Windows 7 in action: a closer look at Windows XP Mode

Windows 7 in action: a closer look at Windows XP Mode

Summary: 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.

SHARE:

[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.

Previous screencasts:

More coverage of Windows 7:

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

93 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Now that's cool

    So XP apps can be run directly on the desktop? Now
    that's cool :).
    CobraA1
    • CPU limitations

      Like Ed I own a Scansnap that the Win7 Compatibility Utility identifies as problematic.

      I would love to implement this solution.

      However, the Intel Processor ID Utility -- <link>http://www.intel.com/support/processors/tools/piu/</link> --
      reads my Xeons as incapable of VT-mode.

      JJB
      JJ Brannon
  • How is this different than Virtual PC?

    Ed, I have XP running under MS Virtual PC 2007 on my Vista Business x64 machine. How is this different? I know that I had to supply a copy of XP for mine, which is included with the Win7 XP mode, but what other differences do you see?
    itpro_z
    • USB support, for starters

      ... (previously a feature only availalbe in the $400+ VMWare Workstation).

      Also, the individual windows for applications running in the "guest" PC are not bounded within the VM window as with traditional virtualization platforms (i.e., aside from the different visual look of the Window, you can't tell a given application is running within a VM).
      spec07
      • Traditional virtualization platforms?

        A feature many VM users have been enjoying for sometime
        (e.g. VMWare's Fusion on Mac).

        It's a good thing for windows users but why are the home users
        excluded? Surely they're likely to be the ones with the greatest
        number of unsupported peripherals.

        This 32 / 64-bit incompatibilities is also a source of confusion for
        many of us. Do I run 32 or 64-bit version of XP on my 32 or 64
        version of windows 7. What combinations work? Can I run 32 AND 64
        bit version of XP? What's the benefit of this again?

        Maybe Ed can do another matrix.
        Richard Flude
        • Home users

          If a home user wants this capability, they can pay for an upgrade, which in turn gives them this capability. If they already have a copy of Windows XP and a PC that supports hw virtualization, they can install the free Windows Virtual PC and their own copy of XP without paying extra.

          There is no need for a 64-bit version of XP. None.
          Ed Bott
        • 32bit

          its a 32 bit Xp in a 64 bit environment. I'm not
          sure if your able to run 64 bit OS's in the
          Virtual machine.
          Jimster480
          • No, you can't

            ...although it is difficult to find that documented anywhere, I finally tracked it down.
            Ed Bott
    • That's a BIG deal !!

      Re: "I know that I had to supply a copy of XP for mine, which is included with the Win7 XP mode" ... That's a BIG deal; first, a copy of XP is $100 to $400 depending on the edition and how you got it. Second, just how available do you think that new copies of XP will be (price not withstanding) in 2011? Remember, it still has to do Product Activation and, for many purposes, pass WGA validation.
      Watzman@...
    • Printers, Scanners, Digital Readers...

      In early 2008, I was flying to London, and a woman came through first class with a shopping bag. She was handing out free Sony digital book readers to everone in first class. When I upgraded my machine to Vista 64 bit, Sony's software and drivers would no longer work. With the Win 7 XP mode, I can now use my digital book as well as a Sony digital voice recorder I bought a few years back for school. Both of these items were about to be scrapped. The real crime of technology is that Moore's law is filling our landfills with electronics that cease to work, when we upgrade our operating systems.
      Thanks MS, XP mode is a true gem.
      Steve@...
  • Wondering how often this is needed

    We have had no trouble running any XP software on Vista or 7. My own company's software is around 1,000,000 lines of code first written in VB long ago. Last compiled in VB6, it had no problems with either Vista or 7.

    The only problem we get occasionally is having DEP on (easily fixed by putting our software in the exclusion list) due to some older components. Is DEP on in the VM as well?

    I think it's great that MS offers this feature, but I'm wondering how many people have XP apps that won't run on Vista or 7?
    tonymcs@...
    • 1 and counting

      I had a major problem with a 32-bit software that wont ever get up[dated/graded] by the creator. It is an address processing software that takes my output addresses from a file, passes them through their server and update zipcodes with the last 4 digits if all the other address elements match what is on their server. They now sell an updated version for a lot of money but allow us to continue use of the older program free. I have 64-bit Vista that wont allow me to install this 32-bit program. I can use a vm, but the vm cannot save the output to the host, which is where Id want to do all my processing except for the use of the incompat software. Maybe in your situation, you are moving from 32-bit XP to 32-bit W7. If thats the case, then you wouldnt have any problem with your setup. Likewise if you are moving from XP-64 to W7-64. I <b>welcome</b> this feature with arms wide open. I was yet to fugure out a way to get my job done before this new feature. By the way, is it possible to access data saved on the host from the guest machine. I am using VirtualBox for my VM. Can you advise Ed?
      JonWayn
      • Your situation is ideal for XP Mode

        You can save output from the VM to the host. That is exactly how I use my scanner in XP Mode. Its output gets saved to the host drive.
        Ed Bott
        • just for the knowledge

          My question really pertained to the traditional VM. Say, with VirtualBox (or any other traditional vm), if I saved a file on the host, is there a way to run a virtual machine that accesses that data, makes changes to it, then have the host take it from there and do other things with it? Or, can a shared folder be accessed by both the guest and the host? If yes, how do you set that up?
          JonWayn
          • Yes, you can.

            Pretty much every VM now has integration features that allow you to save from the guest OS to the host.

            In the case of the new VirtualPC (and VMWare and VirtualBox, for that matter), your VM can be set up with shared folders that are visible to the host.

            Though with XP Mode, even THAT isn't necessary; you just open your app from within the host and specify where you want your output to be stored.
            Thunderbuck
    • Developers, for one...

      Developers will love XP Mode. They can run older versions of development environments like Visual Studio 6 that likely won't run on 7
      Thunderbuck
      • and test websites against IE6. (nt)

        nt
        bigsibling
  • RE: Windows 7 in action: a closer look at Windows XP Mode

    How much hard-disk space does XP mode use? Is it as much as a usual Windows XP installation?
    alokgovil
    • Roughly

      My Windows XP Mode virtual machine uses about 2.1GB of disk space.
      Ed Bott
      • Firewall AV requirement

        Would I need separate security software (Firewall + AV) on it?
        alokgovil