Run your Windows XP system in Windows 8 with VMware

Use VMware tools to convert your existing Windows XP system into a virtual machine and then run it in Windows 8.

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.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

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.

Begin with a backup

Even though converting your Windows XP system with vCenter Converter is a completely safe operation, you'll want to make sure that you have a full backup or a disk image of your Windows XP system before you start. That way if something does go wrong, you can restore your Windows XP system and get right back to work.

You can use Windows XP's Backup Utility or a third-party disk imaging tool. To create a disk image of my Windows XP test system, I used Macrium Reflect Free Edition, which you can download from the CNET site.

Just to be on the safe side, you may also want to back up all your data on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup of your data will give you peace of mind.

Getting and installing the VMware tools

Once you have backed up your Windows XP system, you can go to VMware's Products page and download the latest version (5.1) of the vCenter Converter Standalone. You can then download the latest version (4.0) of the VMware Player on your Windows 8 system. Both the converter and the Player are free to use in a non commercial environment.

As I mentioned, for my example I'll be using two computers: One, running Windows XP and one running Windows 8. Installation of both products was a breeze. You can install vCenter Converter on Windows XP using the installation wizard shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Fig A 8-2.png

Installing vCenter Converter is a simple process using the installation wizard.

Once the installation is complete, you can immediately launch vCenter Converter. While the conversion is under way, you can go to the Windows 8 system and install the VMware Player using its installation wizard, shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Fig B 8-2.png

While your Windows XP system is being converted, you can install the VMware Player.

Keep in mind that you cannot install VMware Player on a Windows 8 system that is running Client Hyper-V. If you happen to have Client Hyper-V installed on your Windows 8 system, you'll need to disable it by opening an Administrator Command Prompt and using the command:

bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype off

You'll then need to reboot. You can then install VMware Player.

If you want to use Client Hyper-V in the future, you'll use the following command to re-enable it:

bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype auto

You'll then need to reboot.

Converting your Windows XP system

Converting your Windows XP system into a virtual machine is essentially a four-step operation. When you launch the vCenter Converter, you'll see the Welcome screen and can begin the conversion procedure by clicking the Convert Machine button on the toolbar or by clicking the icon on the screen, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Fig C 8-2.png

You begin the conversion procedure from the Welcome screen.

Once the Conversion wizard launches, you'll be prompted to specify the source for the virtual machine. From the Select source type drop-down menu, choose Powered-on machine. Then, select the This local machine radio button, as shown in Figure D. To continue, click the Next button.

Figure D

Fig D 8-2.png

The first order of business is identifying the source machine.

On the next screen, you'll specify the destination for the virtual machine files, as shown in Figure E. From the Select destination type drop-down menu, choose VMware Workstation or other VMware virtual machine. From the Select VMware product drop-down menu, choose VMware Player 4.0.x. Then, in the Name text box, provide a name for your virtual machine. Finally, click the Browse button adjacent to the Select a location for the virtual machine text box and specify a folder or drive, such as an external device or a network, on which to save the virtual machine files.

Figure E

Fig E 8-2.png

You then specify the destination for the virtual machine files.

When you get to the options screen, you'll see a list of settings that the Conversion wizard will use to create your Windows XP virtual machine. If you see yellow exclamation icons next to any of the settings, you'll want to investigate. Otherwise, you can leave the majority of the settings in the default configuration. As you can see in Figure F, my example system is showing that the Memory, Advanced options, and Customize the Guest OS settings may need adjustments.

Figure F

Fig F 8-2.png

Yellow exclamation icons identify settings that may need adjustments.

When I click Edit in the Devices section, the Conversion wizard indicates that the memory allocated for the virtual machine is less than what is in the actual physical machine, as shown in Figure G. That's because the Conversion wizard assumes that the virtual machine will be running on the physical machine and purposely reduces the amount of memory so that both host and virtual machine can run on this particular system. In this case, my physical Windows XP system has 2GB of memory, so the Conversion wizard drops the amount of memory allocated to the virtual machine down to 1840MB. However, since I'll be running this virtual machine on my Windows 8 system, which has 8GB of memory, I'll adjust the memory back up to 2GB.

Figure G

Fig G 8-2.png

The conversion wizard will adjust the amount of memory to accommodate.

You'll have to adjust your memory setting according to your system. However, keep in mind that you can also adjust memory allocation in the VMware Player.

Now, even though there isn't a yellow exclamation icon next to the Networks section, you'll want to make an adjustment there as well. As you can see in Figure H, you'll want to change the Connection Type setting from Bridged to NAT in order to configure the virtual machine to share the host system's IP address.

Figure H

Fig H 8-2.png

You'll want to configure the Networks section to use NAT connection type.

