Windows

10 reasons why Windows 7's XP Mode is a big deal

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.

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 First introduced in 2001, Windows XP is quickly becoming outdated.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.


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About

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.

38 comments
dave114
dave114

I just tested file-commit and file region locking in XP Mode under Windows 7, and if failed miserably. File-commit doesn't work at all. If you extend a file by writing at the end, and then do a file-commit, and then check the file length with find-first, you get the old (wrong) file length. In other words, file-commit doesn't do anything. Additionally, region-locking doesn't work reliably. Sometimes it works, but sometimes attempting to lock a region which is already locked by another program results in a "general failure" error (31) instead of a proper "sharing error" (32). You can get testlock here: http://www.burtonsys.com/download/TESTLOCK.ZIP To use it simply open two XP mode command-prompt windows (or one XP mode command-prompt window and one Windows 7 command-prompt window), and then in one of them do: testlk32 d:\somefolder\ auto2 Then, when it prompts you to do so, do the same command in the other command-prompt window. If you do this with two Windows 7 command prompts, all tests pass. If you use an XP command-prompt window in XP Mode, with the shared folder on a Windows 7 drive (mapped to a drive letter via "net use") then test 6 (file commit) consistently fails, and tests 5&6-B and 7-B (shared modify access, file commit, and region locking, 2-session) fail intermittently. Dave Burton http://www.burtonsys.com/email/

JakeSherman
JakeSherman

XP Mode doesn't work on consumer Windows 7 editions. It needs a CPU with hardware VT support. It's not consumer-friendly - mostly for techies. Worst of all, you still have to reinstall all your apps, configure everything, etc.. What I use is Zinstall XP7. It does everything XP Mode does, runs on any Windows, any CPU and it automatically moves all your XP apps into the VM - no reinstalls! Check it out at http://www.zinstall.com

Zpunky
Zpunky

Windows Vista was a BGF (Big Giant Flail) because MS completely ignored it's users previous expenditures on software and applications (i.e., lack of SW and HW compatibility). Now, MS acts as if they're doing US (its users) a great big favor by providing limited functionality with XP mode. Another FAIL for the company. I've been using the W7 RC for about 4 months and really like it, but it really does fail when with many, many software and hardware compatibilities. The true upgrade expense is calculated by adding all the SW and HW expenditures one MUST incur just to maintain the same level of system functionality post-upgrade. The ONLY reason our office isn't on Macs is that AutoCAD doesn't run natively on a Mac. Once it does, and I hope it will now that Macs are UNIX/LINUX-based, hast la bye-bye Wintel.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

Interesting. It seems like a pretty smart idea from a development standpoint. It would reduce the development time/money. Instead of spending all sorts of time on support for legacy apps you get this. It seems similar to what VMware did/is doing with what I believe is called "Unity mode".

hideaway
hideaway

After Installing Virtual PC RC and XP mode RC I do not get a password. Installation instructions say "Record the password that is provided during the Setup because it is required to log on to your virtual machine". The Password is never displayed. JM

sevenex
sevenex

I love everything I've read with one exception. The backward compatibility mentioned in point 10 doesn't go back far enough. A few of my clients still use things specific to Win2k and the compatibility should extend at least that far back. Bonus points if 98 SE compatibility is included!

sykandtyed
sykandtyed

Besides, if you have anything less than Business your out of luck. And, does VM XP cross reference access to files and data with Win7 or do you have to cut and paste? In Vista, when I goto Properties>Compatibility>mode, I have a choice to Run In from Win95 thru Win server 2003 and even ME. I don't know if the programs run without problems, but I have to assume it can find the correct drivers and DLL files with out going online. I'm assuming you have a bunch of old software and hardware from your XP days.

dwdino
dwdino

I have XP Mode deployed on my Windows 7 installation so that antique admin tools can still be used. Or so I thought. This week we deployed our first vSphere 4 cluster. I downloaded the vCenter client and installed it on Windows 7. Nothing but errors from the application. The forums confirmed, not compatible with Windows 7. I proceeded to uninstall the vSphere client and reinstall the VI 3 client. Works fine. I fired up my XP Mode machine and installed vSphere client. I now run both side by side seamlessly. But, for our user base, 90% of applications are virutalized and streamed to the desktop. Couldn't care less what OS is running as long as it has a Citrix client.

gunars.lodzins
gunars.lodzins

It is one more PC that we(admins) wlii have to manage. It is virtual, and transparent when you do not do anything special with it. But when you will start to run legacy applications that will need network support, you will need firewall and antivirus and patching and management...

apirone
apirone

Will the XP Mode be available on all versions of Win 7, or only on the expensive versions? Will there be a performance penalty having one operating system on top of another?

