Is application virtualization the answer for users of XP?

Is application virtualization the answer for users of XP?

Summary: As Microsoft winds down support of the Windows XP operating system, suppliers of application virtualization solutions are ramping up their marketing messages. While it is true that encapsulating Windows XP applications can make it possible for them to run on Windows 7 or 8, is that the answer?

TOPICS: Virtualization

Microsoft has announced that support for both Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 will end April 8, 2014. This has been coming a long time.

Microsoft has urged its customers to upgrade as soon as possible. It is not the first time that Microsoft has issued dire statements in the hopes of getting customers to purchase an upgrade. The upgrade target has changed over time from Windows Vista to Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 8.1.

Customers, happy with what Windows XP and its supported software have chosen in large numbers to stay right where they are. If it is not broken, they would say, don't fix it.

It appears, however, that Microsoft is not going to back down this time by extending support Windows XP and Office 2003.

Suppliers present application virtualization as the answer

Suppliers of application virtualization technology, such as AppZero, Citrix, Moka5, SpoonVMware, and even Microsoft, have long been talking about the day that Windows XP would die and suggesting that their application virtualization products could make the transition easier. To a company, they suggest that Windows XP applications can be easily and smoothly moved over to a new operating environment without requiring changes to the applications themselves.

As with all technology, the reality is that application virtualization address some, but not all, of the issues customers will have in the process of retiring an operating system they've used for so long.

What does application virtualization do?

As pointed out in my O'Reilly Media book, Virtualization a Manager's Guide, applications can be "encapsulated" so that they can run in an artificial environment that makes it possible for applications written for one version of an operating system, say Windows XP, to happily execute on another version of the operating system, say Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.

The application virtualization technology surrounds the application and intercepts all calls for outside resources and transforms those requests into something acceptable to the new host operating system. So, the application can continue to function without change in the new environment.

Is application vitalization really a panacea?

In a word, no. Application virtualization can make it possible for an older application to run on a newer operating system. The technology doesn't have the ability to address all compatibility issues. Here are a few situations that aren't helped by the addition of application virtualization:

  • The application provider's software license or terms and conditions prohibit the use of application virtualization. While the technology may work, customers would not be able to obtain support in this environment.

  • The application provider may not support the old application on the new operating system. If the application supplier still exists, it may require a version of software designed for and tested with the new operating system.

  • The application may require a specific device or set of devices that are not supported by the new operating system. A graphics application might be tied to a specific printer or graphics adapter and the devices do not have device drivers for the new operating system.

  • The user interface will still look like it did under the older operating system and that may look strange in the new environment or not work well.

  • Customers will still need to know how the new operating system works. Gestures, commands and keystrokes that invoked functions on Windows XP may either not be supported at all or may invoke unwanted functions. Users will need to be trained on the operating system even though specific applications may still appear to work.

While application virtualization can be a wonderful solution and simplify the transition to a new operating system, it can't be considered a panacea. There are times that it would be wise to start over with tools and applications designed for the new operating system. It may also be wise to consider moving from Windows XP to a different operating system entirely.

Mac OS and Linux could be a better solution for some than Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.

Topic: Virtualization


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • Porting is the answer

    I know some companies are up the creek without a paddle, in that a LOB system got important and they either lost the source code or the vendor folded... but all the more reason you want to port (or I guess more accurately, rebuild.)

    Running an antiquated app without source or an upgrade path is a ticking time bomb. Better to make the investment, even if it takes you over the April, 2014 line.
    • Yes, but...

      that LOB system probably cost several million to develop, that means investing a similar amount again to get it ported.

      The question is how much money will it save, porting it to a new version, as opposed to leaving it on a legacy platform.

      The easiest way would be to segment the machines on their own LAN and pull the Internet for them. For more modern software, which needs the Internet, they could use remote desktop/app from a terminal server over the internal port, with the server connected to the Internet on a second port.

      Block local downloading of data from the terminal server and they should be relatively safe.
    • Regulatory compliance

      compliance could force them to jump.

