows XP Mode will kick in once you manually start the virtual operating system or once you start an application installed in XP Mode under Windows 7 (seamless mode). My personal recommendation is that you should at the very least have a dual core CPU with at least 2GB of RAM. Remember that you will need to share other resources with the virtual XP operating system as well. You don’t really need a beefy system but it shouldn’t be a slouch either.
- In order to successfully install Windows XP Mode, your computer’s CPU must support a feature called hardware-assisted virtualiztion. You don’t really have to understand all the technical jargon. You just need to know whether your CPU supports it or not. Microsoft has included a tool to help you identify whether this feature is supported or not on your system. Download the tool from here and run it.
Update: You now do not need a HAV capable CPU in order to run Windows XP Mode under Windows 7! You’ll just have to install a third update in order to proceed! Awesome stuff!
- Here is another important note to remember: you do NOT have to purchase anything extra in order to begin using Windows XP Mode. The only requirement is that you need to be using Windows 7 Professional or higher along with the support for hardware-assisted virtualization on your CPU. To be more specific, you do not have to purchase a separate XP license to use Windows XP Mode. As you’ll read later on, there are only two pieces of software you need to download. These two download is all that is needed to use Windows XP Mode. Nothing else is required. With that being said, if you will be installing Windows XP inside Virtual PC under Windows 7 Home Premium with VMware or other similar third party software, then yes, you will need to purchase a full retail license of Windows XP. So, if you think you’ll need Windows XP support on your computer system, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by installing Windows 7 Professional or higher.
- You need to understand that by using Windows XP, you also need to secure that operating system. Remember, this is a complete operating system. Therefore, the same security vulnerabilities that affect a physical stand-alone XP system can also affect a virtual system. You should still continue to patch and update the operating system to make sure it is as secure as possible. So, that means applying Windows Update patches, installing a anti-virus package, updating applications to their latest version etc.
- There will be limitations with what you can do with a virtual machine. For example, I don’t think you’ll want to use this to run high resolution and graphic intensive games.
Windows XP Mode
1. Like mentioned earlier, all you need to begin utilizing Windows XP Mode are two downloads from Microsoft. First is the actual XP virtual machine itself. I believe it’s a VHD file packed inside a convenient executable file. This download weighs in at around 470MB. Not bad but if you have a really slow connection, download it from a friend’s network instead. The second piece you need is Microsoft’s Virtual PC. This is what allows you to install VHD files inside Windows. Both pieces can be downloaded at Microsoft”s Windows XP Mode website.
2. As mentioned on the website, we should install Windows XP Mode first before proceeding with the Virtual PC install. So, go ahead and do that first. The installation is like any other software install you’ve come across in the past. Therefore, it’s super easy and you really can’t mess it up. Just keep hitting Next to accept the default.
Next up is Virtual PC. One again, the install is pretty much mess-free. You’re basically installing a stand-alone Windows Update. Once installed, restart your computer for the changes to take effect. Windows Virtual PC is now installed as evident in your Start Menu.
As a side note, once Windows Virtual PC is installed, you can install other virtual operating systems in it as well. Its use is not limited to only Windows XP Mode. For example, many users tend to install Linux inside Virtual PC. However, Seamless Mode (you will read about this later) will not take effect here. In this scenario, licensing and product keys do come into play if you plan on installing other versions of Windows in Virtual PC.
3. Once both installation has completed, you have now successfully installed Windows XP Mode! See, that was pretty easy wasn’t it? Now, we can fire it up to begin using it. Under the Windows Virtual PC folder in your Start Menu, select Windows XP Mode. You’ll immediately be greeted with the License Agreement. Accept it and hit Next.
Next up, you get to specify a location to hold your XP virtual machine files. If you don’t like the default folder, you can change it here. You’ll also be creating a password for your user account. By default, your user name is XPMUser. If you want Windows to automatically log you in when you start the virtual machine, select the Remember Credentials checkbox. For more information on this, click on the link at the bottom.
Automatic Update options is next up to bat. Like I said earlier, Windows XP Mode is a full fledged operating system. Just because it’s virtualized doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about its security state. Therefore, you need to take caution and keep it as secure as possible.
The next screen will present you information about drive sharing between Windows 7 (the host) and Windows XP Mode (the guest). I recommend you read this through thoroughly. Also, click on the link to get even more useful information. Sharing drives between operating systems is not just about security but rather it has a lot to do with how your Windows 7 application behaves as well.
Well, that’s all there is to it! Windows XP Mode will then begin creating the actual virtual machine. During the install, it presents you with pictures and other information on how to start and use Windows XP Mode. The main thing it is trying to tell you is that you can install applications in Windows XP just like how you could with any other operating system. Those applications can then be published in your Windows 7 Start Menu.
