Tip

Windows XP mode for Windows 7: Decoding the new feature

The new 'Windows XP mode' in Windows 7 provides a virtual Windows XP environment in which small and midsize businesses can run many Windows XP-compatible business and productivity applications.

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Windows XP mode is a virtual machine package for Windows Virtual PC, which contains a pre-installed, licensed copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3 as its guest operating system. XP mode provides an additional layer of application compatibility in Windows 7; this means that you will have additional time to migrate your existing applications to the new operating system.

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Earlier, Windows XP Mode used hardware-assisted virtualization (HAV) capabilities such as Intel Virtualization Technology or the AMD-V chipset. Recently, Microsoft released an update (KB 977206) which enables PCs without hardware virtualization to take advantage of Windows XP Mode in Windows 7. If the computers support HAV, it has to be enabled in the computers' BIOS. This change makes it extremely easy for businesses to use the Windows XP mode for Windows 7 to address any application incompatibility roadblocks they might have in migrating to Windows 7.

Getting started

XP mode can be downloaded from here. Install the executable, along with the 'Virtual PC' and 'Windows XP Mode Update.'

Once installed, you can just trigger Windows XP mode Windows 7 in a single click from the Start menu. After the setup is done, you will be able to see a Windows XP machine running inside the Virtual PC. Install the incompatible applications in the XP Mode virtual machine. Once this is done, you can also opt to close this machine.

The above step will automatically publish all the shortcuts in the start menu. From there on, you can go to the Windows 7 start menu, and open the application from the Start Menu->Programs->Windows Virtual PC->Windows XP Mode Applications. You can also pin the application to the Start menu or task bar.

Pre-installed integration components present in Windows XP mode in Windows 7 allows applications running within the virtualized environment to appear as if these run directly on the host, share the native desktop as well as Start menu, and participate in file type associations.

You will see the risk dialog near the system tray .This signifies that proper security is needed. You should consider Windows XP in XP Mode as just another OS on your network. You should patch the system, run antivirus on it, and keep it protected just like Win 7.

Application functionality using Windows XP mode in Windows 7

When we go to the default directories from the application, they point to the Windows 7 machine, and not the Windows XP virtual machine. For example, I am running an Adobe Reader 7.0 from the Virtual XP mode , and when I did an Open File from the File-> Open dialog I got the Windows 7 Desktop, not the Windows XP machine.

This also takes care of the file extensions. If you do not have Adobe Reader installed on your Windows 7 machine, invoking a file, 'test.pdf,' will automatically associate itself to the Adobe Reader of the Virtual XP machine and open the file.

Using Windows XP Mode for Windows 7, you can now have two versions (6 and 8) of Internet Explorer running on your machine. You can have your internal Web applications launched from Internet Explorer 6 (through the Virtual XP Mode). If your Web applications can work on IE7, emulating IE7 environment is one of the best practices.

Applications running in Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 do not have compatibility issues since they actually run inside a Windows XP virtual machine, and are redirected using RDP to the Windows 7 host.  

About the author: Vijay Raj is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and a Springboard Series (STEP) member for Windows 7. He's also a regular speaker at user group communities and other events. Raj blogs at www.msigeek.com.

This was first published in June 2010

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