Windows 7 “XP Mode”

Last week was a frustrating one… you see, earlier this month Paul Thurrott gave a hint about an exciting Windows 7 secret. I put 2 and 2 together and it seems that I came up with 4. The trouble was that I was given the details from an official source at around the same time – and that information was under NDA so I couldn’t write about it here!

It’s times like this that I’m glad I’m not running a news site and waiting for a “scoop”, but all three of the leading tech journalists covering Windows (i.e. Paul Thurrott, Ed Bott and Mary Jo Foley) have written articles in the last few days about Windows 7 XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC, and I want to pull things together here.

Basically, Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera are reporting that there will be a new version of Virtual PC, available as a download for Windows 7, including a licensed copy of Windows XP SP3 to run those applications that don’t behave well on the Vista/Windows 7 codebase. More details will follow (it won’t actually be “in the box” with Windows 7) but Ed Bott has commented that it looks an awful lot like MED-V.

Of course, the technology is already there – as well as drawing comparisons with MED-V, Ed Bott points out that you can do something similar with VirtualBox in seamless mode and the key detail with Windows XP Mode is the licensing situation. Full licensing details have yet to be announced but the only Microsoft blog post I’ve seen on the subject says:

“We will be soon releasing the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate”

That reference to Professional and Ultimate would also indicate that it will run on Enterprise (virtually identical to Ultimate), but not Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium. As Microsoft’s main concern is allowing businesses to run legacy applications as they are weaned off XP, that seems fair enough but, then again, MED-V is only available to volume license customers today and Mary Jo Foley suggests that could be the same for XP Mode – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

So, will this work? I hope so. Windows Vista (after SP1) was never as bad as its perception in the marketplace indicated but if ever you needed an example that perception is reality, then Vista was it! Strangely, Windows Server 2008 (the server edition of Vista SP1) has been well received as the solid, reliable operating system that it is, without the negative press. Windows 7 is a step forward in many ways and, as XP is now into its extended support phase, many organisations will be looking for something to move to but the application compatibility issues caused by Windows Vista and Windows 7’s improved security model will still cause a few headaches – that’s what this functionality is intended to overcome, although there will still be some testing required as to how well those old XP apps perform in a virtualised environment.

More technical details will follow soon, but either Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera are operating on a different NDA to me (which they may well be) or they feel pretty confident that Microsoft will still give them access to information as they continue to spill the beans on this particular feature…

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