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Evaluating Applications for Windows 7 Compatibility : Deploying XP Mode

6/12/2013 11:38:51 AM

Sometimes you just can't get an application to work on Windows 7 no matter what you do. You've found no upgrades, there is no vendor or third-party fix, you can't rewrite it, and all your efforts with ACT have failed. You have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can do is run the application on Windows XP. That used to mean installing two PCs at the user's desk. That increases hardware, licensing, power, and maintenance costs. It also frustrates the user.

What if you could give the user an XP VM that would run on their Windows 7 computer? What if you could make the applications installed on it look like they are running in Windows 7? The Start menu icons from the VM would appear on the Windows 7 Start menu. Any XP program would run in a seamless window on the Windows 7 desktop, keeping the XP machine hidden behind the scenes. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? That's exactly what Microsoft accomplished with Virtual PC for Windows 7.

Microsoft rewrote Virtual PC to coincide with the release of Windows 7. The focus was on producing an application compatibility solution. It has Start menu integration and allows VM programs to run in a seamless window. If you are running Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, or the Professional editions, you are entitled to download and use XP Mode. XP Mode is a VM that is set up and uses a special Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3 license. It is special because it is nontransferrable and you cannot build a custom XP virtual machine for free.

The basic concept is that you install Virtual PC for Windows 7 and XP Mode on every Windows 7 PC that requires XP to run legacy applications. The legacy applications are installed in the XP virtual machines. End users can then enjoy their new Windows 7 PCs with all the new enterprise functionality that they provide, while continuing to use those legacy applications that just won't work on anything but XP.

There are a few things that administrators and engineers need to know. The XP virtual machine is a computer all its own. It has its own security boundary, its own network and IP configuration (even though it shares the NIC of the Windows 7 PC), and its own storage in the form of a virtual hard disk (VHD) file. It will need to be a member of the Active Directory forest to allow the end user to use a single set of credentials. It will also need management and security. That means any automated software deployment needs to manage the VM as well as the host Windows 7 computer. You have to patch it and you have to maintain antivirus on it. It is a whole other computer, just without a physical presence.

That extra management is probably why you should try to think of XP Mode as a temporary solution. Your overall aim should be to get all applications running on Windows 7. Some may take longer than others. Some may require time-consuming replacements with alternative solutions. And that's where XP Mode comes in and does a nice job.


If you license your desktop and laptop computers with Software Assurance, you are entitled to purchase the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). MDOP includes an enterprise desktop virtualization solution called MED-V. As we mentioned earlier, MED-V lets you create centrally managed VM images, allowing you to quickly and easily update VMs that are deployed onto your physical PCs.

1. Installing Virtual PC for Windows 7

To install XP Mode, you will need to download (www.microsoft.com/Windows/Virtua1-PC/default.aspx) and install Virtual PC for Windows 7. The requirements for it are as follows:

  • 1 GHz or faster 64-bit processor

  • 2 GB of RAM or more for 32-bit systems, 3 GB or more for 64-bit systems

  • 20 MB for the installation plus 15 GB disk or more per virtual machine

  • Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Enterprise, Professional, or Ultimate edition

When XP Mode and Virtual PC for Windows 2007 were originally released, there was another requirement for your PC: the CPU had to have the virtualization assistance feature. You had to check the CPU model and check on the AMD or Intel web sites to see whether CPU virtualization assistance was a feature of the CPU. In addition, the OEM BIOS had to allow you to turn on the virtualization assistance feature.

The CPU assisted virtualization requirement stung many Windows 7 early adopters (and virtualization enthusiasts). They had computers with supported CPUs, but the computer manufacturer did not offer a way to turn it on in the BIOS and they refused to create updates to change this. Third-party hacks were available, but they would violate your warranty and you had to be willing to accept 100 percent of the associated risks.

The update to XP Mode resolves this issue.Microsoft released an update (available on the same web page as Virtual PC for Windows 7 and XP Mode) for XP Mode to do away with the requirement of CPU assisted virtualization. This update allows many more machines to run the application compatibility solution. If you plan to run Vista or Windows 7 VMs in Virtual PC for Windows 7, you still have to turn on this feature in the BIOS for performance reasons. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Enable the hardware features in your BIOS if you have them

  2. Download the Virtual PC for Windows 7 installer and run it. It's a pretty basic installer that will require a reboot.

A new folder and item called Windows Virtual PC will be created on your Windows 7 Start menu. Clicking that opens an Explorer window with a location of C:\Users\<Your Username>\Virtual Machines (Figure 2.37). This is the default location for your VMs.

