Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 (Part 2)

by [Published on 11 Aug. 2009 / Last Updated on 11 Aug. 2009]

Continuing the discussion on Windows 7’s Windows XP Mode by taking a look at some of the most significant improvements to virtual machine’s technology.

If you would like to be notified when Brien Posey releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the WindowsNetworking.com Real time article update newsletter.

If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 (Part 1).

Introduction

In the first part of this article series, I explained why I believe that the Windows XP feature that will be available for some editions of Windows 7 is going to change the future of the entire Windows franchise. In this article, I want to take a step back and show you what Windows XP Mode really looks like. I am also excited to show you some long overdue improvements in virtual machine technology.

Windows XP Mode

In my first article, I explained that in its simplest form, Windows XP Mode was nothing more than a fully licensed copy of Windows XP running within the latest version of Microsoft’s Virtual PC. I never really showed you what it was like to use Windows XP Mode though, so I wanted to give you a little tour. If you look at Figure A, you can see the Windows XP virtual machine running on top of the Windows 7 desktop. In case you are wondering, what you see in the figure is a default configuration.  I placed two icons onto the Windows 7 desktop for my screen capture program, but everything else that you see is what Windows XP Mode will look like after a fresh installation.


Figure A: This is what the Windows XP virtual machine looks like

Application Compatibility

As I explained in the first part of this article series, the most significant aspect of Windows XP mode is that it allows you to run applications that were designed for Windows XP, either through the Windows XP GUI, or through the Windows 7 GUI. To show you how this works, take a look at Figure B. As you can see in the figure, I have installed a legacy application called PentaZip into the Windows XP virtual machine. An icon for this application appears on the Windows XP desktop.


Figure B: I have installed an older application into the Windows XP virtual machine

So far this is no different than what we can already do by using Windows Vista and Virtual PC 2007. If you look at Figure C though, you will notice that PentaZip is available on the Windows 7 Start menu at Start | Windows Virtual PC | Virtual Windows XP Applications. The operating system created the Start menu link to the application all by itself. I did not have to do anything other than to install the application within the Windows XP virtual machine.


Figure C: My Windows XP applications are accessible through the Windows 7 Start menu

One thing that you need to know about running the Windows XP applications through the Windows 7 GUI is that you can only do so if you have logged out of the Windows XP GUI, and closed the virtual machine. If you fail to log off, you will receive a message similar to the one that’s shown in Figure D. As you can see in the figure, you have a choice of either opening the virtual machine or running the virtualized application.


Figure D: The Windows XP virtual machine must be closed before you can run virtualized applications through the Windows 7 GUI

If you look at Figure E, you can see that I have closed my Windows XP virtual machine, and that I am running my virtualized application through Windows 7. Virtualized applications take a bit longer to load than applications that are installed natively through Windows 7 do, but aside from that, there is not much of a difference between running a native application and running a virtual application. In fact, you would be hard pressed to tell that the application shown in Figure E was a virtual application.


Figure E: This is what it looks like when you run a virtual application in Windows 7

Note:
I know that some of you are probably wondering about system resource consumption. By default, the Windows XP virtual machine consumes 256 MB of RAM, but the RAM and other system resources that are used by the virtual machine are adjustable.

Improvements in Virtual PC

As I stated earlier, Windows XP Mode consists of a copy of Windows XP running inside of Microsoft’s latest version of Virtual PC. As with previous versions of Virtual PC, you are not just limited to running Windows XP. That being the case, I think that it makes sense to wrap things up by showing you some of the improvements that Microsoft has made in this latest version of Virtual PC.

If you took more than a casual glance at Figure A, you probably noticed two of the improvements right off the bat. First, the latest version of Virtual PC features a Control Alt Delete icon that you can use to issue a Ctrl + Alt + Delete request to the guest operating system without having to go through any menus. Obviously, this is not an earth shattering change, but it is handy nonetheless, so I wanted to at least mention it.

A much more significant improvement is that Virtual PC now supports USB device access for guest operating systems! I for one, have always found it extremely frustrating that I have not been able to access USB devices from within my virtual machines. This limitation does not just apply to Virtual PC, but it exists in Microsoft’s Virtual Server and Hyper-V as well.

If you look at Figure F, you can see that you can gain access to a USB device simply by selecting the device from Virtual PC’s USB menu. Of course the virtual machine does require a driver for the USB device.


Figure F: Virtual PC now supports USB devices

I should mention that Windows 7 requires that an operating system have exclusive control over a USB device. If you choose to use a USB device within a guest operating system, the host operating system will not have access to the device until you release it. Figure G shows an example of a warning message to this effect.


Figure G: USB devices are used exclusively by a single operating system

One last improvement that I want to show you is shown in Figure H. As you can see in the Figure, the My Computer window lists my USB hard drive within the virtual machine (Drive E:). However, you will also notice several drive mappings in the Other section. These drive mappings map to the host machine’s physical drives and to any network drives that are mapped to the host operating system. Again, Windows performs these mappings automatically. This means that you finally have the ability to access your local hard drives from within a virtual machine!


Figure H: The guest OS automatically maps to the host operating system’s drives

Conclusion

As you can see, Windows XP mode and the new version of Virtual PC offer tremendous potential. I honestly do believe that the technology being used in Windows XP Mode will reshape the future of the entire Windows franchise for many versions to come.

If you would like to be notified when Brien Posey releases the next part of this article series please sign up to the WindowsNetworking.com Real time article update newsletter.

If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 (Part 1).

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