How to run XP on Linux Mint with Oracle VirtualBox

How to run XP on Linux Mint with Oracle VirtualBox

Summary: For those times when you absolutely must still run Windows XP, one safer way of doing it is to run XP in a virtual machine using the Oracle VirtualBox hypervisor on Linux Mint.


Let's say you have an application that only runs well on Windows XP, doesn't have  a Linux equivalent, and doesn't run worth a darn with CrossOver Linux on Linux Mint.  Is there anything you can do to have your XP cake and your more Linux icing too? Yes, yes there is: Use a hypervisor to run Windows XP in a virtual machine (VM).

With Oracle VirtualBox, you can have your Linux Mint cake and your Windows XP icing.

A VM enables you to run a guest operating system on top of another operating system. From the guest's viewpoint, it appears to be running on its very own PC, but it's actually running within a limited virtual sub-system of your PC, a VM. The VM, in turn, is managed by a program called a hypervisor. There are many excellent desktop hypervisors for Linux such as VMware Player, Linux's built in Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM), and my own favorite, Oracle's free VirtualBox. I prefer VirtualBox because it's the easiest to set up and run VMs on.

Neither VirtualBox, nor any other hypervisor, makes XP any safer to use. As security holes start to appear in XP in its retirement, those holes will also appear in XP running on a VM. What VirtualBox can do for you is enables you to run XP only when you need to for specific applications and with restrictions, such as turning off networking, that will make it marginally more secure.

VirtualBox, like any hypervisor, likes all the system resources it can get. Therefore, if you want to migrate your old XP box to Linux Mint and you have an older PC, you may not be able to use VirtualBox to run XP. In my experience, you could squeeze XP on top of Linux Mint and VirtualBox on a system with 1GB of RAM, but it's going to be ugly. You want at least 2GBs of RAM and a 1GHz AMD or Intel processor.

I go into detailed instructions on how to set up VirtualBox in the gallery so I won't bother with that here. What I can tell you is that when you run XP on VirtualBox you get the complete XP experience. For all practical purposes you're running real XP. It just happens to be running on top of Linux instead of the native hardware.

You can also set VirtualBox up so that both your Mint Linux system and your XP guest operating systems can share files using the same directories or even copy and paste to  applications from one operating system to the other. Once you get comfortable with running two operating systems at once, this can be very handy.

What all this means is that with VirtualBox you run all your XP applications on your Linux system with little fuss or muss. Just be wary of any XP programs that require network access, since that's the way the hackers will be trying to get to your virtual XP system just as if were running normally on a PC.

Is it worth doing? I think so. By keeping XP on a VM, instead of running constantly on a PC, you'll be more conscious of running it rather than falling into the dangerous habit of running XP like there will still be patches coming. By running XP in a VM only when you must for special applications, you can start breaking yourself of the dangerous XP habit. Over time, you'll find yourself running more and more of your day-to-day work on Linux, and eventually you can give up Windows once and for all.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Linux, Oracle, PCs, Windows

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  • This is wasted effort SJVN.

    People who continue to use Windows XP are not going to run out and virtualize it on Linux.
    • The #1 reason to run XP is older software not supported on Win 7/8

      People (enterprises) without a good migration path available in the near term are well served by the advice in Steven's article - even if they don't actually take that advice.

      Personally, I prefer when SJVN actually posts something helpful, such as this article, instead of the Linux/FOSS cheerleading fluff articles we often see from him.
      • It is good advice. That doesn't alter the fact it's wasted effort.

        • 'suppose....

    • It is up to the reader

      to determine whether this article contains any helpful technical information that they are able to employ in anything they're doing.

      If the instructions provided here are not of value to you personally, that's fine. I don't see the point in begrudging anyone else the article's contents. Whoever the audience may be for this and however big or small, I'm sure they'll appreciate it.
      • I didn't say it wasn't helpful.

        I said it was wasted effort. These people have had years to find a solution. Somehow I doubt SJVN's article is going to provide them information they didn't already know.
    • You may think that, but no one asked what you thought.

      Fact is, you don't know that's the case, because you don't speak for everyone.

      If you don't find this helpful or useful knowledge, then thats your loss.

      Even if I don't' try this, it's informative and its something new I learned today.

      Try and cheer up sad sack, you seem to be mad at the world today.
    • Steven. You can now run XP inside Linux Mint totally virus free

      Google stealth vm for Linux Mint
      Or stealth vm for Ubuntu.

      You'll see the news articles on more than 74,000 TV stations and online publications since April 9th, 2014.
  • wait ... you mann Mint doesnt come with KVM???

  • Now if I only had a way to

    install XP inside a virtual machine from the "recovery" partition that most vendors give you in lieu of a real XP system disk.
    • Now if I only had a way to

      You don't need to!

      Go to and download disk2vhd.exe. This program will create you a .vhd file which will be a virtual-bootable copy of your Windows XP system. You can run this in VMWare or VirtualBox.

      ( Remember that your licence is only good for one copy of WinXP - don't be naughty and keep the physical one once you've got the virtual one working. )
  • Steven, Oracle's VirtualBox is not a hypervisor

    In addition, the only Windows XP-based PCs that likely have the horsepower (both CPU and RAM, but especially CPU) to run a GNU/Linux desktop in Oracle's VirtualBox, are Vista downgrades. These users would be better off upgrading (at no additional cost) to Windows Vista which is supported into 2017.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Ugh! "to run Windows XP in Oracle's VirtualBox"

      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • On my clients...

        you are exactly right - their CPUs have no ability to run VMs at all. So maybe that is what ye is talking about with "wasted effort"!
    • VirtualBox

      Indeed, this is not a hypervisor. So what.

      The point isn't to run Windows XP in a virtual environment on the same hardware as you bought it on in 2003!
      The point is to be able to buy some nice, cheap, powerful modern hardware and be able to run the programs that you want to use but which will only run with WinXP.
      Programs that cost an arm and a leg to buy new - like CS Suite - or niche programs that you rely on but which aren't being upgraded because, for instance, the publisher doesn't want to, or where they cost a huge amount for a new Win8 version
      • LeMike: "Indeed, this is not a hypervisor. So what."

        I guess that I expect more from ZDNet bloggers than you.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Expectations

          So what _are_ you expecting ? :)

          cpu cycles for nothing and your bananas for free ?? (apologies to Mark Knoffler!)
          • A basic understanding of computer technology?!

            If Steven has used the word 'hypervisor' just once, I would have ignored it as a mistake. But, a half-a-dozen times?

            What's funny is that Steven often writes articles about hypervisors, especially KVM, Xen and Hyper-V. ZDNet has Ken Hess evangelizing Chromebooks and Steven evangelizing virtualization. Lol!
            Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Not true. XP can be run using kvm. Installation is a major pain...

    And virtualbox is just that - a virtual PC using the CPU provided VM capability - and capable of running XP.

    The real issue is going to be the license for XP. Most don't have a license for use on VMs.
  • Re: Running XP in a Virtual Environment....

    Although there is much to be said for virtualisation software such as VirtualBox and VMware Player there is one fundamental issue. That is with the specifications of the Host machine.
    In the XP era many CPU's were single core such as the Pentium 4 and came with a maximum of 1GB RAM.

    Such specifications are not suitable for running XP in a virtual environment. You would only be able to allocate a maximum of 512GB to the Guest machine whilst sharing the single CPU with the Host machine.

    Virtualisation can be powerful but in this instance for many it would not be suitable.