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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ...
- 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.