You can create your own custom VMs by clicking Create Virtual Machine. Define the name, location, memory, how it will network, and what storage it should use. Then provide a CD/DVD or ISO file to install an operating system.

That brings us to XP Mode, Microsoft's prepackaged Windows XP installation. There is also a Start menu item under Windows Virtual PC for XP Mode. It cannot do anything until you install it.

2. Installing XP Mode

You can download XP Mode from the same website where you got Virtual PC for Windows 7 (www.microsoft.com/Windows/Virtual-PC/default.aspx). First you have to run and install Genuine Advantage to check for piracy and activation—download and install the plug-in and then enable it. The nearly 500 MB download will then begin. Note that you are only licensed to run XP Mode on Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, or Professional edition.

Figure 1. Virtual PC for Windows 7

XP Mode Memory

By default, the virtual machine will be assigned 512 MB of RAM. You may need to add more memory. Understand that this will consume slightly more than that amount from the physical host. You can add more RAM to the VM by shutting it down, opening Windows Virtual PC, and editing the XP Mode VM's settings.

Make sure you consider XP Mode memory as early as possible when planning the desktop deployment project.

The setup consists of two parts. The installer extracts and prepares the XP Mode on your PC. That's a pretty simple routine. Every user who then uses the PC will get his or her own XP Mode installation. This will be based on the template VHD, Windows XP Mode base.vhd, which is located in C:\Program Fi1es\Windows XP Mode.

The Windows XP Mode Setup then kicks off by asking you to accept the license agreement. The next screen asks you to enter a location for the VM and to enter credentials for it, as you can see in Figure 2. You go through the usual "protect my computer" screen and then the VM is created by copying the template. Three new files are added to the specified location:


This is the virtual hard disk, a file that simulates a hard disk and contains the operating system, program files, and data on the VM.


This is the VM's configuration file.


This is a save state file and used when the VM hibernates.

Figure 2. Windows XP Mode setup

Note that any subsequent users will be able to start the Windows XP Mode Setup program to create their own VM by running Windows XP Mode Setup from the Start menu.

The setup routine launches a new window to let you further configure the VM. This process can take a little while. If your Windows 7 PC is configured for sound, you will eventually hear the XP Mode machine log in automatically. The full screen appears, revealing the XP desktop (Figure 3). You'll only use this program to set up software in the VM.

Figure 3. Windows XP Mode full screen

You'll notice a few handy tools on the menu at the top of the full screen. The USB menu allows you to capture any devices plugged into the Windows 7 host so that the VM can use them. The Tools menu lets you disable the Integration Features. These features enable advanced functionality for the VM, such as seamless windows. You can also use the Settings menu to reconfigure the VM. The Ctrl+Alt+Del option allows you to pass that key sequence to the VM via a mouse click. You can also use Ctrl+Alt+End to use that key sequence directly in the VM without affecting the Windows 7 host.

If you open Windows Explorer in the VM, you will see that the physical drives of the Windows 7 host are available as network drives. Your VM can also mount an ISO file or a physical CD/DVD. And, of course, it can access the network.

This means you have many ways to install your legacy applications (that ACT couldn't fix) and your management systems (such as antivirus and the Configuration Manager client). You saw in the Application Compatibility Manager that an XP machine was using Microsoft Office 2000 and that no fix, other than an upgrade, was available. There are companies that use legacy server applications that might not support a newer version of Office, so the old one must be maintained. And those same companies may need a newer version on Windows 7 to work with new LOB applications. XP Mode to the rescue!

You can install any remaining legacy applications with Windows 7 compatibility issues in your XP Mode VM, just as you would on any physical computer. When it's done, you can open the Start menu of the Windows 7 PC. The shortcuts for the newly installed XP Mode applications should be present, as shown in Figure 4. If they aren't, you can move them to the All Users Start Menu in the VM, found at C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu. By the way, that's a handy way to get Internet Explorer 6 and Outlook Express from XP Mode working on Windows 7.

Now you need to test them. Shut down the VM. When it has shut down, click one of the XP Mode Start menu items. The VM should start up behind the scenes.

Figure 4. The XP Mode Start menu shortcuts

Creating a Customized XP VM

Suppose you want to create your own template from scratch. You need to ensure that you have the appropriate licensing; for example, Software Assurance on the desktop provides the rights to run up to four free VMs. Alternatively, you would have to purchase the license for each operating system installed into a VM.

