Virtual PC: Running Virtual XP in Windows 7

Virtual PC options from VMware, Laplink, Zinstall, and Microsoft can help you use a VM to run XP on Windows 7, allowing an easier migration to this new OS.

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Posted February 17, 2010

David Strom

David Strom

ALSO SEE: Oracle Plans One Java Virtual Machine to Rule Them All

With the release of Windows 7, companies looking to replace aging Windows XP PCs have an opportunity to use a variety of new tools to run a virtual machine version of XP co-exist inside the newer operating system.

The trouble, however, is that each virtual machine option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let's look at using Laplink's PCover,, and Microsoft's own XP Mode solution as ways to bring up a virtual XP machine.

The “Basic” Virtual Machine: Laplink Pcmover

The very basic end of the spectrum is doing an in-place migration from each of your XP desktops. This is what is involved with using Laplink’s Pcmover.

The software will take a snapshot of what’s on your existing XP hard drive and save as many applications and all of your data files as it can. When you finish the installation, you will see all of your old apps that can run under Windows 7 on your new desktop. It’s a rather involved process that can take about an hour or more, depending on the number of apps and the amount of data you want to preserve. Here’s a video about using Laplink to migrate a Windows XP desktop to Windows 7.

Virtual Machine Options: Advanced Choices

There are several better solutions, all of which involve using virtual machine technology.

One is to just install a product such as VMware or Sun's Virtual Box that can be used to bring up a virtual machine (VM) instance on your new Windows 7 desktop. This is nothing new, but it can take time to create the particular virtual machine you want to use.

And you will need to preserve the existing XP desktop with a tool such as VMware Converter to make a physical-to-virtual machine copy.

Microsoft, of course, has its own VM technology called Virtual PC that it acquired long ago and has been selling for quite some time. The new twist for Windows 7 is something called XP Mode solution, which has some interesting hooks that are built into Windows 7 to make co-existence much easier and somewhat more integrated than just running a plain virtual machine session.

The problem, as you can see from this information from Microsoft, is that XP Mode has some limitations.

First, it is only available on the Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows 7. XP Mode also is only supported on machines running "V-chip" CPUs, which is what Microsoft calls hardware-assisted virtualization.

Almost all of the AMD processors of the past several years offer this support, but there are fewer Intel processors that came with this feature.

How can you check? Microsoft has a tool you can download and run on your desktop from the Web page above that can quickly let you know. You also need to reinstall an entire XP desktop in the virtual machine from scratch, or build a VM image that you can modify. There is more deployment information on Microsoft's Web site.

The XP version that is installed is going to be running Service Pack 3 and Internet Explorer v6. This combination might not be suitable for your particular set of circumstances or applications.

Zinstall Virtual Machine Option

If that is the case, you might be interested in a virtual machine technology called Zinstall XP7. This is particularly true if 1) you have a non-qualifying CPU, or 2) if you want to be able to preserve your XP desktop and switch back to it when you need to run an application that doesn't work on Windows 7.

Zinstall creates an XP virtual machine with all of your old apps and files that is just a mouse click away, similar to how any virtual machine runs under Virtual PC or VMware.

Zinstall works by taking the "windows-old" directory that the Windows 7 installer creates and uses it to rebuild your original XP desktop. Zinstall actually supports two different migration scenarios: besides the in-place one, the other is to migrate between two different computers.

Once this process is done, you can switch back and forth between XP and Windows 7 by clicking on an icon on the taskbar. Booting up your XP desktop will initially take some time – after all, you are loading a new virtual machine here. But once that is done, switching between the OSes takes just a second or two. You leave your existing XP desktop unchanged, with its existing apps.

Everything on your old XP machine is still preserved, including files and applications. These aren't migrated to Windows 7 – you have to install new apps now just as you would for any new OS install. This differs from PC Mover, where you give up your older XP machine and migrate it completely over to Win 7. You can even view and access the files on the other OS too, again by clicking on the taskbar icon.

It is nice to have the various migration options to mix and match XP as you begin to deploy Windows 7 across your enterprise, something that was lacking when Vista was introduced. And it is nice to see this maturing of virtual machine technology, too, to help IT managers out in the transition.

ALSO SEE: Using XP After Upgrading to Windows 7

AND: Virtual Server Comparison: Xen vs. Microsoft vs. VMware, 2010

Tags: Windows 7, Windows XP, virtual desktop, virtual machine, virtual PC

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