Windows 7 features a new twist: XP Mode, which lets you run your Windows XP apps without compatibility issues. Brien Posey explains why XP Mode is significant and outlines its benefits.
One of the most exciting Windows 7 features is Windows XP Mode. It uses a brand new version of Virtual PC to provide seamless access to Windows XP applications, either through a virtual Windows XP desktop or directly through the Windows 7 desktop. Here's a look at some of the benefits XP Mode offers.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.
1: It solves compatibility problems
The biggest beef that most IT folks seem to have with Windows Vista is its notorious hardware and software compatibility problems. Windows 7's Windows XP mode allows you to run Windows XP applications without worrying about application compatibility.
2: It provides a much needed upgrade to Virtual PC
Virtual PC has been around for a long time, and although it has improved from one version to the next, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Among the improvements in the new version is the ability to access the computer's physical hard drives (including the host operating system's volumes) through a virtual machine.
3: It offers USB Support
Another much needed improvement to Virtual PC (which Windows XP Mode depends on) is that it now offers USB support. It has previously been impossible to access USB devices from within a virtual machine.
4: It's a way to modernize Windows XP
I know that there are those who would disagree with me, but Windows XP hasn't aged well. First introduced in 2001, Windows XP is quickly becoming outdated. Windows XP Mode provides enables you to run Windows XP inside a modern operating system, which helps it take advantage of some of the improvements that have been made to things like hardware support and security. Windows XP itself hasn't changed, but because Windows XP Mode is dependent on the host operating system, it can reap some of these benefits.
5: It ensures long-term technical support
Microsoft's continued support for Windows XP has been questionable for quite some time now. Every time Microsoft gets ready to pull the plug on main stream technical support, they give in to pressure from customers and extend the support period. It's great that Microsoft has been so accommodating, but nobody knows how long that will last. Having Windows XP Mode built into Windows 7 helps ensure that Windows XP support will be available for many years to come.
6: Microsoft has made a commitment to XP
For the last several years, Microsoft has urged customers to adopt Windows Vista, but most of Microsoft's corporate customers have chosen to continue using Windows XP. By including Windows XP mode in Windows 7, Microsoft has finally acknowledged the importance of Windows XP to its customers and given diehard XP fans a real solution that will allow them to move forward without giving up the OS they've depended on for almost a decade.
7: It offers seamless integration
One of my favorite things about Windows XP Mode is that it's completely seamless. Sure, you can work within a full-blown Windows XP virtual machine, but you don't have to. In fact, if you close the Windows XP virtual machine, you can access your Windows XP applications directly through the Windows 7 start menu and run those applications seamlessly alongside applications that are installed directly on Windows 7.
8: It's a first
This is the first time Microsoft has ever given us this type of support for an older product. Exchange 2000 included a copy of Exchange 5.5, but that was only included as part of the migration path for Exchange 5.0 users. Microsoft wasn't expecting customers to actually use both products. Making Windows XP part of the Windows 7 operating system is unprecedented.
9: It opens the door to lightweight operating systems
Windows has always had a bad reputation for being excessively bloated. One of the reasons for the bloat is that most versions of Windows have included a significant amount of code to provide backward compatibility with the previous version. By relying on virtualization to provide this compatibility, Microsoft may be able to greatly reduce the size of the core operating system in Windows 8.
10: Future plug-ins are possible
The way Microsoft has connected Windows XP to Windows 7 through virtualization opens the door to future operating system plug-ins. Don't be surprised if Windows 8 gives you the ability to pick and choose the legacy operating systems you want to support. Microsoft could end up offering virtualization plug-ins that will allow it to support Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Using this method would allow customers to pick the type of backward compatibility they need without having to install any unnecessary legacy code.
Sign up for 10 Things... the newsletter!
Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.