Checking out Windows Virtual PC with XP Mode

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.

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).

I recently migrated from Windows 7 RC to Windows 7 RTM, I also moved to the final version of Microsoft’s virtualization solution for small businesses and power users running legacy applications; Windows XP Mode. Back in July I started using the first beta and found it a handy solution on Windows 7 64 bit since my GPRS modem is not compatible with Windows 7 64 bit, so I was able to use the Internet through XP Mode. I also benefited from XP mode for 3 key legacy applications: Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 v2, Print Shop 5.0 and Hallmark Card Studio 1.0 This article takes a look at some of the improvements since the beta and RC were released. Prior to Windows Virtual PC with XP Mode, Microsoft’s most popular virtualization solution was (and in some way, still is) Virtual PC 2007 which supports systems that do not have a processor with hardware based virtualization technology. XP Mode is a more sophisticated solution, in addition to the ability to running Windows XP in a virtual environment, you can publish applications from within the Virtual Machine and use them along side Windows 7 applications without the need for the operating system layer.

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization is jargon that has caught on with many who are in the Information Technology realm. Virtualization involves using non-physical solutions that would often involve deploying physical hardware resources. In the world of Virtualization a Virtual Machine takes the place of a physical machine, providing similar resources, only non-tangible, this is done on a machine with appropriate resources such as a powerful CPU, lots of Memory and in some cases a GPU (graphical processing unit) depending on the desired capabilities to efficiently run one or more "virtual" instances of an operating system. For instance, I could own a computer with a 2 GHz processor, 3 GBs of memory and be able to run an additional operating system on top of the included operating system, whether it be Windows or Linux without the need to have another machine by sharing some of the resources of the computer with the virtual machine.

Setup

As I noted earlier, to use XP Mode, your computers processor (CPU) needs to support hardware based virtualization. This can be recognized by standards such as Intel-VT and AMD-V. Some computers might not have this capability built in, so I recommend you check Intel or AMD’s website to find out if your processor is supported. Some PC Manufacturers might have the technology disabled on certain models requiring that you enable it. Enabling Virtualization support might be a bit complex for novices which requires that you enter your computers BIOS, the experience can vary depending on the manufacturer of your computer.

  • 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
  • More information about Windows XP Mode for Windows 7

    Please follow these steps to enable hardware virtualization:
        – Restart the computer and enter BIOS setup (usually F2, F10 or F12 key on your keyboard, you need to do this before the computer loads the Windows operating system.

  • On my Computer, I had to hit the F10 key, select my language, select Security > System Security and enable the following:
    * Virtualization Technology (VTx)
    * Virtualization Technology Directed I/O (VTd)

        – Search virtualization setting in BIOS and enable the setting.
        – Save BIOS settings (usually F10).
        – Power off the computer, wait for a few seconds and start the computer.

  • The next step is to download Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode software, go to the following link: http://www.windows.com/business/downloads

     

    There are two files you will need to download:
    1. Windows6.1-KB958559-x64 or x86 depending on the architecture (32 or 64 bit) you are running.

    Restart the system, then install:
    2. WindowsXPMode_en-us

     

  • After downloading and installing Windows6.1-KB958559-x64 you will have to restart your system, then install the WindowsXPMode_en-us file, installation is quick and easy.

     

    After Installation is complete, go ahead and launch Windows XP Mode from the Windows Virtual PC (Start Menu > All Programs group). The software will go through a quick configuration wizard while it details some of the benefits of the software users new to virtualization.

  • 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.

    Configuring Windows XP Mode

     

    Before you begin installing applications and using XP Mode, it is recommended you configure the software depending on the scenarios it will be used for. If you are using a few applications, it is recommended you adjust the allotted amount of RAM (default 256 MBs) to something a bit more realistic. I have 4 GBs of RAM in my machine, so I decided to give my XP Mode setup at least 1024 MBs of RAM. To do this, click Start > All Programs > Windows Virtual PC > Windows Virtual XP Mode

     

    Select the Windows XP Virtual Machine, Click Settings on the Command Bar

    If you are familiar with Windows Virtual PC 2007, the Settings window presents options you are accustomed to seeing. All of the settings listed manages how the Virtual Machine performs and functions. The first setting we will adjust is the amount of RAM, select that option from the list. In the right pane, you will see a field that you can edit. Enter the desired amount, note that this will depend on how much memory is available to the Host operating system (which is your physical computer). Microsoft recommends 2 GBs of memory and an additional 15 GBs of hard disk space per virtual environment to run Windows XP Mode. You are not limited to using the pre-bundled Windows XP Mode, (although its recommended), you can use your own Windows XP installation media. The Virtual Windows XP option is faster than creating your own virtual machine though. 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 how your virtual machine is configured when not in use, you might not be able to edit the settings. You must first ensure that it is shut down to make any changes to the Virtual Machines settings. To shutdown the Virtual Machine, click Start > All Programs > Windows Virtual PC > Windows Virtual XP Mode. The Explorer window will open displaying your Virtual Machine along with its current state, as you can see, my own is set to Hibernated. Click Settings on the Command Bar, select ‘Close’ in the settings window and select the ‘Prompt for action’ radio box. Each time you close the virtual machine, you can choose to hibernate, shutdown or turn off the virtual machine. This will give you the option to make changes to Virtual Machine when shutdown.

    Starting the Virtual Machine

     

  • Starting Windows XP Mode

  • Starting XP Mode is very simple, you can launch Windows XP Mode from the Start Menu > Windows Virtual PC programs group or from the "Command Bar > Open", if you are within the Virtual Machines Explorer.

    Installing applications and publishing

     

    Once you have Started Windows XP Mode, you will see a familiar Windows XP environment. Along the top of the screen is the Toolbar that controls your experience working between the host and Virtual Machine, Restarting or Ending your session, connecting USB devices, securing your session, minimizing, maximizing and closing the Virtual Machine.

  • Installing and using an application in Virtual XP Mode

    Installing applications is the same as installing in Windows, simply insert the application disk or connect to your Network resource of your choice, double click the setup file or the auto-run program will begin the installation. Once the installation is complete you can launch the application from the All Programs menu and use it from within Windows XP Mode normally.

    Using the application in Virtual Windows XP is very similar to working in 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 Windows Virtual PC programs group called Virtual Windows XP Applications in Windows 7. When you launch the application from there, Virtual Windows XP will request to close the Virtual Machine (if it is open) 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 (Windows XP). 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 and The Printshop 5.0 to see how that would function. Yup, installed and functioned just fine.

     

    Installing Legacy applications

    Understanding 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.
    • 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.

     

    There are some integration limitations 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 Virtual Machine installation. Some other things users will notice,  Virtual applications do not benefit from window management functionality in the host OS such as thumbnail and live previews. Apart from these minor limitations, 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. You can even create shortcuts of your Virtual applications in Windows 7 and even pin them on the Taskbar for quick access.

      What about other versions of Windows?

    Windows Virtual PC is not limited to Windows XP, although the software is not licensed for other versions of Windows so you will have to provide yours. Windows 7 is known to work in addition to supporting Windows Aero Glass effects. For other operating systems such as MS-DOS or Windows 98 for instance, I suggest you continue running those through Windows Virtual PC 2007 SP1 or SUN Microsystems Virtual Box.

    Conclusion

    Windows Virtual PC with Windows XP Mode 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 bit complex.  Users must also remember that they are running another computer even though its virtual, 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 outside of the Virtual Machine would have been a nice. Its a minor complaint considering the boost it gives users to breath new life into old applications while moving forward with the benefits of Windows 7.

    In my next article, I will be discussing some tips for getting the most out of Windows XP Mode.

     

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