Quietly,without much fanfare Windows XP Mode (XPM) has RTMed.
What can XPM do for you?
Microsoft wants you to move to Windows 7. An obstacle for moving to Windows 7
is an application that is a necessity for a business or home that might not
run under Windows 7 (or Vista). Such legacy applications might not be supported
under the current compatibility settings and to make things worse, the company
that has developed the application is no longer in business or will not develop an application
that is supported by Windows 7. To resolve this problem XPM was developed.
In laymen’s terms XPM allows you to run a Windows XP environment on your Windows 7
system. Technically, you are running a virtualized OS over your Windows 7 host. Virtualization
is nothing new, so what’s so special about XPM?
XPM adds the following features to standard virtualization:
- USB support – Yes,it’s finally here, USB support inside your virtual environment. You
can use your disk on key to save information and more importantly if your legacy application
is dependant on some type of USB security plug you are set.
- One Click launch – With this feature, the usability experience of applications installed inside the virtual
environment becomes seamless. Once the application is installed, you can start it from your
host and it will appear as if it running directly on your host.
Installing XPM is as simple as one,two, three and four…ok,that wasn’t funny, but the installation
is a very straightforward process. You navigate to the download page you follow the four steps
- Verify that you need XPM– Windows 7 provides ample quantity of compatibility options. Before
you install XPM, you should verify whether they solve the issues that you are experiencing they provide
a simpler solution to your problems.
- Verify that your PC supports XPM – To run XPM, your processor has to support hardware assisted
virtualization. To verify that this is the case, you should click the link provided at the second step of
the process (or click here) and run the application.The Microsoft® Hardware-Assisted Virtualization
Detection Tool will verify whether your processor supports virtualization by providing the following output:
If you receive a different output from the application, please review the HAV Detection Tool – User Guide that
provide an interpretation of the outputs and provides information on how to rectify the situation (if possible).
- Choose your OS and language – Please note that only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate are
- Start downloading:
- Download XP Mode – The first download (and installation package) weighs ~500 MB and contains a VHD of
a preinstalled Windows XP (SP3) system.
- Download Virtual PC – Yes, you are downloading Virtual PC.
- Start the installation – Yes, it’s actually a five step process…I lied:
When you start XPM for the first time you have to configure it:
- Read and accept the license agreement.
- The second screen is confusing in my opinion:
- Installation folder – XPM uses two virtual hard drives. The first hard drive is the parent VHD which you
downloaded in step 4 of the previous section. This VHD contains the basic installation of Windows XP (SP3),
and is never changed.The second virtual hard drive is called a differencing virtual disk. The differencing disk
contains all the changes that are done to the system (e.g. saved data, newly installed applications,etc.).
The differencing disk is always dependent on it’s parent. When you set the path in the installation folder
you actually set the location of the differencing disk.
- XPMUser – This is the account that will be used to log-on to the virtual Windows XP machine. If you would
like to refrain from entering these credential every time you start an application running on XPM make sure
to check the ‘Remember credentials (Recommended)’ checkbox.
- Updates – As with any OS, you should make sure that XPM is fully updated, unless one of the updates
breaks the application you are trying to use.
- Shared folders – When installing XPM you provide it access to the host systems folders. This might pose a security
threat on your system, and you should make sure that applications installed inside XPM are trusted. On the other hand,
in most cases you meant to install these application on your host anyway so the threat isn’t that big. If for some reason
you are still worried you will be able to remove the sharing later on.
- During the installation a short tutorial is displayed (note the progress bar at the bottom of the page).
- Upon completion of the installation, Virtual PC opens with Windows XP (SP3) loaded.
At this stage you are set and you can start using XPM. Note that since this is a virtual system, you should treat it
as a standard system. The first thing that struck me odd that this system has no anti-virus software pre-installed.
I am assuming that this is due to legal limitations9although this is an open issue for me), so the first thing I did is
to install Microsoft Security Essentials on my XPM and then updated it.
The second step (and the reason for this whole adventure) is to install the application that I couldn’t run on
Windows 7. For this demonstration I have chosen ‘Word 6 for DOS’ as the problematic application. The following
steps are taken to install the application:
- Copy the problematic application into the XPM. As you can see from the screenshot below all the drives
from my host machine ‘Transylvania7’ are mapped into the XPM.
- I start the installation according to the applications basic instructions.
- When the installation routine is complete, you can start the application and use it within the XPM.
Up to this point, I haven’t shown you anything that is new. What we have done here, you could have achieved in
the past. The major change with XPM is that you can run the application you just installed seamlessly from your
Windows 7 desktop.
Log off from the XPM and close it by clicking the red X on the top right of the window. Note that the system is hibernated.
To do this, you need to open the Start menu and enter the name of the application installed within XPM in the
search field. We actually installed two applications:
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- Word 6 for DOS.
The results for Security Essentials are show below:
As you can see , I have this application installed both on my host and inside XPM. The on inside XPM has the suffix
of ‘(Windows XP Mode)’. When I choose the XPM Security Essentials, they system is woken from hibernation
and a seamless window is opened, showing the application:
Note the XP styled window and the Virtual PC icon on the taskbar. And additional thing to note is that since Security
Essentials is a ‘resident’ application, it’s icon from tray inside XPM is also displayed by tray on the host(this became kind
of an issue later on).
When you close the application the virtual environment will be hibernated again, please note that all processes communicating
with the host have to be closed for the system to be hibernated(hence the issue).
The missing Word 6 for DOS
Security Essentials seems to be working fine, yet once we try to run Word 6 for DOS from the host, it seems to be missing.
XPM publishes applications by monitoring the start menu, when it identifies that an application has placed a shortcut on the
start menu it will publish it to the host. Word 6 for DOS didn’t create a shortcut for itself on the start menu hence the
To be able to access the more advanced settings of XPM, you have to first shut it down (note that until now you
have only logged-off and hibernated the system. To shut XPM down use the following steps:
- Start XPM.
- Choose the Ctrl+Alt+Del option from the menu on top
- In the ‘Windows Security’ window choose the ‘Shut Down’ button
- Choose ‘Shutdown’ from the drop down list
Right click ‘Windows XP Mode’ and choose settings. The first setting enables you to change the name
of the VM and add notes to it.
The Memory branch will enable you to change the quantity of RAM used by the VM. Since the XPM uses Windows
XP 32bit you can’t use more then 3.7GB.
The Hard Disk 1 branch will display the locations of the hard drives set during setup (parent and differencing). You
can change their locations from here.
In addition to that, by using the ‘Modify’ button, you can either merge or compact the differencing VHD. Compacting
might be useful since it will shrink the size of the VHD by removing unused space from the file.
The goal of this post was to scratch the surface of XPM by reviewing it’s usability options. I ended up going
a lot deeper then I planned since this is without doubt a complex feature that is based on existing and used
technology but with a twist. after I wrote this post I still have several questions that need to answered such
as how does XPM treat AV software…Once I installed it everything seemed to be fine but I noticed that I could
no longer make XPM go away since it’s real time protection kept the system alive. After removing the AV software
the Security Center kept XPM alive since it was warning me that my computer is at risk…Well, I guess I still have
to work that one out.