Convert your existing Windows XP system into a virtual machine

Run your Windows XP system in Windows 8 with VMware

In a recent series of articles culminating with Make USB devices accessible to a Windows XP virtual machine, I showed you how to create a Windows XP virtual machine in Windows 8 using the built-in Client Hyper-V tool. I've received quite a few emails about that series and several people have asked about the possibility of converting their existing Windows XP installation into a virtual machine. I've also had several people ask me about the possibility of running Windows XP from a VHD in a dual-boot configuration similar to the one that I showed you in the article Install Windows 8.1 Preview in a dual-boot configuration using a VHD.

Unfortunately, Windows XP was created way before native booting from VHDs was commonplace and as such, the operating system is incapable of booting from from a standalone VHD. However, the technology does exist for taking a physical Windows XP system and converting it into a virtual machine. In fact, there are products from Microsoft and other mainstream vendors that will allow you to perform such an operation with relative ease.

I have recently been investigating converting Windows XP into a virtual machine using VMware's free products vCenter Converter Standalone and VMware Player and have been thoroughly impressed with both the process and the results. Using the vCenter Converter, I converted a live Windows XP system into a set of virtual machine files. I then copied those files over to a Windows 8 system and used VMware Player to run a fully functional Windows XP virtual machine.

In this article, I'll show you how to use these VMware products to convert your existing Windows XP system into a virtual machine and then run it in Windows 8. As I do, I'll walk you step-by-step through the entire operation. Along the way, I'll point out some problems that I encountered and show you how to work through them.

Understanding the licensing

As you may have guessed, when moving an operating system from one computer to another, you need to be concerned with licensing issues. So, before you can begin this procedure, there are a few caveats that you need to be aware of.

When you download the vCenter Converter or the VMware Player, you'll need to fill out a registration form and agree to a EULA, which includes the following sections pertaining to operating systems:

  • 1.3 "Guest Operating Systems" means instances of third-party operating systems licensed by You, installed in a Virtual Machine, and run using the Software.
  • 3.4 Guest Operating Systems. Certain Software allows Guest Operating Systems and application programs to run on a computer system. You acknowledge that You are responsible for obtaining and complying with any licenses necessary to operate any such third-party software.

In other words, it's up to you to determine whether you have proper licensing to simultaneously run more than one copy of Windows XP using a Volume License Key or whether you have the proper licensing to transfer Windows XP from one system to another. Keep in mind that you can only transfer a Retail license that you acquired by purchasing a Windows XP disc, not an OEM license that you acquired by purchasing a computer with Windows XP preinstalled. (An OEM license is specifically tied to that computer.)

You can investigate a PDF version of the Windows XP Professional license agreement (EULA) (PDF) found on Microsoft's Download page, which includes the following sections pertaining use and transfer:

  • Section 1 - Grant of License, You may install, use, access, display and run one copy of the Product on a single computer, such as a workstation, terminal or other device ("Workstation Computer").
  • Section 4 - Transfer, You may move the Product to a different Workstation Computer. After the transfer, you must completely remove the Product from the former Workstation Computer.
In some cases, when you transfer a Windows XP Retail license to another computer, Product Activation prompts you to call Microsoft for validation. In other cases, you can simply activate online.

Credit: Images by Greg Shultz for TechRepublic


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.