Thought you had to give up your love-affair with XP to upgrade to Windows 7? Well, think again. Microsoft has released a new downloadable feature, called Windows XP Mode, for users of the Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions. It lets you access the entire XP desktop and environment, all in Windows 7. Use it to run legacy applications or for day-to-day use.
What is Windows XP Mode and Virtualization?
Windows XP Mode is basically a virtual machine preconfigured with a full edition of Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3. It uses Microsoft's new virtualization program, Windows Virtual PC, that only runs in Windows 7. It's an updated and renamed version of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.
There are other virtualization programs, like the ones from Microsoft, such as the VMware Player and VirtualBox. They all offer a similar solution. They are applications that provide a simple interface within Windows (or other OSs) where you can set up and access virtual hard drives.
You can load whatever you want on the drives: Windows 3.1, XP, or Windows 7, or even another platform like Ubuntu Linux. You allocate how much memory (RAM) you want to give a virtual machine. Many of the physical computer's ports and devices are emulated in the virtual environment, such as the CD/DVD drive, COM ports, and USB ports.
One feature that sets Windows XP Mode apart from other virtualization programs is its ability to integrate within Windows 7. In addition to being able to access the full XP machine in a full or reduced screen view (see Figure 1), you can launch programs installed on the XP machine directly from the Start Menu in Windows 7 (see Figure 2).
Installing Virtual PC and XP Mode on Windows 7
Be aware that to give Windows XP Mode a try, you must be sporting a premium edition of Windows 7. Plus your computer must be capable of hardware virtualization. You can check your current system by visiting Microsoft's virtualization detection tool. When you're ready, download and install the new Windows Virtual PC program in addition to the XP Mode. Once installed, you'll see the two programs listed on your Start Menu.
To get started with the XP Mode, click the shortcut from the Start Menu. The first time you run it you'll have to perform a short configuration. You'll be asked to accept the Windows XP License Agreement, create an administrator password, choose whether or not to receive Automatic Updates for Windows. After that it will bring up Windows.
Using XP and Installing Applications
Once you're in Windows XP, you can download and install software like normal. If it's on a CD or DVD, just pop it into the computer and the virtual machine will read it. If you have a disc image (.ISO) file, you can select it and it will act like a normal disc in the virtual machine. To load a image file, open the main Windows Virtual PC window, select the machine, and click the Settings button. Then select the drive, click Open an ISO Image, and browse to and select it.