Microsoft will add a “Windows XP mode” to Windows 7 via a built-in XP virtual machine

By now you've probably read that Microsoft has confirmed that they'll include a free add-on to Windows 7 Professional and higher that will run Windows XP in a specially-modified copy of Virtual PC for the purposes of application compatibility. Paul Thurrot first revealed the story last week (with screenshots), and it's been a hot topic on Slashdot since then.

By now you’ve probably read that Microsoft has confirmed that they’ll include a free add-on to Windows 7 Professional and higher that will run Windows XP in a specially-modified copy of Virtual PC for the purposes of application compatibility. Paul Thurrot first revealed the story last week (with screenshots), and it’s been a hot topic on Slashdot since then.

This feature will be called “Windows XP Mode” and should be available with build 7100 of Windows 7 that will be released as Release Candidate next Tuesday. Windows XP Mode will be a freely downloadable add-on and will not be included as part of the Windows 7 disk image.

From a technical standpoint, it looks like Microsoft will deliver this as a Windows XP SP3 VHD file that’s pretty much preconfigured. You just provide a password and configure your auto update settings and stuff and you’re all set! Integration between the Windows XP guest and the Windows 7 host will heavily leverage the investments Microsoft built / bought with the Kidaro / MED-V product, including fully seamless shell integration and an “Auto Publish” feature that will make applications installed into the Windows XP VM automatically available in the Start Menu of Windows 7 in a folder called “Windows XP applications.”

Brilliant? Or brilliantly stupid?

Is this cool or crazy? It’s certainly not a new concept or anything. What’s new is that it will be free and probably easier to configure. There’s a fairly interesting conversation happening on twitter about this right now. Casey Robertson points out that running Windows 7 and Windows XP means 2x the patching. He also wonders whether people will add the Windows XP machines to their domains. And Roger Birong points out that this will just give developers another excuse not to start updating their software.

Who’s Windows XP Mode designed for?

At this point, Microsoft is planning for Windows XP Mode to only be available for editions of Windows 7 that are “Professional” and higher. So that suggests that this is targeted towards business and tech-savvy home users. Of course users of lower level versions of Windows 7 will still be able to use another virtualization product, like VMware Workstation or the free Virtual Box, to run Windows XP as a guest VM on Windows 7. The only difference is that they’ll have to buy or steal a Windows XP license on their own, whereas the Windows XP Mode will have its license built-in. (Actually this could make for an interesting situation. Will a user be able to leverage Windows 7’s virtualization rights and downgrade rights to do this on their own? My guess would be ‘no,’ because editions of Windows 7 lower than Professional probably won’t be licensed to let users running additional instances of the same license in a VM.)

Big enterprise customers who are already paying for MDOP won’t need this feature since they already have access to MED-V. Maybe Windows XP Mode is more for the borderline people who need the extra push to go to Windows 7. Can you imagine the ad campaign for this? “Go to Windows 7. Don’t worry though—you can still have Windows XP!”

I wonder how many people are thinking, “so if I still keep Windows XP, then why exactly am I going to Windows 7 again?”

What are you thinking?

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I'm guessing they're gonna use this in two ways:


- Push a quicker adaption of Windows 7 since u'd still be able to run some of your apps that still need XP


- It'll be their entry to push MED-V as a way of managing those XP VMs running on Windows 7.


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Hopefully they take the Apple approach here.  When OS X was released they had a "Classic" mode (or something like that) that would actually run a copy of OS 9 on top of OS X so that old applications worked.  


Granted, Apple's reasoning was that OS 9 was fundamentally different than the Unix-based OS X, meaning that the binaries simply weren't compatible, but the high level reason is the same:  The bulk of the applications at launch time weren't compatible with the latest OS.  


Apple later removed support for OS 9, I think in version 10.2 or 10.3.  Maybe Microsoft will pull support for this XP Mode with a service pack in a year or two.


One thing is for sure - this feature should be called "Microsoft Job Security 2009."  Desktop admins rejoice!


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I think that this is a pretty cool feature. While it does mean more patching, it's only something you would need to enable for a user that has to have this XP mode... it's not like you have to turn it on for everyone.


More interesting is - how will this strategy affect VDI with Windows 7? In order to utilize XP mode, will you end up running XP as a VM inside Windows 7 as a VM, or will Microsoft allow for side-by-side VMs on Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2?


Moreover, this technology is similar to what VMware's already doing with VMware Fusion's Unity mode on the Mac... could VMware or Citrix take this concept and apply it to their VDI offerings and create side-by-side VMs to increase compatibility?


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I have mixed feelings about the whole idea. OK, on one hand it may ease migration to 7, but if you're running in an XP VM within 7 then you haven't really migrated anything atall. It also raises a lot of questions over XP support; Does the support lifecycle for XP now match that for 7, or are we going to be left with embedded XP VMs running unsupported inside a supported OS - presumably MS is still going to stop patching and supporting XP at some point- what happens then? It seems odd that MS is announcing a new way of delivering what it claims is a dead OS while also trumpeting how easy it is to migrate from XP/Vista to 7. Mixed messages?


