Windows 7 Feature Focus: Virtual Windows XP (AKA XP Mode)


Although Windows has included the Program Compatibility Wizard and Compatibility tab to help older programs to run properly under the current version of Windows since Windows XP, these features are not always able to help older applications to run. While Windows 7 continues to offer these features, some editions can also use a better way to run older Windows applications: XP Mode .

XP Mode at a Glance

XP Mode (also known as Virtual Windows XP) enables some editions of Windows 7 to run Windows XP in a virtualized window, and to run individual Windows XP-compatible apps in a virtualized environment directly from the Windows 7 Start menu.

XP Mode is supported by the following Windows 7 editions: Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise. The System properties sheet tells you what version you have:

By providing an actual Windows XP environment, as opposed to an emulation of Windows XP as provided by the Program Compatibility Wizard and Compatibility tab in a program's properties sheet, XP Mode enables business programs that require 100% Windows XP compatibility to run within Windows 7. Unlike Microsoft's previous virtualization environment, Virtual PC 2007, XP Mode enables Windows XP-compatible programs to be launched directly from the Windows 7 Start menu. You can also pin XP Mode programs to the Taskbar or Start menu in Windows 7.

XP Mode also enables you to use peripherals (such as older scanners and multifunction devices) that are not supported by Windows 7; you can run them in XP Mode and save the output to locations accessible to both XP Mode and Windows 7

To use older versions of Windows utilities such as Internet Explorer 6 supplied with Windows XP, launch a windowed or full-screen XP Mode virtual machine and run programs within it.

The FAQs About XP Mode

Since XP Mode was announced as an optional feature for Windows 7 Professional, a lot of erroneous information has been published about XP Mode. Here are the FAQs:

Q. What do I need to run XP Mode?

A. There are three requirements:

  1. You must be running Windows 7 Ultimate, Professional, or Enterprise editions.
  2. You must have a processor capable of supporting hardware virtualization (Intel refers to this feature as Intel Virtualization Technology; AMD refers to this feature as AMD-V).

3.  Hardware virtualization must be enabled in the system BIOS.

Q. Do I need a copy of Windows XP to use XP Mode?

A. No. Microsoft provides Windows XP SP3 as a VHD file for use with XP Mode.

Q. What are the benefits of using XP Mode instead of running Virtual PC 2007 and installing Windows XP as a virtual machine?

A. There are several advantages to XP Mode over VPC 2007+Windows XP, including:

When you install programs into XP Mode, they are automatically published to the Windows 7 Start menu, so you can run them in separate windows on the Windows 7 desktop, or in full-screen, or within the Windows XP VM desktop. Virtual PC 2007 must run Windows XP programs within the Windows XP VM desktop.

You must manually configure Virtual PC 2007 to run Windows XP - this is not necessary with XP Mode.

You can move your mouse freely between XP Mode and the Windows 7 desktop - with Virtual PC 2007, you must click within the window to capture the mouse cursor, then press the right alt key to release your mouse to return to the Windows 7 desktop

VPC 2007 cannot use USB mass storage devices – XP Mode can use USB mass storage devices.

VPC 2007 runs Windows XP as a VM very poorly (slow CD-ROM access, etc.) unless you install VPC 2007 extensions. XP Mode does not require you to install extensions.

XP Mode automatically integrates the Windows clipboard, printers, drives and smartcards at startup, and you can also also selectively disable and select whether to enable at start up (default).

Q. Is XP Mode designed for 3D gaming?

A. No. XP Mode does not support 3D graphics APIs such as DirectX. If you need to play 3D games that will not run in Windows 7, set up a dual-boot environment.

Q. Can I run Virtual PC 2007 and XP Mode on the same PC?

A. No. You must uninstall Virtual PC 2007 before you can use Windows Virtual PC and XP Mode.

Q. How do I get XP Mode?

A. There are two files you need to make XP Mode a reality:

First, download the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows Virtual PC (choose the same version as your edition of Windows 7 supports). Second, download Windows XP Mode.

Both are available from the Microsoft Virtual PC website .

Installing Windows Virtual PC and XP Mode

To get started with XP Mode, download Windows Virtual PC (WVPC). Then download Windows XP Mode (XPM). After installing WVPC, you must restart your computer before you install XPM.

During installation of XPM, you must configure Windows Update to provide automatic or manual updates, and you must enter a password. To save yourself frustration, click the checkbox to Remember Credentials, and you won't need to remember the password to start XPM.

During installation, you must also select the location for the VHD file used by XPM. By default, the location is C:\Program Files\Virtual Windows XP\ , but you can browse to other locations as desired. The target drive must have about 1.6GB of free disk space.

Using XPM in Desktop Mode

XPM supports two modes. These modes, as described in Microsoft's "Running Windows XP Mode with Windows Virtual PC: A How-to Guide for Small Businesses" (PDF link) are Desktop Mode and Seamless Mode.

In Desktop mode, you start XPM from the Windows 7 Start menu:

In Desktop mode, all programs that use XPM run from within the Windows XP VM:

In Desktop Mode, XPM works about the way you'd expect a standard Windows XP installation to run. After you start XPM in Desktop mode, wait a few seconds after the desktop appears before the desktop fully initializes. During the startup process, progress bars inform you of what's going on:

Once XPM starts, you'll note that, because of its support for hardware virtualization, it's fairly peppy on a system with 4GB of RAM or more, even with the default XPM virtual machine (VM) memory size of 256MB.