      In some industries not using a supported system opens them up to fines if they are caught out with a security breech.
  • You lost me at the move to Linux or Mac part

    I don't see how this is gonna help to customer who is on a budget and want to reduce cost. Not only are you asking them to spend money on new hardware, but also time and money on retraining in a new graphical environment. Keyboard commands on Windows or different in OS X with common exception for certain things like word processors, but even then those are different.
    • Mac OS and Linux could be a better solution for some...

      What you missed was the key component of the above sentence. "for some". He didn't say for some on a budget who free Linux distros or for some with a lotta money to throw at Apple products, not even for some who have no axe to grind or for some who aren't against other platforms that work great that aren't MicroSnot. :-)
      • But the article

        is about app virtualization for old applications that don't run natively on Windows 7 or 8. If they don't run on newer versions of Windows, they have a cat in hells chance of running on OS X or Linux - and if they do, they will have the same support issues outlined in the article.
        • Re: app virtualization

          Whois said this app virtualization environment has to run on Windows?

          In fact, WINE, which may turn out to be XP apps best chance to live runs on UNIX (which includes OS X and Linux).

          When you will have the same support issues, why constrain yourself to Windows? Just more to a more modern OS.
          • Wine is hit and miss, mostly miss

            These organizations will continue to use their legacy applications on Windows XP and either pull the Ethernet plug or place these PCs on specially-designed, 'isolated' internal networks (hopefully, with proper people, process and technology controls).
            Rabid Howler Monkey
    • And how...

      are you going to get that legacy LOB app that won't run under Windows 7 or 8 to run under OS X or Linux? It might work with WINE, but you would still not get any support from the developer.

      "Yeah, my accounting software keeps hanging."
      "Is you XP fully patched?"
      "XP? I'm using OS X"
      "Ah, well, there's your problem. Upgrade it to XP and can me in the morning."

      Plus most of the press seems to be saying the lack of a Windows Menu and the Metro Screen is the problem with Windows 8 and people should jump to OS X. Guess what, OS X has NEVER had a Start Menu! And its Launchpad is functionally and visually the little brother to Windows Start Screen (full screen with icons and sliding horizontally, but no live information).

      Ubuntu Unity? A lot of Linux die-hards are having the same arguments over there that XP lovers are having on the Windows side of the fence.
    • It depends on what they use it for.

      If a search through a list of free Linux alternatives to windows applications does yield something acceptable to you, install as a dual boot machine and Learn and migrate at the same time with no layout of new hardware. Investment equals time spent and as a bonus you obtains some independence with your new found knowledge.
  • I have been doing this for

    ..well..years. I started with VMWare Workstation on Linux to run Win XP apps when Vista was released and my tests indicated "no way.". The key code short-cuts worked just fine with the application running in a slimmed down Win XP VM. For some apps, a Win 2k guest/shell was more than adequate. The VMs need not address the Internet (ultimate sandbox) and can be used to access the local host file systems has a network share. And while some will moan about needing to learn Linux, anyone can. It's not that different from Windows.

    I graduated to Mac OS-X and moved by VMs to VMWare Fusion. I also added Win 7 to the stable. It gets a 6.0 Windows Experience Index on my MBP i7 which is more than adequate for my needs. I still use Win XP VMs for the many apps that were not Win 7 compatible and Win 2k for a few were quick loading is key. My AutoCAD 2000 will "unsuspend" Win 2k and load itself into a unity Window in about half the time it takes to load AutoCAD 2013 for OS X as it is much larger with features not needed for layout (SolidWorks does the heaving lifting for real 3D design and analysis).

    I have heard from vendors that they don't support their apps in a VM. So, I never tell them that and their support still works just fine as the only issue for a VM might be the drivers supplied by the hypervisor vendor.

    I think of virtualized application as being an extension of software based CPU emulators. They have a real and useful purpose as time moves on but functionality continues.
    • Great

      it works for you and it could work for many, especially sandboxing and not giving the VM internet access - if there are no more security updates, then that is a necessity if you want to maintain the integrity of your VM.