Creating a custom XP VM also requires the following:

You then need to prepare the VM for deployment. That process involves using Sysprep and a sysrep.inf file to create an unattended mini-setup. Once the machine is prepared with Sysprep, shut it down.

Next, deploy the VHD to the desired location on the client computers. Microsoft provides a script that lets you automatically create a VM from your customized VHD file. You must run this script from an elevated command prompt:

cscript CreateVirtualMachine.wsf -p:<path to VHD> -vn:<virtua1 machine name>


A progress bar appears to indicate that the VM is starting up. You'll also see it appear if the VM has entered hibernation. The VM will normally hibernate when all XP Mode applications have been closed. If there are any problems or if you need to install or remove any programs, you can click the Windows XP Mode Start menu item to relaunch the full XP desktop. You'll soon see how you can do very cool and useful things, like run two versions of Office or Internet Explorer on the one Windows 7 computer, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. IE8 and IE6 running simultaneously

Configuring Group Policy Settings for XP Mode

A number of Group Policy settings must be configured for XP Mode to work correctly. The following must be configured (default settings) on the Windows 7 host at Local Computer Po1icy\User Configuration\Administrative Temp1ates\Windows Components\Remote Desktop Services\RD Gateway:

  • Set RD Gateway Authentication Method: Enabled or Not Configured

  • Enable Connection Through RD Gateway: Enabled or Not Configured (Allow Users To Change This Setting: Enabled)

  • Set RD Gateway Server Address: Enabled or Not Configured

The following must be configured (default settings) on the XP Mode virtual machine at Local Computer Po1icy\Computer Configuration\Administrative Temp1ates\Windows Components\Termina1 Services:

  • Allow Users To Connect Remotely Using Terminal Services: Enabled

  • Remove Disconnect Option From Shut Down Dialog: Enabled

  • Client/Server Data Redirection: Not Configured

Make sure you work with your Active Directory administrators to ensure that these settings remain on any Windows 7 computers or XP Mode machines that are domain members. If either XP Mode or Virtual PC for Windows 7 starts to misbehave, you will probably want to start looking at the resulting Group Policy for your VM and your host Windows 7 PC using Group Policy Manager.

3. Advanced Deployment of XP Mode

There are a few advanced ways that you can use to deploy Windows XP Mode, and we'll discuss them in this section. For more information, check out the Microsoft-published whitepaper and scripts for performing advanced deployments of Windows XP Mode. You can find them at:



3.1. Silent Installation

You can perform silent installations of Virtual PC for Windows 7 and XP Mode. This is possible using two scripts. The first will silently install Virtual PC when run from an elevated command prompt:

cscript InstallWindowsVirtualPC.wsf -p:<path to the MSU for Virtual PC>

The next script will silently install XP Mode when run from an elevated command prompt:

Csript InstallAndCreateWindowsXPMode.wsf -p:<path to WindowsXPMode.exe>

Thanks to scripts like these, you can use startup scripts or advanced software deployment solutions like Configuration Manager to install XP Mode on your Windows 7 PC automatically.

General Tips for Ensuring Compatibility

Here are a few suggestions to keep the process running as smoothly as possible:

  • You can never have too much information. Make use of the Application Compatibility Administrator and start gathering information as soon as possible. That will help with realistic planning and scheduling.

  • If you have Configuration Manager, you should configure the ACT Connector to produce reports with unified data.

  • Work closely with the business and identify owners of business applications. Some applications may be redundant or obsolete; only those business owners will know this.

  • Use virtualization to build a test and development network. You can build template VMs with ACT already installed and store them in a library. This will allow you to quickly test and fix applications on clean machines.

  • Involve power users when and where you can to test applications. They understand the application more than anyone else can.

  • Make use of the community. If you purchased an off-the-shelf solution, someone else may have already fixed any compatibility issues.

Other -----------------
- Configuring Startup and Troubleshooting Startup Issues : The Process of Troubleshooting Startup (part 3) - Troubleshooting Startup Problems After Logon
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- Configuring Startup and Troubleshooting Startup Issues : The Process of Troubleshooting Startup (part 1) - Startup Troubleshooting Before the Starting Windows Logo Appears
- Configuring Startup and Troubleshooting Startup Issues : Important Startup Files, How to Configure Startup Settings
- Managing Windows 7 : Managing Navigational and Editing Flicks
- Managing Windows 7 : Configuring a Pen or Touch Computer, Managing Pen Settings
- Configuring Startup and Troubleshooting Startup Issues : Understanding the Startup Process
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