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I think it is a clever move of Microsoft to include XP Mode in Win7. During Vista migrations I have seen, you always hit a few applications that just are not Vista capable and that require a form of working around. People typically think of TS, VDI or even separate desktop PC's as a temporary workaround (it usually takes another long project to phase out these ancient apps). With XP mode, you're just giving administrators another possible choice for a workaround. Don't like it, then don't use it! :)


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Other MED-V users out there? or am I the only one?


Anyway my org will be using Med-V as a sandpit environment to allow corporate users to install their own consumer based apps. MS will need to borrow from MED-V wrapper tech to lock down the VM. An important configuration setting to lock is the network configuration, as you don’t want each VM to chew an IP on your subnets.


There is still some underlying issues in MED-V around seamless mode, for some use cases. At the moment seamless vs full screen mode is not an end user controlled configuration but rather an IT policy controlled setting (workspace). You can have one but not the other...


For example via workspace policy:


A) Enable Seamless, Enable Start Menu publish. Clients cannot switch to full screen mode to install an app (yes you can do some tricky stuff by publishing explorer, but this isn’t the best user experience).


B) Enable Start Menu publish, Enable Full screen mode. When you use the start menu published items they will simply render up within the full screen window of the VPC (...not seamless)


Disclaimer: I need to check that this behaviour is still the case with RTM MED-V.


But it was the case during the Beta product.


I hope in Win 7 implementation they fix this :-)


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Regarding XP lifecycle support.


As of the 14th April 09 (this month) it has gone into its extended support phase.


This means MS will make security hotfixes and security patches freely available but for other hotfixes you will need to be within an Extended Hotfix Subscription (EHS) program.


Extended support currently is set to expire on the 8/04/2014. Although this may change depending on the market....


So who has already purchased EHS support>?


[Within the 90 days grace period]


I would say not many... probably only large companies.


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There is a MDOP blog from the MED-V team that talks about the differences between MED-V and Windows XP Mode here:


windowsteamblog.com/.../how-med-v-v2-helps-you-manage-windows-xp-mode.aspx


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This just underlines why the MS MDOP team is clueless and totally screwed up the Kidaro purchase, and probably why many ex Kidaro folks can be found elsewhere. Their orginal pitch was let's take out the real mgmt features that Kidaro had and see if we can fool customers to upgrading to Vista with a Type 2 Hypervisor on top. So the logic there goes, Vista sucks, so use this to make it suck less, increase your mgmt overhead, we can't fogure out a better way to solve this problem with App-V, but do it anyway........ So now that same twisted logic continues. It's also interesting to note that there seems to be a hardware requirement community.winsupersite.com/.../secret-no-more-revealing-virtual-windows-xp-for-windows-7.aspx yet it's still a hosted environment. So is this a Type 1.5 Hypervisor to help address performance of standard Type 2 Hypervisors? Seems it would far more intelligent to solve this by offering publishing on XP, or simply help solve App Compat of TS. This is just insanly stupid from MS and the MDOP continues to add ltd value for botched products that are late to market with ltd features.


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One other thought. If this is a new style of Hypervisor, if Type 1.5. Then this may not work on top of ESX on Hosted Virtual Desktops. So is this a way to hurt VMWare and push Hyper-V for hosted Virtual Desktops. i.e a way to extend their monopoly. Is this is accurate Xen is a strong position to leverage this at all levels.


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As the VDI evangelist at the company I work for, a colleague sent the Paul Thurrot article to me and said "There goes your VDI solution to the apps that don't run on Win 7"


I then began to think about it which brought me to the question and bullets below.


Could it have the potential to take away from the "Use XP in VDI use case whilst you migrate to Win 7"?


My personal feeling is that it (XP Mode for Windows 7) “could” be used successfully if:


•          Make sure that the end point is robust enough to handle a bit of virtualization. But hopefully if you are already planning a Win 7/Vista migration you have already made the decision to let the OS upgrade follow your PC lifecycle management plan therefore newer/faster hardware would be a given.  


•          Users are trained well enough on how to use their legacy applications within a VM even with the Start Menu integration. (Users have a hard enough time with TS/CITRIX; this adds a whole new level of complexity to their computing environment)


•          MS allows you to bundle your own build into that delivery mechanism, if not then it is the same as running any desktop hosted virtualization platform to deliver an alternative OS, or just use VDI.


In conclusion, I  think that when the company I work for does decide to migrate its 100K user population  to their new environment (win 7) there will still be a need to support and provide the old (XP SP2). Even with XP mode, there will still be regulatory challenges that XP mode may be too “out of the box” for and plus our old environment is fully baked.


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If MS is going to kill XP, just do it already. So here's a question, With XP support coming to an end, If my users are running windows 7 with this "XP VM" on it, will MS support that VM's issues? I tend to think not. Just kill XP and force the software industry to make the change. While we're at it, Lets finally get the ball rolling on 64-bit applications. Enough 32-bit already!


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Absolutely necessary and a great move by MS. People will flock to Windows 7 for many reasons, it is VIsta that doesn't suck and we are due for a worthy upgrade.


However, there is software that will not work on Win7 and this is a great solutions, hats off to MS on this one!!


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