4. Once the installation is finished (shouldn’t take very long), Windows XP will then load! As you can see, this is a barebones version of Windows XP SP3. No extra software is pre-loaded. From here, you’re basically free to do whatever you wish to with the virtual operating system. I recommend installing the latest updates and downloading and installing a anti-virus package. Because you must share computer resources with the virtual machine, I recommend getting a light weight virus protection package and so Microsoft Security Essential is an excellent choice in this scenario.
Utilizing XP Mode’s Seamless Mode
While Microsoft have been late to the game with this feature, they have nonetheless provided this seamless application integration technology in Windows XP Mode. Let’s take a look at how this actually works.
Publishing applications installed inside your virtual machine to Windows 7 is as easy as just installing the application itself! Honestly, just install the legacy application in XP just as how you would if it was a stand-alone machine. In this example, I’ll use our favorite past time game, Solitaire as an example.
Once you have installed the application, simply browse back to your Windows 7 Start Menu under the Windows Virtual PC folder. You should now see a folder labeled Windows XP Mode Applications. Within this folder, applications you installed should then appear.
Here is a important note: if the application does not appear in this folder, than simply place the executable shortcut in the All Users Start Menu shortcut under Windows XP. To do so, right click on the Start Menu button in XP and select Open All Users. Drag the shortcut here. Wait a few seconds and the application should then appear in Windows 7.
Now and henceforth, you can run the application directly from the Windows XP Mode Applications folder in your Windows 7 Start Menu. However, this works only if your XP virtual machine isn’t already up and running. If you do try to start the application while your XP machine is up, you will see this message:
As the message indicates, hitting Continue will turn off your XP virtual machine and start the desired application. This will enter XP’s Seamless Mode as seen in the screenshot below. As you can see, I have both operating system’s version of Solitaire running side by side.
Another thing you should be aware of is that files in your host operating system can actually bound themselves to applications installed in your XP virtual system! For example, if you installed Microsoft Word in XP and published it to Windows 7, you can then open .DOC files. By doing so each time, Windows XP Mode will kick in, and start up Microsoft Word in Seamless Mode and you can work with your documents just as if you were working on them in Windows 7.
XP Mode’s Other Configuration Options
Windows XP Mode has other features and options as well. One such feature is the ability to use and attach devices you connect to your machine. By default, devices will be shared to both operating systems, if possible. In this example, my FreeAgent external hard drive can be used in both my host and guest operating system as soon as I plug it in.
If a device doesn’t automatically share itself with Windows XP, you can manually take control of it. In the USB toolbar menu on top, it will display devices that can be attached to Windows XP. Simply find the device and click on it to attach it. In this example, I want to access my USB thumb drive so I’ll click on the U3 Cruzer Micro option.
In the Action menu, you can switch Windows XP Mode to fullscreen. This is helpful if you are going to be working in the virtual system for an extended amount of time.
In the Tools menu, it is here you will get to set the majority of options for Windows XP. First up is the Enable/Disable Integration option. This is turned on by default. As mentioned above, drives you connect to your host machine will automatically be shared with your guest, if possible. By disabling this feature, you will have to manually attach devices via the USB menu.
Next up is the Settings menu. Here you can configure Windows XP Mode’s main options and settings. You can set how much amount of RAM (memory) you want to dedicate to Windows XP. By default, it allocated around 256MB to my virtual machine. If you find that inadequate, you can certainly bump it up to allow for a smoother XP experience. If you want to add additional virtual hard disk to your virtual machine, you can certainly do so as well by configuring the Hard Disk option.
Under Networking, you can configure how Windows XP connects to the network through your host adapter as well as changing which adapter to use. Generally, if everything is working fine (meaning your XP machine can connect to the Internet and whatnot), then leave everything alone.
Under Integration Features, you can select what gets automatically connected. For example, if you don’t want to share out your C: drive, than disable that here and restart the guest operating system for the changes to take effect.
Some of the options don’t allow you to change them while the virtual machine is running. Therefore, shut it down and then configure them from within the Virtual PC folder as seen below.
The last file menu setting is the Ctrl+Alt+Delete button. That keyboard combination is reserved and can only be used by your host operating system and no other application may use it. Therefore, if you press that combination in Windows XP, it’s actually going to apply it to your host operating system. To apply the keyboard combination to your virtual XP, click this button instead.
Now that you’ve taken a quick glimpse at how Windows XP Mode works, I hope you really get something out of it. Windows 7 is the new XP and it will only be time before people realize it. With Windows XP Mode, you are allowed to use both operating systems. But to be honest, once you try Windows 7, going back to XP just doesn’t feel right anymore. Whatever the case, you get the best of both worlds.