When you select Advanced options, you'll see a warning message at the top of the screen, as shown in Figure I, which indicates Conversion wizard is unable to locate the Sysprep files. You can ignore that message because those files aren't needed for this type of conversion. However, you should select the Post-conversion tab and then select the Install VMware Tools check box. Installing the VMware Tools will boost performance and add extra features to the virtual machine. For example, graphics performance will be improved, you'll be able to move the mouse between the virtual and host machines without special keystrokes, and copy and paste operations between virtual and host machines will be enabled.

Figure I

Fig I 8-2.png

Make sure that you select the Install VMware Tools check box.

When you get to the Summary screen, shown in Figure J, you can look over all the settings that the conversion wizard will use to create your Windows XP virtual machine. To begin the actual conversion, click Finish.

Figure J

Fig J 8-2.png

The Summary screen shows all the settings that will be applied to the virtual machine.

Keep in mind that the conversion operation, shown at 50% in Figure K, can take an hour or more depending on the size of your hard disk. As such, while the conversion operation is under way, you should go to your Windows 8 system and install the VMware Player.

Figure K

Fig K 8-2.png

The actual conversion procedure can take an hour or more. Using the VMware Player

When the conversion operation is complete, you can transfer the virtual machine files to your Windows 8 system. In my example, I connected the external drive to my Windows 8 system and copied the XP-VM folder, which contained two files, to the root directory. In my case, the two files were the virtual machine file Helios-VM.vmdk and virtual disk file Helios-VM.vmx, and they weighed in at about 90.2GB and took a little over an hour to copy to the hard disk.

Once the copy operation is complete, you can launch the VMware Player. When you see the Welcome to VMware Player screen, select the Open a Virtual Machine command, as shown in Figure L.

Figure L

Fig L 8-2.png

Select the Open a Virtual Machine command to get started.

Then, locate and select your virtual machine. As soon as you do so, you'll see your virtual machine in a powered-off state, as shown in Figure M. To get started, just click the Play virtual machine command.

Figure M

Fig M 8-2.png

To get started, click the Play virtual machine command.

The first time you launch VMware Player, you may encounter warning messages about devices or drives that were part of your old physical system that are not part of your new system. For example, Figure N shows a warning message about a parallel port. To prevent VMware Player from displaying the warning every time you launch the virtual machine, just click No.

Figure N

Fig N 8-2.png

VMware Player will display warning messages about devices or drives that were part of your old physical system that are not part of your new system.

You'll then be prompted to download and install VMware Tools (Figure O). As I mentioned, these tools will provide you with all sorts of features that will make running your Windows XP installation as a virtual machine much more convenient. So go ahead click the Download and Install button.

Figure O

Fig O 8-2.png

You should install the VMware Tools.

When you're done, you'll have Windows XP running in VMware Player inside Windows 8, as shown in Figure P.

Figure P

Fig P 8-2.png

Having Windows XP running in VMware Player inside Windows 8 is quite handy. Dealing with existing issues in Windows XP

Dealing with existing issues in Windows XP

To thoroughly test the conversion procedure, I converted several of my Windows XP test systems into virtual machines. While the majority went very smooth, I did encounter a painstaking issue with one of my Windows XP systems and it took me quite a while to find a solution. In a nutshell, the conversion procedure failed at 96% and displayed the following message, as shown in Figure Q.

FAILED: Unable to find the system volume, reconfiguration is not possible.

Figure Q

Fig Q 8-2.png

It took some time to root out the cause of this error.

It turned out that I have previously installed Windows 8 in a dual-boot configuration on this particular Windows XP test system. And even though I had removed the dual-boot configuration, Windows 8 had left its Boot Manager file and folder behind. Because the Boot folder and the Bootmgr file had the Hidden and System attributes enabled, I didn't know that they were there, but the Conversion wizard, expecting to find only Windows XP's Boot Loader (NTLDR) aborted the conversion procedure when it also found Windows 8's Boot Manager.

The solution was twofold: First I had to delete the Boot folder and the Bootmgr file. Second I had to rebuild the Master Boot Record and recreate the Boot.ini file.

To delete the Boot folder and the Bootmgr file, I had to boot into Safe Mode, log in as Administrator, take ownership of the Boot folder and the Bootmgr file, and assign Full Control permissions to the Administrator account. Then, I could simply delete the Boot folder and the Bootmgr file from Windows Explorer.

To rebuild the Master Boot Record and recreate the Boot.ini file, I had to boot from the Windows XP CD and launch the Recovery Console with the Administrator account. Once in the Recovery Console, I used the FixMBR command to rebuild the Master Boot Record. I then used the Bootcfg /rebuild command to recreate the Boot.ini file.

If you encounter this problem and need further assistance, just drop a note in the Discussion area.

What your take?

Will you use this technique to virtualize your Windows XP system? Have you used VMware vCenter Converter or VMware Player before? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

By Greg Shultz

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.