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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

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.

10 comments
FarmerDarcy
FarmerDarcy

Brilliant - thank you so much! This article has saved me hours of faffing about

dhunt911
dhunt911

Wow.. nice reading this. I am a bit lost, but then that is not new.   ..   I have a XP SP3 machine that is running a radio program and ambulance mapping software at an ambulance dispatching centre.  Wanted to create the current sys into a virtual machine that I could run on the same computer one it was scrubbed and a new OS was installed with Virtualbox on it.   Will this work for that?  The PC is a dell w/its normal loaded software. Does that allow me to run it in Virtualbox on the same machine?  Is there a way to run it on another machine running virtualbox should the original die.  Sure would help in speeding up the recovery of a possible system crash... thanks   ps... possible to make vm's out of  2000, 98, nt4, 95 machines?  would be nice to be able to vm my deceased parents' machine, as well as keep a few others for archival posterity sake.

jmward
jmward

I guess if you really must keep a particular XP installation, this is the way to go.  But if you just want a basic XP system for occasional use, it's better to use the free Oracle VirtualBox and make a fresh installation of XP from an ISO image, remembering to install VirtualBox Guest Additions as well.  Network integration, and therefore access to the Internet, is automatic and you can easily set up access to the folders in the host machine.   In my experience, VirtualBox performs better than the free version of VMWare Player, especially for graphics, and has more features - being able to take "snapshots" of the installation is particularly useful.


glnz
glnz

Greg - dumb questions from a newbie to virtual: 
If I run the virtual XP Pro clone of my old PC (with data, apps, everything) on Win 7, will the virtual XP Pro clone interact with the "real" world?  Can I move or copy the virtual data folders onto the real Win 7 machine so that Win 7 can use them directly?  Will the virtual XP Pro clone connect to my home network printer-scanner-fax machine, the internet and other PCs on my home network?  Or is the virtual XP Pro clone now cut off from everything and really, really lonely?

glnz
glnz

Greg - You write "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.)"

HOWEVER, I intend to clone my ENTIRE existing Dell Optiplex 755 with Win XP Pro SP3 (with absolutely everything - apps, data, icons, old paperclips) into a vCenter Converter folder on an external hard drive, then install Win 7 on the same Dell Optiplex 755 (wiping everything on the original HD I guess), then install VMWare Player on the same Dell Optiplex 755 (now running Win 7), and then run my old Win XP Pro SP3 everything in a virtual environment on the same original Dell Optiplex 755.  So if I have an OEM license for the original Win XP Pro, won't it work? 

To make it more complicated, I think the Dell Optiplex 755 came with an OEM license for Vista but I insisted that the PC be set up ONLY with XP Pro.  I have never installed - never even seen - Vista.

I am NOT AT ALL knowledgeable about licenses or the stickers on the Dell Optiplex 755, so please explain what they mean and what happens if I try this.  Thanks !!

glnz
glnz

This is exactly the article I'm looking for - to save my existing Win XP Pro SP3 setup as a virtual machine when I move my home equipment to Win 7. 
HOWEVER, it is very awkward to use TechRepublic's new format.  Why isn't this article available as a complete download, including the pictures, ideally via pdf? 
ALSO, in order to get the picture gallery working, I had to give "temporary permission" to every single script running here, on NoScript on my Firefox browser.  Sorry, but that stinks.  TechRepublic should not make it so hard for security-conscious users to access these articles.

boucaria
boucaria

I like the general principle of running XP Pro on my own personal machines (specifically on home machines where many of the applications run beautifully under XP Pro) and I have older Windows operating systems where my discs and/or applications are specific to for example Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000. However, my C drive has a nice size and a good set up, so I would love to be able to place the virtual files on the second drive, if feasible (I'm guessing that my XP Pro virtual would be the largest at up to 500 gig, but Windows 2000, Windows NT 4, and etc. would vary, but my second disc would have to be one gig, more if possible. I have multiple licenses but, as one example, I would love to run my avid editing software (which works fine on Windows 7) but it cannot seriously run anything else when using the avid editing software. I tried VMware desktop in trial mode but I'm not fully cognizant of the limitations and whether or not I need to multiboot. I do know that VMware in its local format, is what I want. Whether I need to base the VMware desktop from Linux is something I'm trying to sort out. Since I want to do tech support on multiple platforms including Mac systems, I definitely have my work cut out for me.

ivoyhip
ivoyhip

Can we use Microsoft's Disk2VHD to convert the XP to a VHD?

Treeant34
Treeant34

Howdy Greg:

Any chance of converting this article into a blog document?

Cheers