On August 4, Microsoft is making available to any and all interested testers the Release Candidate (RC) test build of Windows 7's XP Mode add-on.
XP Mode is aimed primarily at small/mid-size business users (SMBs), and is designed to allow them to run legacy Windows XP applications on Windows 7 using virtualization technologies.
The release candidate of XP Mode will work on the Windows 7 Release Candidate and the final Windows 7 RTM bits. The XP Mode RC is avaiable for download from Microsoft's Web site and consists of two components: A 5 MB Virtual PC file and a 450 MB copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3.
The final version of XP Mode will be available to Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate users on or around October 22, the day that Microsoft plans to make Windows 7 generally available. XP Mode, unlike some of Microsoft's other virtualization offerings, does not require users to have a Software Assurance (SA) annuity license in order to get the bits.
Microsoft released the beta of XP Mode in April of this year. Since that time, the company has made a few tweaks to the XP Mode product. According to Scott Woodgate, Director of Windows Enterprise and Virtualization Strategy, these tweaks include:
- A new and simpler way of adding and accessing devices, like printers and USB sticks, from XP Mode. Microsoft has removed a number of the steps required to add these devices. With the RC, they'll be able to add them by right clicking on the Windows 7 icon.
- A new way of enabling and disabling file sharing between Windows 7 and XP Mode. With the RC, Microsoft has more clearly delineated which files are where and made the process of sharing them simpler and more explicit.
- The inclusion of a virtualization tutorial, which will run while XP Mode is installing. Microsoft realized that many XP Mode users are new to virtualization and decided to embed the tutorial, starting with the RC, directly in the product to acquaint them with how it works.
- Tighter integration with Windows 7. With the RC, users will be able to add applications from their Windows 7 Jump Lists.
- Better support for shared PCs. As of the RC, XP Mode will allow different users to store their Windows apps in different locations.
"We don't expect XP Mode to be deployed on every Windows 7 PC," said Woodgate. "Should users run every (legacy) application they have in XP Mode? The answer is no."
Woodgate described the XP Mode add-on as a "last-mile compatibility solution" that is designed for use when Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit and other means don't result in older apps working on Windows 7.
Microsoft is working with various hardware makers, some of which will be bundling XP Mode on new Windows 7 PCs later this year. As of October 22, however, users who want Windows 7 XP Mode right away will be able to download it from Microsoft, Woodgate said.
In other virtualization news, Microsoft has released the beta of version 4.6 of App-V, one of its application virtualization technology for business users who have Software Assurance contracts. App-V, which is based on the Softricity technology Microsoft acquired a couple of years ago, allows for application streaming via virtualization. The 4.6 App-V release is the first that will support the streaming of 64-bit apps and seems to be the technology that is underlying the Office 2010 Click-to-Run beta.
Update: A few readers have asked about Microsoft's pricing plans for XP Mode. This is what the company is telling users, via a company spokesperson:
"Customers purchasing the Pro/Ultimate and Enterprise SKUs will get access to Windows XP Mode as part of their purchase.
"If someone has a valid license of XP to run in VMs, then they can just use that license instead of Windows XP mode. We do provide a RAIL QFE for Windows XP SP3 to have the integration features with Windows Virtual PC. (RAIL QFE are the integration components required for XP and Vista virtual machines to run corresponding apps on the Win7 desktop. XP Mode already has the RAIL QFEs installed and Win7 has them natively.)"