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Virtualization : Windows XP Mode

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Windows XP Mode is a special feature available only on higher-end versions of Windows 7—specifically the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions (see Figure 1). Windows XP Mode provides a fully licensed copy of Windows XP (with Service Pack 3 already installed) running virtually within your Windows 7 system.
Figure 1. The Windows XP Mode Desktop.

Unlike most virtualization solutions, this one does not require that you run the Windows XP instance as a separate desktop. Instead, as you install applications within the virtual XP environment, they are published to the host (Windows 7) operating system as well. Shortcuts for these applications are even placed into the Start Menu. The result? You can run Windows XP–based applications alongside Windows 7 applications on a single desktop.

What’s the point of Windows XP Mode? One of the problems that is a continuing concern among many businesses is the stability with which Windows 7 will run applications that were written for Windows XP. This doesn’t apply only to custom applications, either—older software of all types has been found to have issues of this sort, even including older versions of Microsoft Office.

Windows XP Mode isn’t shipped as part of the standard Windows 7 installation DVD. Instead, you download the installation from the Microsoft website (similar to how Live Essentials is handled).

To install Windows XP mode, you need to download two installers—the Windows Virtual PC installer and the Windows XP Mode software, which uses Virtual PC to run. However, before you do this, you should check your machine to make sure it is capable of running Virtual PC, and thus Windows XP Mode.

The reason for this is that Microsoft Virtual PC requires hardware virtualization support, which is only available in newer systems. The best resource we found for determining if your system includes virtualization support was to first find out what kind of processor you have.

How do you do this? Inside Windows 7, open the Control Panel, click System and Security then click System. See Figure 2.

Figure 2. Open the System Control Panel applet to determine what CPU your computer has installed.

Next, depending on whether your PC uses an Intel or AMD CPU, go to one of these two sites:

Once you have verified that your PC uses a CPU capable of using virualization, you can get started with installing Windows XP Mode. Here’s how:

Go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx and download the Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode installers. Note that this link also includes instructions on how to enable hardware virtualization on your PC, if your computer’s CPU supports hardware virtualization.

Install Windows Virtual PC. Your system needs to be rebooted after you have installed Virtual PC.

After you have restarted your system, and Virtual PC has completed its installation, install Windows XP Mode (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Windows XP mode installer.

Accept the Virtual Windows XP license.

Set up the user and password for the virtual Windows XP system, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Choose a password.

Finish the setup as you would for a regular Windows XP installation.

Start the virtual system.

After you’ve started the virtual Windows XP system, you’ll see what looks like a standard Windows XP desktop (see Figure 5). The only difference is that it will have a new menu bar at the top, which controls the virtual shell that the Windows XP instance runs in.

Figure 5. Starting the virtual system.

Configuring Windows XP Mode

After you’ve installed the virtual Windows XP system, you need to configure it and then install software:

From the Tools menu in the virtual machine, select Settings. This allows you to configure a variety of system settings that apply to the virtual machine.

The first thing that you will do when you start Windows XP Mode is to set the password used by Virtual Windows XP. Enter the password, and a confirmation of that password, before clicking the Next button.

Next, you will be asked to configure the update policy for the virtual Windows XP subsystem. Because this is a fully functional Windows XP Pro installation, it will have the same network vulnerabilities that a standalone Windows XP system would.


Because the virtual Windows XP system is fully licensed, we suggest you turn on Automatic Updates, unless there is a good reason not to, and you are fully aware of the consequences of that choice.

Once you’ve completed these steps, the virtual Windows XP system will start up for the first time. The system will “set itself up” just like it would for a regular installation. It will also enable the integration features that allow Windows XP Mode to tie into Windows 7.

Virtual Windows XP Menus

The system window that Virtual Windows XP opens on your desktop has several menus across the top, allowing you to configure the virtual system as needed.

Action Menu

Table 1 explains the available options.

Table 1. Action Menu
View Full ScreenThis item expands the virtual Windows XP system window to the full size of your screen.
SleepPuts the virtual Windows XP system to sleep. Does NOT put your Windows 7 system to sleep, however.
RestartRestarts and reloads the virtual Windows XP system.
CloseQuits the virtual Windows XP system and closes Windows Virtual PC. Does not exit Windows 7.

USB Menu

This menu lists all USB devices that Windows has identified and gives you the option of attaching/detaching and sharing/not sharing each device.

Tools Menu

This menu has two options as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Tools Menu
Disable integration featuresThis item turns off the Windows XP integration with Windows 7 and runs the virtual Windows XP system as a separate, discrete virtual system. If you have previously disabled integration, reselecting this item will turn the integration features back on.
SettingsBrings up the Virtual PC settings dialog box. This dialog shows the various system settings configured for your virtual Windows XP system. If you have shut down the virtual Windows XP system, but have the Virtual PC window up, you can modify these settings. Note that this is only possible if the virtual Windows XP system is not running.
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