Windows XP Mode Q and A

In comments and private e-mails, I've received a surprising number of questions about Windows XP Mode, a new feature in Windows 7 that I demoed in today's screencast. How much does it cost? How do you install it? Does it require antivirus software? Get the answers to these questions and more.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

In comments and private e-mails, I've received a surprising number of questions about Windows XP Mode, a new feature in Windows 7 that I demoed in today's screencast (Windows 7 in action: A closer look at Windows XP Mode). Rather than distribute my answers in various comment threads, I decided to consolidate them here.

What is Windows XP Mode?

This feature, available in Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise, provides a licensed copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 3 in Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) format. When installed with the proper integration components, it allows you to run Windows XP in its own virtual machine, separate from the host Windows 7 installation. You can attach USB devices to the virtual Windows XP machine, play sounds, and access drives on the host PC. You can access the Internet, but connections from the Windows XP virtual machine to the local area network are disabled by default.

How much does it cost?

Nothing, as long as you're running a supported edition of Windows 7.

What's the difference between Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode, Windows Virtual PC 2007, Hyper-V, and MED-V? 

Windows Virtual PC is a program that allows you to create, manage, and run 32-bit Windows installations in virtual machines that share resources (memory, disk space, and CPU cycles)  with a host PC but run in a completely separate environments from the host operating system. Windows Virtual PC runs only on Windows 7. Hyper-V is the virtualization layer in Windows Server 2008 and later. Windows Virtual PC 2007 is Microsoft's previous desktop virtualization program. It does not support USB devices and will not run Windows XP Mode. Like other desktop virtualization programs (VMWare and VirtualBox, for example) it will run on Windows 7. MED-V stands for Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, which is an alternative to Windows XP Mode for large organizations that want to be able to manage and deploy legacy applications for users.

One of the best descriptions I've seen of the technology is this post, Windows 7 XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC: How it works, written several months ago by Mark Wilson. For a list of the executable pieces that make up

Is the virtual machine 32-bit or 64-bit?

The Windows XP VHD is 32-bit. You can run Windows XP Mode on any 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 7.

Is Windows XP Mode installed by default?

No. The supporting files are included as part of a base installation of Windows 7 Professional or higher, but the operating system as shipped in retail and system builder media does not include a program for creating, running, or managing virtual machines. A PC manufacturer can choose to set up Windows XP Mode on a new PC running Windows 7 Professional or above, or you can do so yourself.

What are the hardware requirements for Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC?

At this time, Windows XP Mode runs only on Windows Virtual PC, which requires hardware virtualization. Most AMD processors provide this support; With Intel CPUs, this capability might or might not be available. In most PCs sold with Windows XP or Windows Vista that support hardware virtualization, the feature is disabled by default and must be enabled in the BIOS. In some cases, an AMD or Intel processor might support hardware virtualization but the PC manufacturer does not provide a way to enable it.

Wait. In that last answer, you said Windows XP Mode runs on on Windows Virtual PC "at this time." Does that imply that other virtualization platforms can run Windows XP Mode?

In theory, yes. Scott Woodgate, director of Desktop Virtualization at Microsoft, told me last August that makers of other virtualization software can make "specific implementations" that will allow Windows XP Mode to run under their platform. So far, I am unaware of any companies that have announced their intentions to do so, but they have that option.

My installation of Windows 7 doesn't include Windows XP Mode. How do I add it?

You need to download two files to use XP Mode. One is the Windows Virtual PC update. The other is the Windows XP Mode package. Both are available at MSDN and TechNet now but will be available to general public on or after Oct 22.

Do I need antivirus software in the Windows XP Mode virtual machine?

It certainly can't hurt. But you are at minimal risk if you use the virtualized copy of Windows XP only to run a local program that doesn't access the Internet and doesn't use e-mail. If, for instance, you use Windows XP Mode to run a fax or scanner control program and nothing else, you are unlikely to encounter any malware.

Got more questions? Leave them in the Talkbacks and I'll update this post later.

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