Microsoft

Legacy compatibility is a reality with Virtual Windows XP in Windows 7

Greg Shultz shows you how some of the new features in Windows Virtual PC and Virtual Windows XP make using Windows XP applications in Windows 7 a simple operation.

In my recent blog, "Determine if Your Hardware Can Support Windows XP Mode in Windows 7," I described the procedures that I went through to determine if the hardware on my Windows 7 test system would support Windows XP Mode. (While this new feature is being referred to as Windows XP Mode, the actual installation is called Virtual Windows XP.)

As I mentioned I was successful and have had Virtual Windows XP up and running on my Windows 7 test system for several weeks now. I must reiterate that I am truly amazed by the way this feature works and really believe that this new feature will help alleviate the types of application compatibility issues that prevented Vista from gaining a strong foothold in the enterprise.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll show you how some of the new features in Windows Virtual PC and Virtual Windows XP make using Windows XP applications in Windows 7 a simple operation. (Windows XP Mode will be available only in Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows 7 Enterprise.)

Note: Keep in mind that this is a Release Candidate version and that the look and features of Windows 7 that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time the operating system is actually released.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

Installing Windows Virtual PC and Virtual Windows XP

Since both the Windows Virtual PC and the Virtual Windows XP programs are still in the beta stage, I won't go into any detail on installing them. The installation procedures may be very different by the time Windows 7 is available.

If you want to experiment with them, you can download both the Windows Virtual PC Beta and the Windows XP Mode Beta from the Windows Virtual PC home page.

I will say that the installation procedures for both were pretty straightforward. Installing Windows Virtual PC Beta edition in the Windows 7 Release Candidate is simple: you just run the installation program, and then restart the system. You'll then find Windows Virtual PC on the Start menu.

Once you have Windows Virtual PC Beta installed, you can launch the Virtual Windows XP Setup Wizard and just follow the steps. When you finish, you'll find Virtual Windows XP on the Start menu right inside the Windows Virtual PC folder, as shown in Figure A, and will be able to access a virtual machine with a fully installed version of Windows XP SP3 on the virtual hard disk.

Figure A

Once installed, you'll find both Windows Virtual PC and Virtual Windows XP on the Start menu.

The environment

When you are running Virtual Windows XP, you'll find a small menu bar at the top of the window, as shown in Figure B, that looks and works like the Remote Desktop menu bar. You use the thumb-tack icon to toggle the menu bar display between Auto-Hide and Always Show. The Action drop-down menu contains two commands: Restart and Close. Selecting the Close command will actually put the Virtual Windows XP system into hibernation.

Figure B

The Virtual Windows XP menu bar resembles the Remote Desktop menu bar.

When you have a USB device connected to the Windows 7 host system, the USB drop-down menu will show that device and allow you to directly and exclusively access the device from within Virtual Windows XP. (By default, any USB device that has drivers installed on both the Windows 7 host system and the Virtual Windows XP system is automatically shared between the host and virtual systems using the integration feature. Selecting the device on the USB drop-down menu will disconnect the device from the host.)

Selecting the Ctrl-Alt-Del command virtually initiates the secure attention sequence (SAS) and will bring up the Windows Security dialog box. You can then select from the six standard buttons: Lock Computer, Log Off, Shut Down, Change Password, Task Manager, and Cancel.

On the menu bar the hover text for the minimize button reads Return to Windows 7, and clicking it minimizes the full-screen Virtual Windows XP window to the Windows 7 Taskbar. The hover text for the restore down button reads Exit Full Screen, and clicking it reduces the size of the window as you would expect. The hover text for the close button reads Close, and clicking it puts the Virtual Windows XP system into hibernation.

Installing applications

To install your XP applications, launch Virtual Windows XP, insert the CD, and install the applications just like you normally would in Windows XP. When you do, you'll, of course, find the application on the Virtual Windows XP Start menu, but you'll also find the application on the Windows 7 Start menu. This will allow you to launch your XP application without having to first load Virtual Windows XP.

For example, I installed my vintage copy of Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8 in Virtual Windows XP, and it also showed up on the Windows 7 Start menu, as shown in Figure C. Thus, when I launch Paint Shop Pro, it loads Virtual Windows XP in the background without any UI, and it looks and feels as though I am running Paint Shop Pro directly in Windows 7, as shown in Figure D. Microsoft calls this Seamless Mode.

Figure C

XP applications installed in Virtual Windows XP show up on the Windows 7 Start menu.

Figure D

When you launch an XP application from the Windows 7 Start menu, it runs in Seamless Mode.

You'll also notice that I installed AVG Anti-Virus in Virtual Windows XP. Even though it is a virtual environment, it is still susceptible to the same types of malicious software as a real system, and having anti-virus software on the host system will not protect the virtual system.

Drive and folder access

When you are working within the Virtual Windows XP environment, you aren't stuck there as far as drive and printer access goes. In fact, when you open My Computer, you'll see not only the virtual hard disk but also all the drives available on the Windows 7 host, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

From within My Computer in Virtual Windows XP, you can access all the drives available on the Windows 7 host.

You'll also have access to your Windows 7 main folders, such as My Documents, Pictures, Desktop, Music, and Video, from inside the Virtual Windows XP environment.

Clipboard sharing

With the Clipboard sharing feature, you can cut, copy, and paste data between the Windows 7 host system and the Virtual Windows XP system.

Printer access

With the Printer Redirection feature, you'll be able to install drivers and print directly to the Windows 7 printer from your seamless application or virtual machine.

What's your take?

After reading this, what do you think about the new Virtual Windows XP environment? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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