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

which in fact puts confustion in the consumers mind. I'm still waiting for the final chapter of version 6.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And it also requires a Second CAL for every system run in this mode to connect to the Server. So M$ isn't actually helping business they are helping themselves to even more money from the business that they are claiming to support. Col

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

If MS was really pushing to move to Win 7 and rid of XP for XP mode, why not offer an upgrade from XP?

CG IT
CG IT

Go out an buy Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition install it and see if it will run. I installed in on Windows 7 build 7100 and Windows tells me it's not compatible. Even with the XP SP2 compatibility mode. Still isn't compatible eg will not run and the compatibility window pops up. I like Windows 7 but backward compatibility is an iffy issue.

ChazzMatt
ChazzMatt

What abut the Windows 3.1 apps they can't do without and even those IBM punch card programs? :)

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

Recently purchased two Vostro 220 boxes with Intel's E8400 CPUs. They run XP Mode beautifully. So, take note, in the near future if there is any chance you may want or need virtualization capability, verify on Intel's site that the CPU you are getting includes VT. Not a problem with AMD, because almost all recent AMD CPUs include VT. As an aside, don't really need XP Mode with the Vostro. The Vostro came with XP installed (on a downgrade license) and with re-install disks for both XP and Vista Business. Dell's Vostro may be the most cost-effective and under-appreciated business PC available right now.

Jackiesolution
Jackiesolution

That's what I'm confused too, just wait to see if changes occur.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]Will the XP Mode be available on all versions of Win 7[/i] No it will not be available on every version of 7. [i]or only on the expensive versions?[/i] That is correct it is not designed for the Base product that will be sold only for the more embellished versions of 7 which will be more expensive than the Base version. [i]Will there be a performance penalty having one operating system on top of another?[/i] Yes there will be a performance hit as the XP Mode is a Virtual Computer running on 7 so it doesn't have all of the resources available to it that the Base OS has. Col

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

is free, along with the limited version of XP SP3 for it. However, there are things that still will not work with it, or that should not be installed with it.

ianlep
ianlep

1) Why bother buying 7. It seems clear that M$ are developing 8 and so why even bother buying 7 (unless 8 is the typical 'ready in just a few "decades" brigade'). 2) It concerns me that I'm seeing a LOT of confusion over which versions to use with mention of Betas, RTMs etc. It reminds me that M$ consistently release a product without EXTENSIVE platform & Application testing. It's time the so-called EULA clause that states that they cannot be held responsible for loss of data, finance etc should be tested in Court. oh and 3) I SOOOOOOOO hate the M$ 7 adverts which has people 'claiming' they innovated the product by suggesting things like a Switch mechanism to switch between Apps (derrrrr Alt-Tab key) or nice bar to show Active Apps (derrrrrrr Task Bar) ..... give us a Break Microsoft. Do you really think people are soooooooo dumb!!!! So can anyone tell me EXACTLY WHAT IS DIFFERENT AND BETTER???????????????? Because I'd like to see some stats on improved performance, stability, Security etc..... and 'real' stats please. Not words like it will run faster.

ChazzMatt
ChazzMatt

but from your description it sounds suspiciously like you are talking about compatibility mode, not virtual mode. Also you installed it on windows 7100. Try it on the RTM not a beta?

