Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

When You Need 3D: VirtualBox

Win 7's XP Mode And VirtualBox: When You Need Windows XP
By

VirtualBox is another free virtual machine package. Developed by Sun Microsystems, VirtualBox is an open source project, and has all the bells and whistles you might expect. Unlike Windows Virtual PC, VirtualBox supports virtualized access to 3D hardware.

VirtualBox installs as a virtual machine tabula rasa: there’s no preconfigured OS, as there is with Windows XP Mode. If you want to run Windows XP, you’ll need a licensed copy of Windows XP, plus either a Windows XP CD or ISO file.

You can configure the VM to boot from the physical optical drive or an ISO file, allowing for normal Windows setup to proceed. You’ll have to go through the entire Windows Setup exercise with VirtualBox.

The familiar Windows XP setup screen.The familiar Windows XP setup screen.

When you first run Windows XP under VirtualBox, you need to worry about how the mouse and keyboard are captured by the virtual machine, and note the keys that allow you to free the mouse pointer from the constraints of the guest OS. As with Windows XP Mode, you don’t really want the appearance of running Windows XP inside a different OS, creating user interface confusion with users.

VirtualBox supports a feature called seamless mode. The idea is similar to Windows XP Mode’s integration with the host OS, but it’s executed a little differently. With seamless mode, the two operating systems, host and guest, coexist peacefully. You can even have coexisting taskbars sharing the same desktop.

The guest Windows XP task bar, running on top of the host Windows 7 task bar.The guest Windows XP task bar, running on top of the host Windows 7 task bar.

While VirtualBox works well enough with Windows 7, it’s not quite as seamless as the name implies. Occasionally, the two operating systems will get confused, as you can see here, where both the XP and Win7 desktops are kind of intermingled.

Wait, which desktop is my primary one?Wait, which desktop is my primary one?

When it works, you can simply run Windows XP apps from the XP taskbar. The window for the app runs, and it appears as if it’s running natively. You still know you’re running in a VM, but it’s more transparent than just running a Windows XP virtual machine in a window, with the application constrained to that window.

The problem with this approach is that the user is still aware, to some extent, that they’re running XP in a different kind of way. The presence of the second task bar and the occasional visual glitches, if nothing else, make users aware that they’re not running a plain vanilla application on the host OS.

Because of these issues, VirtualBox is a great solution for power users, but probably not a good fit for non-technical PC users in a standard office environment.

VirtualBox supports virtualized access to the GPU with both OpenGL and Direct3D, but the D3D access is still a work in progress (it’s even labeled beta, and you have to explicitly enable it in the VirtualBox configuration screen).

It works, mostly. We ran some older D3D games with full sound, game controls, and 3D acceleration. However, the screen would occasionally become corrupted. Best results were obtained running the app with the VM running in its own window. Running a D3D app in seamless mode was less successful. So unless you really need access to 3D acceleration, you might want to avoid this particular feature.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 68 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • -4 Hide
    abhinav_mall , October 2, 2009 7:23 AM
    Dont we need a licence for XP ?
  • 3 Hide
    coonday , October 2, 2009 7:30 AM
    It could just be me, but all this talk of Windows XP virtualization makes me feel old. My how time flies.
  • 4 Hide
    apache_lives , October 2, 2009 7:42 AM
    Hmmmmmmmmm dual boot or seperate machines will always be better then "virtual" anything - i buy new machines every 2 years and i still have the old ones - i keep the same OS on it and anything that doesnt work on my new one (usually with new os etc) i leave on the old machines, same deal with Windows 98, dos etc - SEPERATE MACHINES
  • 7 Hide
    Vorador2 , October 2, 2009 8:31 AM
    abhinav_mallDont we need a licence for XP ?


    It seems that 7 Business and Ultimate already include the necessary license for XP.

    And btw, dual boot is better.....but newer hardware don't always have drivers for older OS, and when you need to work multiple applications in parallel and share data between them you don't have the time or the leisure to shutdown and reboot in different modes or change between computers. And virtualization has come a long way so the performance penalties for running virtualized OS are minimum.
  • -4 Hide
    bustapr , October 2, 2009 12:57 PM
    So I can't play some of the best xp only games with this ?
    No thanks. I like my xp game collection, which get more graphicky 3d than 2d age of wonders.
  • -1 Hide
    bustapr , October 2, 2009 1:04 PM
    And it looks like xp mode is a mess to set up and maintain. I'll admit xp mode is a nice addition, but not including in W7home premium doesn't sound too good for the people that are getting their upgrade coupon from vista HP to W7 HP. And to constantly update and maintain xp mode and W7 separately would be a bit tiring.
  • -1 Hide
    apache_lives , October 2, 2009 1:24 PM
    bustaprAnd it looks like xp mode is a mess to set up and maintain. I'll admit xp mode is a nice addition, but not including in W7home premium doesn't sound too good for the people that are getting their upgrade coupon from vista HP to W7 HP. And to constantly update and maintain xp mode and W7 separately would be a bit tiring.


    Paying a premium for extra features is normal - nothing new there
  • 1 Hide
    psouza4 , October 2, 2009 1:25 PM
    What games don't run on 7 that only run on XP, bustapr? I'm sure there are a few, but the vast majority run just fine. I imagine the ones that don't *are* really old and would run virtualized just fine. And that's the point.
  • -3 Hide
    denroy33 , October 2, 2009 1:39 PM
    Just dual boot.
  • 3 Hide
    hellwig , October 2, 2009 2:06 PM
    Quote:
    Because of these issues, VirtualBox is a great solution for power users, but probably not a good fit for non-technical PC users in a standard office environment.

