Test Driving XP Mode in Windows 7
Ever since its launch in late 2006, Windows Vista, in its various incarnations, has been the joke of Apple's Get a Mac TV commercials and the target of irate customers demanding the ability to downgrade to Windows XP. To some extent, Vista's problems have been resolved via regular software updates and, in particular, Vista Service Pack 1. However, this hasn't diminished the criticism Microsoft continues to bear.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft (to its credit) forged ahead with the development of Windows 7 that some claim is the operating system that Vista should have been in the first place. Furthermore, to satisfy its loyal XP customers, Microsoft has chosen to provide an XP compatibility mode with Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions.
In this article, we'll provide a brief rundown of how XP Mode is implemented as well as how you can customize it to meet your individual computing requirements. So, let's get started.
What is XP Mode?
In brief, XP Mode is Microsoft's answer to the question:
"Will my XP applications and device drivers work under Windows 7?"
Microsoft's solution consists of two components:
- Windows Virtual PC, a core service providing machine virtualization
- Virtual Windows XP, a complete Windows XP w/Service Pack 3 operating environment
After installing these two components, your computer can run applications designed for Windows Vista and Windows 7 in your main operating environment (Windows 7), and applications designed for Windows XP in a virtual environment (XP Mode). The virtual environment is distinct from your main environment, so that each operating system is isolated from the other while still providing a high degree of integration. For example, you can share files and printers between the two operating systems. You can see what your combined Windows 7 and XP Mode environment might look like below.
Inside a virtual machine
Before we go any further, it's worth taking a moment to describe the difference between a physical machine and a virtual machine. A physical machine is the plastic, metal, and electronic components that make up your computer. A virtual machine doesn't have these characteristics. Instead, its parts are emulated in software to perform the same fundamental functions as a physical machine. As you'll discover later in this article, a virtual machine has components similar to a physical machine; for example, hard disk, memory, device ports, etc.
Your physical machine's main operating system, in this case Windows 7, is known as the host operating system. By contrast, your virtual machine's operating system, in this case Windows XP, is known as the guest operating system.
In recent years, machine virtualization has become very popular because it allows you to run several different operating systems on the same computer without having to repartition your hard drive. For example, a Mac that runs OS X natively can host multiple versions of Windows and Linux on a single machine. In addition to Microsoft's VirtualPC, other popular virtualization products on the market are:
There are specific client and server versions of each of these products. As you might expect, each provides its own set of unique capabilities. In general, however, they all provide similar functionality.
Take Away: Machine virtualization allows individuals to run the applications they need without being bound to a particular platform. Similarly, it allows businesses to consolidate and distribute computing resources throughout an organization and reap the respective cost benefits.
Install Windows 7
XP Mode was designed to work exclusively with Windows 7, so you'll need to install Windows 7 to test drive it. Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) has been available for public download since May 5th, 2009. You can get your copy by pointing your web browser to the Windows 7 Release Candidate website. Make sure you download the version appropriate for your hardware and read through the installation instructions provided on the site.
Important: XP Mode requires a computer whose processor supports hardware-assisted virtualization. Most dual-core and quad-core processors have this feature enabled by default. To verify whether your machine supports hardware-assisted virtualization, consult your system documentation or verify it in the system BIOS. In the latter case, look for a setting that refers to VT-x (Intel processors) or AMD-V (AMD processors).
Set up XP Mode
Once you've set up your Windows 7 computer, point your web browser to the Windows Virtual PC website to download the two items shown below. You'll need to install the Virtual PC core service first, as this sets up the virtual environment within Windows 7. Next, install Windows XP to add the XP operating system to the virtual environment. In both cases, simply double-click on the respective icon and follow the prompts.
Launch Virtual Windows XP
Once you've installed these two items and restarted your machine, you'll see the Windows Virtual PC program group on the Windows 7 Start menu, as shown below. To launch XP, select the Virtual Windows XP item. Once Windows XP loads completely, it displays a default username, User, and prompts you for a password. These will be your default credentials unless you create a new user account inside Windows XP.
With Virtual Windows XP now running, you can proceed with configuring it and installing applications just as you would if it were running on another computer outside the Windows 7 environment. When you're ready to proceed, click the Ctrl+Alt+Del on the Virtual PC toolbar, then click the Shutdown button.
Note: By default, Virtual PC hibernates XP when you close your session. Later in this article, we'll show you how to set your preference to Sleep, Hibernate, or Shutdown.
Customize Virtual Windows XP
It's relatively easy to customize your XP environment. For example, you may want to set up additional virtual hard disks, increase the amount of memory dedicated to the virtual machine, or configure your network settings for different environments. For most configuration changes, you need to first shutdown your XP environment completely, and then modify specific settings in the virtual machine itself.
Your virtual machine is stored at the following location:
C:\Users\username\Virtual Machines, where username is your Windows 7 username (login ID).
To get started, navigate to the above directory, right-click on the Virtual Windows XP icon, and choose Settings. When you do so, you'll see the Virtual PC Settings dialog box shown below.
To give you a sense of the extent to which you can customize your XP environment, we'll provide a brief description of each of the settings, highlighting the most important changes you can make.
This is the name of your virtual machine as it exists in your Virtual Machines folder. It is not the name of your Windows 7 computer nor is it the name of your XP machine.
You can assign your virtual machine a specific amount of memory. For example, if you have 2 GB of RAM in your physical computer, you can allocate 512 MB of memory to XP, leaving the remainder available to Windows 7.
Virtual Windows XP provides three virtual hard disks, the first of which is automatically configured as the boot drive when you set up XP Mode. You can configure the remaining drives as additional storage, delete them, merge them, or create entirely new virtual disks.
Your virtual machine's DVD drive is a virtual instance of your physical DVD drive. In addition, you can configure it to point to an ISO image of a CD/DVD, which you can then use as though it were a real DVD drive.
By default, two legacy serial ports, COM1 and COM2, are available on your virtual machine. You can configure them to point to physical serial ports on your host computer, as named pipes, or as input/output text files.
You can configure four individual network adapters on your virtual machine. Each adapter can be defined as follows:
- None: The adapter is disabled
- Internal Network: The adapter allows your virtual machine to communicate with other virtual machines hosted on your computer.
- Shared Networking (NAT): The adapter uses network address translation (NAT) to hide your virtual machine behind a firewall, allowing unrestricted outbout communication but restricted inbound communication.
Enabling this setting allows you to share files, printers, and other resources between your physical machine and your virtual machine.
This setting allows you to send special Windows keys, such as Alt-Tab, to either the physical machine or the virtual machine.
You can configure this setting to save your logon credentials to the virtual machine. Alternately, you can delete these credentials and log on manually.
This setting allows you to create shortcuts to XP applications, and then publish them to the Windows 7 Start menu. Published applications appear in the Virtual Windows XP Applications item located inside the Windows Virtual PC program group.
By default, XP hibernates when you close your session. This setting allows you to change this beavior to Hibernate or Shutdown, or to prompt you for the action you want to take.
It's a wrap
In this article, we provided an overview of XP Mode, a new feature in Windows 7 that allows you to host a complete Windows XP environment on your Windows 7 system. If you're currently an XP user and you're wondering if migrating to Windows 7 is right for you, consider the advantages of running XP applications alongside your native Windows 7 applications. Windows XP is a very popular operating system, but Windows 7 may indeed be destined to be just as popular if not more so.
Enjoy your journey!