How to use Windows XP Mode in Windows 7

Your hardware or software may not be compatible with Windows 7. Contributor Tony Bradley reveals how to bridge the gap using Windows XP Mode virtualization.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has done a much better job working with vendors to ensure support for hardware and software than it did with the introduction of Windows Vista. Inevitably, there will still be legacy hardware and software that just won't work in Windows 7, though.

To address those situations, Microsoft has taken the additional step of creating Windows 7 XP Mode. Windows 7 XP Mode is a complete Windows XP SP3 system run in a Windows Virtual PC virtualized environment. XP Mode integrates seamlessly with Windows 7 to share drives and other resources, and enables you to continue using older hardware and software.

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There are a few caveats for Windows 7 XP Mode. First of all, XP Mode is only available for Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Enterprise, and Windows 7 Ultimate.

Second, your computer must have support for hardware virtualization, and the hardware virtualization must be enabled in the system BIOS. Microsoft developed the Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool to check that your hardware meets this requirement.

Follow these steps to determine if you need Windows 7 XP Mode, assess whether or not your hardware supports it, and download and install the necessary files to use it:

  1. Go to the Download Windows XP Mode page
  2. Select the version of your Windows 7 operating system and your language. If you select an unsupported version of Windows 7, an alert will display, reminding you that Windows 7 XP Mode only works with the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions of Windows 7.
  3. You must download and install both Windows Virtual PC and the Windows XP Mode file.
  4. After you have installed both files, click the Start button, then select All Programs→Windows Virtual PC→Windows XP Mode.
  5. The initial launch of Windows XP Mode will take you through configuring your virtual Windows XP system.

Once installation and configuration are complete, your Windows 7 XP Mode will be ready to use, but it will also be a clean slate. Again, XP Mode is simply a fresh installation of a Windows XP SP3 environment.

You will need to begin by installing whatever hardware or software you have that is incompatible with Windows 7 and caused you to want to use XP Mode to begin with. One of the nice features of Windows 7 XP Mode is that it seamlessly shares the drives between the virtual Windows XP and the host Windows 7 system, making it easy to install software and drivers located on the Windows 7 drives.

One critical element you need to keep in mind, however, is security. Windows 7 XP Mode is its own virtual computer system. The security controls in Windows 7, and any antivirus, antispyware, or other security software you have installed on the host Windows 7 system will not protect your Windows 7 XP Mode system.

Windows 7 XP Mode can seamlessly connect with the Internet, and, as previously noted, it shares the Windows 7 drives, so it is vital that it be adequately protected. Install antivirus, firewall, and other security software just as you would for any standalone Windows XP system, and make sure you apply any applicable patches and updates as they are released from Microsoft.

XP Mode works beautifully. Although it is sharing processor and memory resources with the host Windows 7 system, it works fast and doesn't seem to bog down the Windows 7 system as much as other Virtual PC installations.

Ideally, whatever hardware or software you have that are incompatible with Windows 7 will eventually be updated or replaced. Until then, XP Mode can bridge the gap and let you continue using your legacy hardware or software when necessary while still experiencing all of the other benefits that come with using Windows 7.

About the author:
Tony Bradley, 'chief' technical evangelist for Zecurion, is a CISSP and 4-time Microsoft MVP. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice, and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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This was first published in January 2010

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