Windows 7 a la XP Mode

Windows 7 arrives virtualization enabled. And a free copy of Windows XP to boot and reboot.

Microsoft knows how good Windows XP is or was since they offer you a free Windows XP virtual machine that’s ready to keep you in familiar and functioning territory. You have the best of both worlds with Windows 7: The new cool Windows 7 plus your old reliable Windows XP. This addition is what Microsoft calls Windows XP Mode. To the unaware, this sounds more like a Windows XP compatibility capability than virtualization and in one respect, it is. In reality though, XP Mode (XPM) is a Windows XP virtual machine running in Virtual PC on your Windows 7 desktop computer but it’s also much more.

Windows XP Mode doesn’t ship with Windows 7. You have to download and install it from the Windows Virtual PC page. XPM consists of two files: A large (~500MB) executable and the other is a 9MB file containing a set of necessary updates. Once you’ve installed XPM, and completed your customary system restarts, you’re ready to use your new Windows XP virtual machine. Well almost, that is.

When your Windows 7 machine returns to a usable state, click the Windows Start button, All Programs, Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode. It takes several minutes before the virtual machine build completes and starts but it’s well worth the wait. The new XP VM boots up almost ready to work except for the multiple reboot episodes you’ll endure while allowing the VM to grab Windows Updates. When completely done with updates, installations and reboots; you’re ready to begin with Windows 7 and your new Windows XP VM.

There’s a special surprise waiting for you now that you have your XP Mode-enabled desktop and your XP VM. When you install a program to your virtual machine, it also installs to Windows 7. That’s right, the application installs in both locations but there is a catch: You can’t run the VM and the locally installed application at the same time. It’s a little inconvenient but you can’t have your virtual cake and eat it too, I suppose—at least not with the implementation available from Microsoft.

The locally installed version of any application you install to the VM is located under All Programs, Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode Applications.

Perhaps a better solution would be to install a third party product such as VirtualBox, VMware Workstation or QEMU if you need a Windows XP VM. Maybe after working with Windows 7 and the XP VM more, I’ll come across to their way of thinking but until then, I’m going with the third party plan. I do, however, find the dual installation feature kind of cool but I do wish it were an independent installation instead of a “shared” one between the VM and the host operating system.

Windows 7 is cool whether you use XPM or a third-party solution for keeping that familiar, sweet-smelling Windows XP operating system around for a while longer. I like XP (obviously) but Windows 7 and its descendents are the future, at least in the foreseeable Microsoft-created version of the future, so we must go boldly forward and eventually leave Windows XP in the fondly remembered past.

What’s your opinion on why Microsoft is giving away a free copy of Windows XP with every* copy of Windows 7? Write back and let us know.

* Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate. Home versions aren’t eligible for the add-on.

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