However, there are some significant differences between XPM and a standard non-virtualized Windows XP installation. These include:

Autorun on CDs doesn't work - you must manually run the program referred to in Autorun.

AutoPlay on CDs, DVDs, and USB devices doesn't work. You can manually run the program you prefer to use with the media's contents, or open the media with Windows Explorer

Accessing drives connected to the host PC. XPM uses Remote Desktop Connection to work with these drives, which is why they're listed as network drives by XPM's My Computer.

Adjusting XPM's VM Memory Size and Other Settings

As with Windows Virtual PC's ancestor (Virtual PC 2007), you must shut down a VM before you can adjust its settings. However, closing the XPM window does not shut down the Virtual Windows XP VM. Instead, it hibernates the VM. To close the VM, click the Ctrl-Alt-Del button at the top of the XPM desktop window (1) and select Shut Down from the Windows Security dialog (2):

Note that XPM does not use Fast User Switching because Offline Files is enabled by default.

To adjust the settings used by XPM after closing it down:

1. Open the Virtual Machines folder in the Windows Virtual PC folder in Windows 7's Start menu:

2. Right-click the Virtual Windows XP VM and select Settings:

3. Select the setting you want to adjust (in this example, memory size assigned to the VM) and select or enter the appropriate option:

4. Repeat as needed with other settings, then click OK when finished to close the dialog and save changes.

Note: The settings you use for the XPM VM affect not only XPM in Desktop mode but also in Seamless mode.

Using XPM in Seamless Mode

Although XPM in Desktop mode is easier than working with Virtual PC 2007 + Windows XP, the real benefit for users comes in XPM's Seamless mode. In Seamless mode, you can launch one or more programs installed in XPM directly from the Windows 7 Start menu. Each program runs within its own XPM VM, and you can resize each window and drag it to a different display.

When you install programs in XPM's Desktop mode, start menu shortcuts are automatically added to both the Windows XP Start menu in XPM and to the Start menu for the Windows 7 host PC.

To start a program from Seamless mode, open the Virtual Windows XP Applications folder beneath the Windows Virtual PC folder on the Windows 7 host system and click the program you want to run:

To pin XPM or an XPM application to the Windows 7 Start menu, right-click the shortcut in Windows 7's Start menu and select Pin to Start Menu. To pin XPM or an or an XPM application to the Windows 7 Taskbar, right-click the shortcut and select Pin To Taskbar:

Networking in XPM

Normally, if your Windows 7 host PC is able to connect to the Internet, so can your XPM VM. However, if you want XPM to use the resources of other physical PCs on your network, you might need to tweak the normal network settings. If you are unable to view other network PCs from XPM's My Network Places menu, check the following:

1. Make sure the workgroup name in XPM matches the name of your existing workgroup. To see the current setting, right-click My Computer from the XPM Start menu, select Properties, and click Computer Name. If the workgroup name needs to be changed, click Change, click Workgroup, and enter the correct workgroup name. Click OK, and restart XPM to finish the process.

2. If you are still unable to "see" other PCs on the network from within XPM, click the Tools button at the top of the XPM window, click Settings, and look at the Networking setting. The default setting is Shared Networking (NAT). If this setting does not permit you to see workgroup computers, select the physical network adapter in your system:

You can still access the network and the Internet from the physical PC hosting Virtual Windows XP as well as from within XPM.

Working with USB Devices

XPM is way ahead of Virtual PC 2007 in its handling of USB devices such as printers, scanners, and mass storage devices (VPC 2007 didn't support USB mass storage at all). However, using USB devices in either XPM mode requires that you understand how to attach and release them as needed.

Open the USB menu to see the USB devices available to Virtual Windows XP. The devices are listed in two categories: Attach and Shared. Devices listed in the Shared category are supposed to be available automatically to both the Windows 7 host and XPM. However, in my tests, I found that both types of devices needed to be attached to XPM to make them available to XPM in either Desktop or Seamless modes.

Reminder: when a device is attached to XPM, it cannot be used by your host Windows 7 operating system.

Attaching/Releasing a Device

To attach a device, open XPM's USB menu and click a device with the status of Attach or Shared (if the device status is listed as Release, it is already attached to XPM):

XPM detects the device, and if you are attaching it for the first time, XPM will prompt you to search for drivers with the Found New Hardware Wizard, or you can install drivers manually. If the wizard is unable to install drivers automatically, download the latest Windows XP-compatible driver for your device within XPM and install it. You might be prompted to reboot XPM to complete driver installation.

Tip: if you are installing a multifunction device, do not reboot XPM until you have finished installing all of the drivers and utilities necessary.

After drivers are installed, you might need to open the USB menu again and attach the device before you can use it. In this example, we're using the Epson Scan feature of the Epson WorkForce 600:

When you are finished with the device, open the USB menu again and click the device to release it. The device can then be used by the host Windows 7 session.

Reminder: You must attach devices with XPM Desktop mode before they can be used by applications running in XPM Seamless mode.

So, is XP Mode for you?

If you're trying to run 3D games that don't get along with Windows 7, the answer is 'No'.

But, if you need to get more life out of peripherals or applications that don't run under Windows 7, or you need to run Windows XP without rebooting your Windows 7 PC, the answer might be 'Yes.'

XP Mode is free to try right now with Windows 7 RC, and if you want to use its final version after Windows 7 goes live, be sure to upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions (it will be free for those editions, but will not work with Home Premium).

Tell us how you're doing with XP Mode - click Comment to get started.

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