SKDTech
SKDTech

There is a difference. XP Mode involves a Virtual machine that is integrated into the system, compatibility mode is changing the way some things look to the program.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But NT should have been supported. There are still a lot of those boxes floating around. ;) Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But when it is used on a Domain you require a second CAL for the system that is using it at that time. While not a major issue for one computer when you are looking at several that increases the costs involved in using XP Mode considerably. So if a Business has something that is Mission Critical and chose to switch to 7 and use the XP Mode they will double the costs of CAL's needed to run that Mission Critical App. As the XP is a [b]Virtual[/b] machine the Server see it as 2 connected computers not 1. Then there is the issue of what doesn't actually work under XP Mode. ;) Col

CG IT
CG IT

were both installed on the Windows 7 box. Tried to install a known XP or lower game [a game I know will not work with Vista or higher] and ran into the a message that says program not compatible. That was on build 7100. It's possible there's something with build 7100 and Virtual PC 2007 and XP Mode but ...redownloading and RC to see.

CG IT
CG IT

Doesn't run some older games that work on XP

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

About M$ Coding Practices not their end products. The solution of course to everything that you listed above could be solved if M$ actually followed standard Coding Practices and didn't invent their own which at best are second rate and at worse just are unacceptable. ;) Col

scottf
scottf

I've tried it out and it works reasonably well. It's essentially a full version of XP in a virtual machine. It only ships with "Professional" or higher versions of Windows 7, aimed at business and non-home users. Games may be trickier to virtualize the display for with directX. I agree that it could be annoying to support two operating systems per PC in an enterprise environment, but it gives them an upgrade path for the short term and an incentive to modernize their legacy apps. I'm not sure that making every version of Windows completely compatible with every earlier version by traditional means is such a good idea. I could really do without the bloat and all the extra bugs and problems brought along with all the old baggage. Virtualizing the old OS lets them create a less bloated core OS without having to integrated it all in to the new operating system. They're not doing this because they love XP and want to support it forever, but because there is a considerable part of the PC market that will not upgrade their operating systems until they have the XP-compatible security blanket to hold on to. I'd say it's actually the opposite. They want XP go away, but the only way to kill it is to get people to upgrade. In order to convince a segment of the market to upgrade they need to give them the XP security blanket. Once they've upgraded, people will slowly get rid of their old XP-only apps over time. Once the old apps are gone they'll be able to get rid of XP. They want to avoid the vista downgrade shenanigans they've been forced to do over the past few years when people refused to upgrade because they were afraid something wouldn't work in Vista.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Is that M$ will use it to sell 7 and that when companies try to use it they will either move back to XP or replace all of their Software to work on 7. Yep I do agree that it is at best a Workaround but not to running XP Applications it is a way for the salespeople to Placate Customers who want XP. But then again may be after seeing too many M$ Product Launches and listening to their Sales People telling on ways to sell this new beaut product I'm both cynical and jaded. :D Col

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

"I think XP Mode is going to prove to be more dream than promised reality." You may be right about that. It seems highly likely that the enduring story will be the improvements to Virtual PC. Maybe Virtual PC will become an integral part of Windows 8. It would be nice to be able to choose one's favorite desktop interface for Windows, just as one can with Linux.