      It won't work in regulated industries, like fincance / banking, where they have to use a supported OS and supported software, if they don't they would face big fines and liability if they were caught out by a virus or an auditor calls them out on it.

      For some companies, they don't have any option but to bite the bullet and upgrade their LOB software. That would also be a good opportunity to try and move to a more platform agnostic solution, although even going server side with a thin client front end still has its problems, server platforms and tools move as well, if they go with PHP or Java, for example, and don't move that when new versions come out and security updates for the old versions are stopped, then they are going to have the same problem - hopefully they will have used better development methodologies this time round and can cope with moving to newer versions and coping with depricated features.
  • We are seeing an issue along these lines, FenceSitter

    We have a production process that drops a signature image on a document. The process was designed a couple of decades ago - the application that creates the image files runs in a DOS box(!). We are mostly done moving all the old XP boxes out, but we will be retaining one for each office, just to run this application. (Off the network!) But your point is valid - the long term fix is to enter the 21st century at some point.
    Otto Schlosser
    • why not

      Just run DOS in a VM? The VM will always have the "perfect" hardware emulated for DOS and your application and that can be stable for decades to come -- no matter on what new hardware you run the emulator.

      VMs have been the standard in the non-Windows world for ages.
  • coming into the 21st century

    I started with Microsoft with MS-DOS (orig version) all the way thru windos 8. However, I have kept an eye on linux OS during that time and have seen very few cases where you had to upgrade to a new version that did not run your existing apps. Windows 8 will be my last version of windows I will upgrad to. I have found so many apps that will run on android, goodle and Linux that will use my old Windows word, excel, powerpoint and database files that I fugure if I am going to spend time on a new OS I will use something other than windows which forces me to learn a new system every few years so they can charge an unrealistic price for the software and force vendors to create new drivers. I beleive in capitalism very much, but not in anarchy.
  • Viable option

    I been doing this for my clients for approx 4 years already.. Due to certain expensive hardware that don't have 7 support.
    Anthony E
  • Hitting the hardware

    One of the biggest problems with badly written legacy software is that it doesn't follow the rules and "hits the hardware", instead of going through the software stack.

    One application I had from Siemens for my telephone system was XP only. They were still selling the telephone system as an actual model in 2011, but the controlling software was never updated and only worked with XP!

    I tried using Windows 7, I tried XP Mode in Windows 7, but it wouldn't work because it couldn't directly control the USB port, it only got the USB device passed to it. The same for VMWare under Windows and OS X, it needed direct hardware access to the machine.

    Luckily I could change the telephone system.
  • Plan "B"

    If I were stuck with 1 or more applications systems that ran only on XP I would look into moving all my XP machines into an isolated intranet. just keep them away from the public net by whatever means are necessary.

    if any external interfaces are required route those via vpn through some kind of sanitizer box. write it in C if you have to. most interface data is pretty simple,-- just strip the character set back to basics and you kill a lot of injection techniques.
  • I had a dream...but not MLK style...

    That someone is gonna make a huge business with this XP problem and it's was me.

    In my dream, a serious entrepreneur created a Apple TV/Fire TV size box in two versions: Basic and Extended.

    The Basic box, has an ARM processor and Android. It has Ethernet, WiFi, HDMI and USB. There's a basic USB OUT for interface. It connects to an existing XP using the USB OUT. On the XP side, this USB simulates an Ethernet card, a USB Mouse and Keyboard and a VGA style display. They could even be compatible with VM Tools. You have several Android apps and the store. You could even connect a touch screen monitor. Want Windows? Just touch an app and it opens the remote system.

    Don't want this franken monster? Get the Advanced system with an Atom processor, which will happy accept your XP formatted drive. It has Windows 8 and an XP Metro app. You can use any modern app natively. If you wish, you could install apps on the Windows 8 desktop, but that will not be recommended at that will use a builtin SSD with just 64GB or 128Gb. All your XP apps will come from your Hard Drive and you will have your Start Menu and all, just one tile away. An XP app will enable XP notifications to be seen on the Live Tile.

    What do you think? Would you buy such a system? Please comment as this is a franken dream.