[Update: Do you have questions about Windows XP Mode? So do a lot of people, apparently. See my follow-up post, Windows XP Mode Q and A, for some answers.]
For any sort of upgrade, software or hardware, compatibility issues can be true deal-breakers. If a mission-critical program originally written for Windows XP won't run under Windows 7, you're stuck. And the economics can get ugly if an expensive or hard-to-replace peripheral doesn't have Windows 7 drivers. In this week's screencast, I demonstrate a new feature called Windows XP Mode, which is Microsoft's way of handling compatibility problems.
Windows XP Mode (available only with Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Windows 7) consists of two parts. The first is Windows Virtual PC, a lightweight virtualization environment. The second is a fully licensed copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 3, which integrates with Windows 7. Although setup can be a little tricky, it all works well together. In my case, it's allowed me to continue using an old Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner with a 64-bit copy of Windows 7 despite having no 64-bit drivers and incompatible control software.
I've attached the USB device to the 32-bit Windows XP Mode virtual machine, which recognizes it and allows me to install the necessary XP drivers. To scan a document, I open the ScanSnap Manager program and save the resulting PDF file to a shared folder on my host PC, where it's available for any application.
I was never very impressed with Microsoft's previous iterations of Virtual PC, but this one is different. It's small, fast, and easy to work with. And its integration features are supported by Windows Vista and Windows 7 as well. You can build your own VM using either one of those operating systems and have a sandbox where you can test apps without adding cruft to the registry or the file system.
Windows XP Mode has some rough edges, but once you learn how to sidestep those it's an excellent power user's tool.
More coverage of Windows 7:
- Windows 7 in the real world: 10 PCs under the microscope
- Video: A worthwhile upgrade? CIOs, consumers face Windows 7 decision
- The Windows 7 upgrade survival guide
- Windows 7 first look: More than just “Vista, fixed”
- What to expect from Windows 7
- Special Report: Windows 7 at the finish line