Compatibility is always a sensitive issue when it comes to a new version of Windows. Microsoft takes it very seriously and considers it a hallmark of the Windows platform, making it easy for users to transition to a new release with little or no hiccups. With the release of Windows XP, Microsoft introduced Compatibility Mode, which let older applications run on the OS emulating supported versions of Windows with the ability to save settings so that your applications will start in the correct mode every time. Compatibility Mode worked in some cases and others it did not.
Note: Some of the illustrations are not available in this article, I have been trying for the last three days to publish it from Live Writer, but some issues with a few images are preventing me, so I omitted them.
Windows Vista’s compatibility story was a tough one, simply because of the fundamental changes that were made to enhance the system’s security foundations. This ultimately affected how older applications would function, because many older applications were written with the intention of running under Administrative privileges. Meaning, some applications were designed to write to parts of the system that were considered vulnerable to attack and malicious activity. It is a beneficial change that has greatly helped the security initiative in Windows. Windows Vista’s kernel version change also affected how certain applications tried to install on the system, since applications were hard coded to check for a specific version of Windows.
Microsoft’s solution to Vista’s compatibility woes included the Virtual PC 2007 utility which allowed Windows customers to run a virtualized copy of Windows XP or 2000 and still run their legacy applications in a suitable environment while transitioning to the latest version of Windows. Although it was a solution it required a costly overhead in resources while being a cumbersome experience of having to switch between the host operating system (Vista) and the guest operating system (XP or 2000). With Windows 7, Microsoft is offering an improved approach, which is built upon the fundamentals of Virtual PC and utilizing the compatibility benefits of Windows XP Professional SP3 to help transition to Windows 7 smoothly. In this article, I want to take a look at how I am using Windows Virtual PC with Windows XP Mode to still utilize legacy applications that I enjoy using and still benefit from. I will be taking a look at starting Virtual PC, installing an application and publishing it.
In Windows 7 itself, the Compatibility process is handled through a number of avenues, which include the Windows Upgrade Advisor and Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to help customers assess application compatibility. For untested or in-house developed applications, Windows 7 provides a number of in-box compatibility aids. For example, if an application fails to install because of a hard-coded version check, the Program Compatibility Trouble-shooter can automatically fix the problem (with the users consent) and rerun the installer. Windows 7 includes an expanded application shim infrastructure and Problem Steps Recorder that people can use to capture compatibility issues for evaluation by technical experts.
The three applications I will be using for this scenario are:
- Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 v2 – a business graphics solution that was released with the 2000 wave of Office products. PhotoDraw provides features for editing images, vector illustrations and creating web graphics. I love this product because of its easy to use interface and plethora of features for creating cards, certificates and stationery.
- Hallmark Card Studio 1.0 – This is a very old 16-bit product that features a very fun interface with a collection of professional greeting cards for any occasion. I never had to go to a store when I was using this program – lets hope it works. 🙂
- The Print Shop 5.0 Premier Edition – I remember back in high school my teacher used this program to create a wide variety of print projects, from programs to flyers. I like its easy to use interface, and wizard based approach to getting task done. Its not a replacement for Microsoft Publisher which I use for more complex projects, but compliments it very well.
Starting and using Virtual XP in Windows 7 64 bit (click to enlarge)
As you can see, Virtual Windows XP includes a pre-configured copy of Windows XP Professional SP3 that is ready to be used out of the box. Microsoft has confirmed that only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate are the only editions that will support this utility. The program requires that your computers CPU (Central Processing Unit) supports hardware based virtualization (AMD-V or Intel’s VT technology). Configuring the system for this feature might be a bit technical for some persons requiring that you enter the computers BIOS to setup (which is what I had to do). Virtual Windows XP works similar to Virtual PC 2007. The virtual system is allotted 256 MBs of RAM. One of the immediate differences though is the toolbar menu that provides options for utilizing USB devices, viewing full screen mode and enabling integration features which is used for virtualizing your applications.
Installing applications and publishing
Installation of PhotoDraw 2000 went smoothly except for a Windows File Protection prompt requesting that I insert my Windows XP Service Pack 3 CD before installation could proceed. This can be quite confusing since you might not have a CD readily available with Service Pack 3, luckily for me, I did.
Installing Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 v2
Situations like this can leave users perplexed
Installation was successful after providing the Windows XP Professional SP3 CD
Using the application in Virtual Windows XP, is very similar to Virtual PC, but the key differentiation happens when you virtualize your applications. My next step was to see how I could benefit from Integration Features without having to use the operating system layer. When you install an application, automatically it places a shortcut in the Virtual XP programs group called Virtual Windows XP Applications. When you launch the application from there, Virtual Windows XP will request to close the Virtual Machine because a virtual application cannot run while the virtual machine is open. If you close the virtual machine, any unsaved data will be lost. After this is done, Virtual Windows XP starts the Virtual Application which runs outside of the guest operating system. And that’s it, you are able to use the application just as you would a native application installed in Windows 7. The only thing is, you will notice that the application continues to use the guest operating systems look and feel.