    Why is it ok for employees to be idiots? If you have to shield the fact that they are running a Win XP app, maybe they shouldn't be allowed access to the computer system.

    Quote:
    One main reason is security. For example, a shared family PC means that the kids are using Web browsers and surfing the wilds of the Internet. Even if you’re running robust anti-virus software and firewalls, it’s all too easy to accidentally download a Trojan or other nasty malware. The solution: encapsulate all the
    browsers using Windows XP Mode. The user experience will be pretty transparent, and the virtual machine adds another layer of protection.


    Are you sure about this? With the Windows integration, files downloaded in XP mode are stored in the Win7 system, right? This means if you download a trojan, it gets stored on your main OS with everything else, right? I don't think that's more secure. Regular virtual machiens are secure because they are entirely encapsulated, if you download a virus, you wipe the virtual image and its gone. With XP mode, you download a virus, it infects your primary OS, not the XP-Mode OS, unless I misread something.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2009 2:14 PM
    The article says: "While Vista has been successful as an OS for consumers (begrudgingly, you might say)..." well the fact is that the consumer had no choice but to use M$ Vista, they only find Computers with this OS installed. Only a very small percent of PC-expert users could find a way to get a new computer with MS Windows XP on it, at an extra cost. So, i think that everyone can say 'begrudgingly'
  • -5 Hide
    evongugg , October 2, 2009 2:22 PM
    Nice to be able to visit a site and not be infected.
  • 1 Hide
    eyemaster , October 2, 2009 2:59 PM
    apache_livesHmmmmmmmmm dual boot or seperate machines will always be better then "virtual" anything - i buy new machines every 2 years and i still have the old ones - i keep the same OS on it and anything that doesnt work on my new one (usually with new os etc) i leave on the old machines, same deal with Windows 98, dos etc - SEPERATE MACHINES


    Yes, great for you, but for large businesses, it's useless to keep old hardware. Once out of warranty, it's out of the building and in with the new. Virtualization has been in demand for a long time, and now it's finally ready for prime time.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2009 3:16 PM
    You think it's advised to run Windows 7, 64 bit on netbooks?

    I'd say MS was to do good if they released a 32 bit Win7 for netbooks tablets, and other small devices, and started focusing on 64 bit Windows 7 for desktops...
    Although I wonder if we really need 64 bit windows 7.
    At this point, one of the only major downfalls and limitations of 32bit is the amount of RAM for business use that make use of advanced and complicated programs using a lot of ram.
    Downfalls of the 64bit environment is that it works slower on the same hardware, or needs hardware with higher specs to do the same job.

    In most cases, a regular home user can do just fine with 3GB of RAM, as they would with 12GB, only now with less heat generation and powerdraw.

    But even for those wanting to set up a server, or running heavy applications, 40 bit windows would give us more RAM than we'll most likely need in the coming 5 years!
    Basically having a 32bit system with the remaining 8 bit to allocate more ram,and implement safety feats like DEP or something, would be more than sufficient.

    Netbooks,MIDs, and other small devices often use processors with lower than 1Ghz processing power (except the Atom line) and often equal to, or lower than 1GB of ram.
    These devices would benefit running on 16 bit, or 32 over 64 bit.

    You ask me,and I'd say there's little of interest to find in 64 bit computing over 40 bit computing.
    And for the majority (that's like 95%) of the computer users, they won't need anything bigger than 32 bit.
  • -2 Hide
    gto127 , October 2, 2009 3:26 PM
    I preordered the 64 bit of win 7. Does this mean I can't play games such as quake4,doom3 or crysis?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2009 3:27 PM
    Concerning the RAM and passwords in XP, I think it might be better to install a regular Win XP OEM version within virtualPC on windows 7.

    That way you don't need to pay for the premium or professional version, and still enjoy the same benefits.
  • 0 Hide
    Aerobernardo , October 2, 2009 3:33 PM
    No old games for Xp? First they come up with DRM, now this? The IT industry must be aware that we have piracy on our side.

    You better behave Microsoft! I want to play my older games, whether you let me or I have to get an ilegal copy for it
  • -2 Hide
    evongugg , October 2, 2009 5:58 PM
    evonguggNice to be able to visit a site and not afraid of being infected.

  • -2 Hide
    chechak , October 2, 2009 7:05 PM
    no hardware-accelerated 3D in Windows XP mode,nooooo ...caome one
  • -1 Hide
    belardo , October 2, 2009 7:51 PM
    64bit is what breaks XP software... right?

    Considering that Windows7 DOESN'T have the memory demands of Vista, then the business sector can just install 32bit Win7 on 2GB computers and it'll run fine. Virtualization may require more memory, so perhaps 4GB and still run a 32bit OS.... but its not needed if older software works fine in 32bit mode.

    I've never seen a "fast" vista box... even the most BASIC $300~400 PCs have 3GB of RAM installed, some with Vista Basic. I've compared side-by-side, a faster (hardware) notebook with 3GB / VistaBasic next to my older ThinkPad with Windows7 Ultimate (RC) with 1GB. My Thinkpad boots faster, shuts down faster (and actually shuts down), open programs faster, copies files much faster... does everything better. Uses far less system resources (process) and memory

    Good to have XP-Mode included, but I don't think it'll be as important as it is for Vista.
Display more comments