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

Virtualization is all the rage in the operating system world. The ability to run an OS inside other operating systems is a boon to IT managers in charge of large server farms. What’s been less clear are the benefits of a virtual OS on your desktop system. Sure, tech geeks like you and me will happily play with Linux running on Vista, Windows 7 on MacOS or even DOS on Windows 7.

Windows XP mode system infoWindows XP mode system info

We have to look back to the lessons learned with Windows Vista to see some of the most practical uses for desktop virtualization. While Vista has been successful as an OS for consumers (begrudgingly, you might say), its acceptance in corporate environments has been more limited.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Vista’s hardware requirements were substantially higher than Windows XP, which in turn would have meant large capital outlays for new PC hardware. Vista suffered from a series of well-known teething problems, including stability issues with graphics and audio drivers. So most of the larger IT shops stuck with Windows XP.

VirtualBox Windows XP system infoVirtualBox Windows XP system info

Meanwhile, on the home front, we saw a steady migration to Vista. In fact, in the past year, most consumer and home PCs seem to be shipping with the 64-bit version of Vista. This created a certain amount of grumbling, as older apps from the XP and, particularly, the Windows 9x era, would break under 64-bit Vista, even if they could run under 32-bit Vista.

With Windows 7, we’re likely to see an even stronger push into 64-bit land, both with business and home PCs. The need for backward compatibility still exists, however. So Microsoft’s solution for small business and sophisticated home users is Windows XP Mode.

We know you don't want to limit your options, though. So, we’ll also be taking a look at a different solution that’s also a free download, VirtualBox, an open source virtual machine package originally developed by Sun Microsystems. However, this isn’t a feature-by-feature comparison. We’re specifically focusing on the needs of Windows 7 users who have to run Windows XP for backward compatibility.

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  • abhinav_mall
    Dont we need a licence for XP ?
  • coonday
    It could just be me, but all this talk of Windows XP virtualization makes me feel old. My how time flies.
  • apache_lives
    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
  • Vorador2
    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.
  • bustapr
    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.
  • bustapr
    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.
  • apache_lives
    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
  • psouza4
    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.
  • denroy33
    Just dual boot.
  • hellwig
    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.
  • 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'
  • evongugg
    Nice to be able to visit a site and not be infected.
  • eyemaster
    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.
  • 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.
  • gto127
    I preordered the 64 bit of win 7. Does this mean I can't play games such as quake4,doom3 or crysis?
  • 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.
  • Aerobernardo
    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
  • evongugg
    evonguggNice to be able to visit a site and not afraid of being infected.
  • chechak
    no hardware-accelerated 3D in Windows XP mode,nooooo ...caome one
  • belardo
    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.
  • hawkwindeb
    hellwigAre 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.


    Good question about where the file is stored.

    Does XP-Mode have snapshots? VirtualBox as the feature to Snapshot the virtual disk and therefore you could so this before every launch (if you want) and if a problem occurs, just revert to the prev snapshot.
  • freeman70
    It is absolutely ridiculous that Win XP mode doesn't have at least rudimentary DirectX 8 or 9 support like virtualbox. I am running Ubuntu 64 bit with VirtualBox and Guest Additions installed and I can play older 3D games in my XP virtual machine. Why would I want to sacrifice usability? Unless a lot of these games run in Win 7, I don't think I will pay MS a pile of money for compatibility I can get for free. They have access to all the code, why didn't they include Direct X 3D support. Just buy Win 7 Home Premium and use virtualbox if you want to stick with Windows. This assumes you already have an XP license which I am sure many people already do. Install any 32 bit or 64 bit linux distro and run virtualbox if you want to save money. If you are unsure about switching, see if the linux distro has a live CD and try it before you commit.
  • sidran32
    I dual/tri boot but sometimes that's not the best solution. Especially in a business environment, which this feature is primarily geared towards (seriously, how many businesses have custom apps that are old as heck and won't get updated anytime soon?). The great thing about this is not only that it's a virtual machine, but that you can run apps in XP windows from within your Win 7 desktop, without having to open the XP desktop itself. It just works. Add to that the only real maintenance you have to do is know how to drag the icons into the right folder in Windows XP so that they show up in the Start menu on Windows 7 (if by some chance they don't do it automatically).

    Dual booting is the failsafe solution, but at work, you don't want to reboot your system all the time, especially if you just want to run one program. At my job I have many many programs open at any one given time and even shutting down is a hassle--it's my work flow. Rebooting just to run something is a non-optimal solution.
  • sidran32
    And when it comes to 3D support, why would anyone expect a virtual machine to support graphics? I mean, it'd be nice, but there's no reason to do so. Most games run just fine in Windows 7. Only a couple do not, and even then, you can still dual boot for that. But a virtual machine (which this is, with some extra OS hooks) never EVER supported a virtual machine setup. It's a software emulation of an OS. To add hardware hooks would be totally defeating the purpose and intent and architecture of a virtual machine. If you want a solution for that, you will have to look elsewhere. Virtual XP Mode is not and never was intended to be your solution for that.