If I want, I can use the application in the virtual machine itself
…or I can simply use the program as a virtual app from within Windows 7
So after installing PhotoDraw 2000, I decided to run Hallmark Card studio 1.0 to see how that would function. Yup, installed and functioned just fine. Sorry for the bad screenshot, but Hallmark Card Studio is one of those really old mid 90’s programs that believe it should take over your screen whenever it gets the chance.
Installing Legacy applications
Using Virtual applications in Windows 7
About integration components
Integration components make it easier to use a virtual machine by improving the interaction between physical resources and a virtual machine environment. These are installed automatically when you set up Windows XP mode. For other operating systems, you install them separately after you set up the operating system. Integration components provide access to the following resources:
- Clipboard. You can cut, copy, and paste data between the host operating system and the guest operating system. For example, you can copy a URL from the browser in a guest operating system, and paste it to a browser in the host operating system.
- Hard drives. This feature makes all the drives on the host available to the virtual machine. You can easily access all host data from within the virtual machine. Note
NOTE: Host hard drives are listed in the guest by using the computer name of the host operating system. For example, on a host computer named WindowTest, the C drive would be listed in the guest operating system as ‘C on WindowsTest‘.
- Printers. This feature makes it possible to use the same printers in a virtual machine that you can use on the host. To share printers, when Windows XP is the guest operating system, you must also install the printer drivers. For more information, see ―Scenario 2: Print from a virtual machine.
- USB devices. Printers, storage devices and smart card readers are automatically shared with virtual machines. Other types of supported USB devices are supported by redirecting them to the virtual machine. For more information, see ―To use a USB device in a virtual machine.
Integration components also make it possible for you to move the mouse seamlessly between the desktops of the host operating system and the guest operating system.
Starting a Virtual application
There are some integration issues with the host operating system
…giving old applications new life
Integration is also a bit different, instead of files saved to the host OS’s common directories such as Documents, Pictures, they are saved within the Guest installation. Some other things I notice include that Virtual applications do not benefit from window management functionality in the host OS such as thumbnail previews. Apart from these inconsistence’s, the application continues to function just as normal. I can use the application without any problems while utilizing the benefits of Windows 7 which is probably the best thing about it. The other cool feature is not having to interact with the operating system layer, just being able to use the application is a great benefit. When you close a virtual machine, it can be hibernated, shut down, or turned off. When a virtual machine is opened from hibernation, it does not go through the boot sequence, so it is available for use faster than if it was turned off or shut down.
The Virtual Machine folder for configuring and creating Virtual machines
You are not limited to using Windows Virtual XP, (although its recommended), you can use your own Windows XP installation media. The Virtual XP option is faster than creating your own virtual machine though. When you use this option, you do not have to obtain installation media. All you need to do is download the package that applies to your Windows 7 platform (either 32-bit or 64-bit) and run through the quick setup wizard. Depending on the amount of legacy applications you plan to run, you might want to configure the virtual machines memory settings to accommodate more programs and performance of the Virtual Machine itself. To do this, Open the Virtual Machines folder from the Start menu, click Virtual Machines. If the menu item is not visible, click All Programs, click Windows Virtual PC, and then click Virtual Machines. The Virtual Machines folder provides details about all the virtual machines created by the current user, as well as access to the tools for creating and modifying virtual machines and virtual hard disks.
Virtual XP is probably the solution a lot of users have been looking for, the seamless experience it provides users running legacy applications along side Windows 7 makes the compatibility story a better one. There is a level of complexity involved and at the same time I am disappointed to know this is only an option for certain Windows 7 SKU’s. Also, the system requirements still exist, a machine with a minimum 2 GBs of RAM is required, more recommended. Knowing if your computers processor supports hardware based virtualization might make it a hindrance to adoption. Users must also remember that they are running another computer, which require maintenance just as the physical machine, which includes installing an Antivirus and keeping it up to date along with keeping the OS updated too. I wish the coherence could be a bit more detailed where UI is concerned, such as making the windows of Virtual Applications adapt the Aero Glass window frames, just to match the look and feel of Windows 7. The ability to install legacy applications out of the Virtual Machine would have been option I would like to see. Its a minor complaint considering the boost it gives users to breath new new life into old applications while moving forward with the benefits of Windows 7.
- For more information about the requirements and supported operating systems, see the Windows Virtual PC product page
- x86 Virtualization – Wikipedia provides a page with information about which processors from Intel and AMD support virtualization here
- Virtualization technologies from Intel
- Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode BETA’s for Windows 7 Download’s now Available
- More information about Windows XP Mode for Windows 7