Verdict: XP Mode gets an F

Verdict: XP Mode gets an F

Summary: I've been using Windows 7's XP Mode feature for a few days and I'm now ready to give you my verdict ... and it gets an F.Don't get me wrong. The idea behind XP Mode is a valid one, and the fact that Microsoft is finally ready to accept that users should be able to run older versions of Windows as part of the license for the newer OS.


I've been using Windows 7's XP Mode feature for a few days and I'm now ready to give you my verdict ... and it gets an F.

Don't get me wrong. The idea behind XP Mode is a valid one, and the fact that Microsoft is finally ready to accept that users should be able to run older versions of Windows as part of the license for the newer OS.

But ... there are problems with XP Mode, and here I'll point out six issues with XP Mode that lead to me giving it a failing grade.

  1. There's no effective way to manage the XP installation If you're used to a commercial product such as VMware Workstation then XP Mode will come across as very basic. XP Mode gives you no tools to clone the virtual OS or to create snapshots. The beauty of a virtualized OS is that you can take steps to protect it from being hosed, and XP Mode doesn't give you any of these tools.
  2. XP Mode means two OSes to manage Seriously, what enterprise would want to find themselves in a situation where they number of desktops they had to support doubled overnight? Anyone who switches to Windows 7 and wants to make use of XP Mode will immediately find themselves in such a position. It wouldn't be so bad if XP Mode came with tools to manage the XP installation, but it doesn't.
  3. XP Mode has too much access to the host OS One of the benefits of virtualization is that the virtualized OS is sand-boxed from the host OS. This means that if the virtualized OS is hit by malware, the host OS is safe. With XP virtualized with XP Mode, the virtualized OS seems to have total access to the host OS file system. From a security standpoint this means that you're going to have to keep both OSes secure.
  4. Increased security costs Keeping both OSes secure means, for some, having to invest in security products for two OSes per desktop. The issue here isn't just the cost, but there's keeping the software updated, not to mention the performance overhead of two lots of security software running on the same system.
  5. Huge hardware hassles In order to be able to run XP Mode you have to have a CPU that supports virtualization. That means Intel CPUs that are Intel VT-x ready, and AMD CPUs that are AMD-V ready. And even if you have the right CPU, you need a compatible BIOS. If not, have fun looking for one. Even with the right CPU and the right BIOS, virtualization might still be disabled in the BIOS and require some fiddling ...
  6. What's the point? If your company relies on XP at present, what's the point of shifting to Windows 7 ... especially if you're having to bring XP along with you? Isn't it just easier to avoid all the hassles and uncertainties and cost and just stick with XP for now? After all, XP Mode or no XP Mode, XP extended support still dies 2014, making XP mode a kludgy temporary measure at best. The flipside of this argument is that if a company is willing to mess around with virtualization, and wants to switch OSes, why not switch to Linux? Or Mac? Let's be clear, I'm not being flippant when I say that, and I'm well aware that you could still run into trouble, but if you're planning to take the virtualization route, why have Windows as the host?

I hate giving XP Mode an F because it feels like Microsoft's heart is in the right place. Problem is, it's a knee-jerk reaction to the whole "I love XP" thing, and it creates more problems than it solves. If only XP can run some apps without rewriting them, and that Vista or Windows 7 just won't do, then it's time to accept that this is a problem that needs solving one way or another.

Virtualizing XP buys you time, but nothing more, because as soon as mid-April 2014 comes around, that'll mean no more security patches for XP (and if 2014 sound like a long way away, think about how long you've had XP ...). Microsoft should be trying to wean people off XP, unless there's going to be a support extension.


Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • Intention or just a MS way?

    Can anyone tell me what was the ONE operating system related thing Microsoft had actually managed to take from an idea to a product that would work as promised?

    This is either done or purpose to force people to transit to the System 7, or just another example of haste and fix-it-quickly thinking in Microsoft since Vista was rejected. Or has it started when OS X came around?

    • RE: Intention or just a MS way?

      [i]This is either done or purpose to force people to transit to the System 7...[/i]

      Er, I don't think Leopard's quite [i]that[/i] bad.
  • Your points are valid, but...

