2.7.3 Windows XP Mode
By Val Bakh
We don’t talk much of Windows Vista nowadays. It didn’t stay on the market very long and was soon replaced with a “new-and-improved” version, Windows 7. The important fact, however, is that Windows Vista was the first of the new generation of Microsoft’s operating systems. The move from Windows XP to Windows Vista and Windows 7 is perhaps even more significant than the long-forgotten departure from Windows NT in favor of Windows 2000. In the big scheme of things, Windows 2000 brought us Active Directory, but from a regular user’s perspective, the change was not all that significant: a prettier graphical user interface (GUI), but not much difference in the applications that users could run. Windows XP added a few new bells and whistles but did not hinder our ability to run most of our favorite legacy applications.
The arrival of Windows Vista put an end to those “golden days.” The code base of the new operating system is so different that many legacy applications can no longer run, or even be installed, on it. Although lots of new programs are flooding the market and sticking to old software might appear to be a nostalgic whim, there is no denying the fact that some legacy apps are still so important to some of us that we are reluctant to switch to a newer operating system.
In the properties sheet of any executable file, there is a tab named Compatibility. On this tab, you can enable the option to run the file in a compatibility mode and you can select a specific legacy operating system that the currently installed system is supposed to emulate. However, this is good only in theory; in reality, most legacy programs will not run on Windows 7, no matter which compatibility mode you choose. Moreover, in many cases, you will not be able to choose any compatibility mode at all, because the installer of an old program is as incompatible with Windows 7 as the program itself; so you simply can’t install the program to begin with.
Does this mean we are really at the end of the road? Do we really have to part with everything we’ve gotten used to and move on to newer products whether we like it or not? Of course not. However much Microsoft wants everyone to switch to their newest operating system the moment it is released to the general public, Microsoft also provides ways for us to ease the pain of the transition and to perform it gradually and gracefully. You can switch to Windows 7 and keep most of your favorite legacy stuff on the same computer. It’s like eating a cake and keeping it too. The name of the solution is Windows XP Mode (XPM).
On a computer running Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise, you can install an application named Windows Virtual PC (VPC). It is freely available in Microsoft Download Center for anyone who has a properly activated installation of genuine Windows 7. Windows VPC is a client-based stand-alone virtualization solution that enables you to create a few virtual machines (VMs), which can run 32-bit client operating systems. A VM is a software-based emulation of a computer. So a single physical computer running Windows 7 can act as several computers running different operating systems.
Now you can switch to Windows 7 quite safely. First, you should install Windows 7 on a new computer. Or if your existing computer meets the necessary system requirements, you can back up all the data that you want to keep, reformat the hard disk, and install Windows 7 on that computer. Then you should install XPM, which is provided as an update package for Windows 7. XPM is a preconfigured VM running Windows XP x86 with Service Pack 3 (SP3). Finally, you should install Windows VPC and initialize XPM. There are separate versions of VPC for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.
XPM acts and feels almost exactly like a real computer running Windows XP. You can install the necessary updates and other software that normally runs on Windows XP. You can configure XPM to appear on the network as a separate computer (that is, separate from its host physical computer). All disk volumes that exist on the host computer can be mapped to XPM and will appear in Windows Explorer in the same manner as they do in a Remote Desktop (RD) session. When you install an application in XPM that creates a shortcut on the Start menu, the shortcut is automatically mirrored on the Start menu of the host system. If you launch the application from the host system’s Start menu, it will run in a regular window and will be virtually indistinguishable from applications that are installed directly in Windows 7. Alternatively, you can launch XPM and run the application as you would normally do it on a Windows XP computer. You can also map certain types of USB devices, such as Web cameras, printers, Wi-Fi network adapters, and mobile phones, to XPM and thus make them accessible to the legacy applications installed in XPM.
There are a couple of additional perks, if you need them. Instead of using XPM, you can create your own VMs in Windows VPC and install any operating system that it can run. Officially, Microsoft does not support any versions of Windows earlier than Windows XP with SP3. However, you still can install and successfully run Windows 98 Second Edition (SE), although that installation is subject to some minor limitations. For example, Windows VPC does not include integration components for Windows 98. As a result, the mouse pointer cannot move freely between the host and guest systems, clipboard is not shared, disk volumes and USB devices are not mapped, and the interaction with the VM is a bit slower.
And if, for some reason, you are into really old stuff, you can install VPC 2007, instead of Windows VPC, and run VMs with long-forgotten prehistoric wonders like Windows 95 and even MS-DOS. VPC 2007 is intended to be run on Windows Vista, and Microsoft does not officially support it on Windows 7. Nor does Microsoft officially support running guest operating systems earlier than Windows 98 SE. But if you feel adventurous and yearn for a last glimpse of an antique application, you can push the envelope a little farther than Microsoft says you can.