john3347
john3347

XP Mode, as has been pointed out here in these replies, is not a reliable solution for all legacy application utilization issues for windows 7 adopters. It is merely a workaround for SOME situations, and usually a clumsy workaround at that. Many, even new/current, and particularly Intel processors are not compatible with XP Mode and other questions arise as to how suitable this workaround is in many corporate hardware and software environments. I think XP Mode is going to prove to be more dream than promised reality. That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it. Come back and read this post two years from now and see what I am warning you about.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Join the club I find it interesting the way that you ring M$ for a answer and different people give you different answers to the same question. I've even had the same person give me different answers to the same question on the same day but that may have just been a change to the screen between when I first rang and when I rang back. :D Now whenever I need a M$ Ruling on a Licensing Issue I speak to the head of the Legal Department after all if she is happy there will be no problems. ;) As for what M$ is doing with 7 I hope you are not relying on a M$ Sales Representative to heavily. One told a Government Department that I had to clean up the mess with that XP Pro didn't require Servers so they installed 2,500 Systems without a Server and after 6 months their IT Department Refused to work on their LAN. Well they wanted to set it up like it should be not as the Sales Person from M$ told them that it would work. ;) M$ send out Sales People as Company Representatives and I try to avoid them myself as they very rarely know what they are doing short of selling things to get a Commission for themselves. I had one last week telling me just how much money I could make selling new Server Apps. It wasn't important that a Medical Program for a reasonable sized place didn't work with 2008 if I sold them one I could get some money and that was all that was important to them. For some reason I don't think that the patients of that place would have lived till the Software was rewritten for 2008 but then again I'm not having M$ give me any money either as I see some things more important than just the Profit that I can screw out of my customers. Sales People don't see this as a problem as it's Technical not Sales related so it's not their problem. The real issue with that was I had ordered several Copes of 2003 R2 and the required CAL's they wanted me to supply 2008 not 2003. They claimed that the practice would just have to upgrade their Main Application to get it to work with the new system and it wasn't my problem. Unlike Sales People I find solutions for my clients which suit them best not me. Of course the fact that the new app doesn't exist yet isn't a Sales issue it's Technical. :^0 OH did I mention that I'm a M$ Partner and sell this stuff? I asked the Head of M$ Technical Support earlier today about requiring a different CAL when running in XP Mode on 7 with no topology involved and he still says that you 'll need an additional CAL for the second or Virtual Connection. It is after all a Different System or a Virtual System. If this is a [b]Deal Breaker[/b] I would suggest that you get the M$ Representative to prove to you that what they are claiming is correct in your environment. 7 is not RTM so any M$ Rep should at the very least have access it a working copy on a Company Supplied NB so get them to add that in conjunction with your IT Staff and see what actually happens. If you like that Government Department find out that you where lead up the Garden Path after the new hardware is installed your only option is to spend lots more money to make it work. This will cost you considerably more than the Hardware in lost production and so on. From past experience with both IBM Main Frames and M$ I can tell you now what the Sales Person says is very rarely correct but after they have made the sale and laughed at the stupidity of their customer believing them at the local pub they don't care are are not involved. They'll dump the problem onto a Tech to fix and they will be the one to break the [b]Bad New[/b] to you. So it's better to be safe than sorry make them prove what they say ideally with more than 1 system. ;) Col

david.valdez
david.valdez

We're in the midst of negotiating a new EA agreement and that was a cornerstone question as it relates to Pro Desktop licensing. I was assured by Microsoft DURING this negotiation that we do NOT need to double our licenses. Perhaps the confusion is related to how you are setting up your servers? We ensure we can document adequate CALs, so we do not use per seat installs...I could see how a per seat install could crush a server, but I've never understood this licensing method anyway...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Because when M$ ran the Introduction for 7 for Partners in AU their Rep said that running in Virtual Mode on a Domain would require a Second CAL. That was on the 28 July 2009. I find it hard to believe that M$ has rewritten their Server Apps in the meantime to get around this issue. OH BTW I'm in AU and am a Certified M$ Partner. When M$ ran a Web thing for Selling 7 last Monday the same answer was given when the same question was asked by a different person. Was the rep you spoke to a Sales Person or a technical Backroom type? I do tend to believe the backroom guys more than those concerned with selling mainly because I have had to clean up after salespeople all my working life and I simply do not trust them as far as I can kick the building at Redmond. But no matter what seems that Confusion still reigns supreme with what M$ is telling people prior tot he release of a New Windows Product. Good to see that nothing has changed at Redmond. Oh when did the update come through for Server 2003 to change the way that it works with CAL's. I haven't seen one in the past 3 weeks and that was prior to the meeting that I attended. :D Col

david.valdez
david.valdez

So, this post scared me and I've verified with my Microsoft rep that you're mistaken. We have a Microsoft EA and will be stepping up to E-CALs, but my rep assured me that using XP Mode does not require a second CAL regardless. Perhaps what you are intending to suggest is that those people using per seat licensing could run out of seats?

gcobanni
gcobanni

does this os work with old intel processors?

ChazzMatt
ChazzMatt

Windows 7 RTM is best of all. :) also, XP mode is now RC. Make sure you are using that and not the XP Mode beta. IF it still doesn't work with Windows 7 RTM, then wait for the XP Mode RTM.

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