    All of your points are currently valid, but here's the thing...

    When I buy a new system, I will no longer have the ability to get it with XP, depending on vendor support and the like. Frankly, I'll go for Windows 7 before I choose to stick with Vista. Because systems won't have XP on them, it will become harder and harder to find XP-drivers without having to go on a hunting trip across the web.

    So at that point, as an IT guy, I have to decide-- what's easier? Do I build an XP image from scratch and support what I know even though I have to hunt for supported drivers? Or do I build new with Win7 and use XP Mode for the 1-2 legacy apps that I actually care about?

    The answer, for me at least, is I move forward since Windows 7 is very adoption-worthy to me from my point of view because of the usability and the new IT features like RemoteApp (to name one). As it stands, my organization only has ONE app that is still XP-only, and even it is due for a major update this year.

    On top of that, I want to believe that at this early stage in its development, Microsoft hasn't yet announced or finalized its plans for management capabilities.
    • Management

      would come in the form of MED-V and App-V, the enterprise virtualization. MS has to be careful on two fronts. It can't kill off the advantages SA licensing enterprise versions gives to the users and it can't make VMWare obsolete on the workstation for the normal consumer products. Pro and Ultimate as is the case here. So their hands seem tied on that front, if you ask me. A basic snapshot system would be nice though.
    • Point 3 Outweighs Everything

      I think I wade this point in one of Adrian's other Win7/XP posts: if the client OS has access to the host OS, then all the new security in Windows 7 because we are not only at the level of the lowest client, we have a union of all the security problems in both OSes.

      Find a common app that only runs in XP. Since it's no longer updated, there'll be plenty of holes. You can use that to get escalation through a hole in Win7, even if that isn't remote. I believe I read that the problems with UAC were systemic ....
  • It seems to me that most of your points...

    don't fall within the scope in which this feature was intended to run.

    1. Management; is it just XP mode with these short comings? or VPC Standalone?

    2. OS management; if you are of the size where this is too unwieldy to do, you should use app publishing via terminal server. otherwise this isn't an issue.

    3. It is a beta, hopefully this is fully resolved by RTM.

    4. I don't know if I agree that security software is needed here when used as intended (application publishing)

    5. XP mode will largely be run on Win7 OEM machines, I don't see this as a feature worth the hassle of an OS upgrade especially when compared with the costs of implementing Terminal Services app publishing.

    6. You couldn't pay me enough to stick with XP, comparatively speaking it's absolutely ancient and inefficient by just about every metric you'd care to use. Security, Connectivity, OOTB Hardware support, deployment, group policy tie-ins.

    I think by and large this feature isn't super useful, And I think it would have been a better gesture to give the option of using XP mode or including a Terminal Server CAL. But for what it is and for whom it's intended for (P2P based tiny businesses) it's a pretty good feature.
  • XP Mode is turning out to be great on paper...

    ...but worthless in reality. I feel the only reason its there is to allow MS to say "Look, we gave people the ability to do this..." without actually putting much work into it actually being useful. The fact that it has so much access to the host OS alone makes it worthless, asuming you have a CPU that will actually support it.
    • Who cares if it has access to the host OS?

      Are you going to be browsing the web from within the XP VM or from your Windows 7 browser? If it's from 7, then XP's browser security doesn't matter. And if you're browsing from within the VM, you're wrong.

      As for CPU support... Cry me a river. Microsoft does something that is in the best interest of performance, since they'll get blamed if it ran like crap on a non-VT enabled processor, and you still want to slam them? If you cheaped out on a new CPU in the last few years the fault is your own. Not MS.
      • RE: Who cares if it has access to the host OS?

        XP Mode should not have access to the folders except what it actually needs. It should not have access to the host /Windows, /Program Files, or /Program Files(x86) folders. In addition there are alot of accesses that don't make sense. In my test run it gave the VM full and unrestricted access to the host file system which is a big issue.

        As for CPU support... (yes I repeated you here) I found that competitive VM solutions ran noticibly faster than XP Mode. VirtualBox (which has yet to be optimized for Windows 7) ran faster and with less issues using XP than XP Mode. Also XP Mode took at least several minutes to fully "boot" in order for me to use it.

        Updates have to be separately managed between XP and Win 7 and while browser security may not be a major issue the rest of the XP OS will be.
  • Need a valium, Adrian?

    F??? Come on.. tools to manage the VM? Give me a break. No one is going to manage anything. This is a single purpose VM to run incompatible XP software.

    As you pointed out, if you want to clone VMs or do whatever, virtualbox, VmWare.. take your pick.

    The file system integration aspect... well I hope you were just in a hurry and didn't check permissions etc. I personally wouldn't have any issue with it having fully access to my logged-in profile, and to the all users profile. Even the programs folder for that matter.

    Don't forget, it isn't XP that has that access, it is the VM/RDP client that is running inside Win 7.

    <> <> -----> two valiums for you.
  • Drop the legacy baggage...

    If you need windows 7, then upgrade. If you NEED XP, don't upgrade. Stop complaining it's soooo much work to have both because it IS!

    Apple users have been through this before and it was not pretty. First it was Fat Binaries (680x0 to PPC), then it was "Classic" versus Native (OS9 to OSX), then Universal apps or Rosetta (PPC to Intel). No solution was ideal, but it managed to keep hangers-on around a while longer and sell some new hardware.

    What's next, complaining about DOS support?
    • Drop the legacy baggage...

      "Apple users have been through this before and it was not pretty."

      Actually, all of those transitions went extremely well and provided a fairly
      smooth migration path. Each time users had at least a couple of years
      before the old technology was dropped.

      • Are you kidding me??

        I was a long time Mac user. I got fed up with Apple breaking apps on a whim! As to their own apps, one often has to fork out to update to new editions of native apps!! Quicktime didn't even move from 6 to 7 before one had to pay out of step down to the free crapware.

        Of them all, Apple is the WORST at supporting legacy applications
    • RE: Drop the legacy baggage...

      "What's next, complaining about DOS support?"

      Umm... DOS support was dropped back with XP (at least on the consumer line).
  • RE: Verdict: XP Mode gets an F

    It seems that these days Microsoft can't do anything right.
    One of the big questions is "How may more surprises are
    there within Windows 7?

    By the way, Microsoft, how are those H1b visa programmers
    working out? You get what you pay for.
  • XP mode is not intended to be a comprehensive virtualization solution.

    It is intended to be a way to run legacy XP programs in Windows 7. Much in the way Classic did with OS X (there was no snap shot capability in classic nor were there management tools, etc). XP mode is not intended to allow complete isolation of the two operating systems.

    In short you're faulting XP Mode for things it is not intended to do. What I'd like to hear from you is: How does it work at running legacy XP applications. That's what it's intended to do.
    • I agree

      [i]In short you're faulting XP Mode for things it is not intended to do. What I'd like to hear from you is: How does it work at running legacy XP applications. That's what it's intended to do.[/i]

      It seems the 'F' is for management and configuration issues that may or may not apply. I too would like to know what grade it gets for actually running the applications.
      • How does it run apps ...

        ... it's a copy of XP and just works. I've not tried it on apps needing dongles but I assume USB ones will be OK.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • So for what it's intended to do it earns?

          [i]How does it run apps it's a copy of XP and just works.[/i]

          Seems like a B or A.
          • Why is Adrian missing the obvious?

            Microsoft has been in the habbit of doing this for years. Microsoft really can't provide a fully functional XP VM under 7 that would duplicate the functionality of VMWare. Why? Anti-trust. Any time MS includes anything with their OS they have to be careful not to completely strip away the need for a competing product. If MS included snapshot, management utilities, etc etc, then it would be a direct competitor to VMWare's software, only free.

            It provides an easy way for people to get an old app to run on a 7 PC without them having to go through all the configuration. As far as security is concerned, there shouldn't be any reason for someone to be browsing the web from the VM. So, at most, you have to worry about the application's vulnerabilities.

            This article reads "XP Mode sucks because of everything it doesn't do, nevermind what it's designed to do." Which is pretty disappointing coming from Adrian.