Windows 7’s XP Mode — Virtually worth the effort
What’s real and what’s not?
Review The discovery that Windows 7 will use desktop virtualization so you can run Windows-XP-compatible applications caused almost as much excitement as the news the Windows 7 Release Candidate would ship this week and next.
The planned Windows XP Mode will, theoretically, let you keep on running your existing applications on a brand-new Windows 7 machine, even if the applications themselves don't yet run natively on Windows 7.
Too good to be true? Almost. I put Windows XP Mode through its paces to see if it lives up to expectations, and while there's definite potential, I uncovered some limitations and encountered a few frustrations in this beta.
Windows XP Mode is an add-on for Windows 7 Professional and higher that comes in two parts, each of which has its own setup. The first is Windows Virtual PC, a new version of Microsoft's free desktop virtualization platform, and the second is Virtual Windows XP itself, which is a virtual hard drive pre-loaded and licensed with Windows XP Service Pack 3.
Windows XP Mode requires hardware virtualization support from your CPU, either AMD Virtualization (AMD-V) or Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel-VT). Two snags: first, most PCs which support this have it disabled by default, and second, there are plenty of boxes out there that do not support it at all, including those based on current Intel Celeron, Pentium, and some Core 2 Duo CPUs.
Pick the Windows 7 virtualization settings
Presuming your PC does support it, which means a trip into the BIOS to enable hardware virtualization, Microsoft also recommends a minimum of 2GB RAM on the host PC and 15GB drive space for each XP instance.
Our Microsoft loaner Dell M1330 ticks all the boxes, so after fiddling with the BIOS, I installed both products. When you run Virtual Windows XP for the first time, a wizard asks you to specify a password and settings for auto-update and that is about it, though there is a lengthy pause while the application configures its integration features. Once that is done, it is a matter of running your new Virtual XP and installing applications. Some companies run old versions of Microsoft Office in order to support existing macro-based applications, so I found an old Office 2000 CD and ran setup.
Unfortunately, setup came with a dialog asking for the Windows XP SP3 CD in order to modify protected files. I had no such CD. Even downloading and mounting the official SP3 ISO did not fix it. I canceled setup and re-ran it with most install options deselected, and this time, it completed.
Our test application, Office 2000, installed in the Windows 7 start menu
The magic happens when you then close Virtual XP. Windows 7 whirs and grinds and creates a new Start Menu group called Virtual Windows XP Applications, in my case full of Office 2000 applications. I started Word 2000, and after a couple of minutes' initialization, it opened in its own window, just like a native application. Impressive, until I started typing and found a severe delay between striking a key and text appearing on the page.
This may be a beta problem, since performance is otherwise acceptable. Once the virtual machine is initialized, other applications start promptly, since the background XP instance stays running.
Next page: Getting on with the host
Hate to sound like a fanboy, but I've been doing virtualized XP on Linux for YEARS. With VirtualBox. And SeamlessRDP, so my Windows apps look like they are just running on Linux.
Microsoft does it for backward compatibility in a half ass'd fashion, and only including it with their top-tier (ie: most expensive) products and it's suddenly the Greatest Thing(tm) since sliced bread?
Linux - Free
VirtualBox - Free
Reliability factor: Unbelievable. And just as fast.
How often I use it: Rarely. But if I had that one app that had to run on Windows XP, I can.
Microsoft has jumped the shark. They release Windows just because they have nothing else worth doing. And Windows is fast becoming not worth the effort. Since W2k, their product has steadily gone to hell.
Apps Supporting Windows XP
Well, we've only recently (within the last year) stopped supporting Windows 98 with our product! Just what universe to you live in to assume all developers just bin previous versions of Windows at the drop of a hat? Windows 7 isn't even released (as in non-beta) yet! A tiny percentage of our customers use Vista and our project manager wasn't exactly thrilled to have to do extra work to make sure our code ran on it!
Either you have proper backwards compatibility (leading to moutains of horrible shims), or you start afresh and offer proper emulation to allow people to catch up. It's also advisable to offer advantages to using the new system, particularly in the area of increased performance, reliability and security. What you don't do is offer no advantages, a slower system and poorer reliability.
I think Microsoft really has lost the plot. Around 2000 seems to have been the peak: Windows 2000, SQL Server 2000 etc. After that things have just got more bloated and less reliable. Visual Studio is a bloated abomination now.
Microsoft is the new IBM. Enough said.
Why Windows XP is popular
@The irony is that all this makes XP look good
You need to understand the history of operating system before you make such a statement. Windows XP came around 2000. At the time main operating system was Windows 98/95. Windows 2000 & Windows ME also came around the same year. Of course Windows ME was considered the worst operating system, and Windows 2000 was good for business market – it was not able to run most of the multimedia applications & devices.
When Windows XP came into the market, it brought the stability of NT, and comfort of 9x operating system. Also, it consumed far less recourses then 9X, and at the same time it kept of operating system running for as long as you please. Most of us did not experience so many blue-screen, or freezes. Now without a doubt Windows XP has/had more problems then other OS; say Linux, and OSX, but it was lot better their previous OS & current OS including Windows Vista & 7.
It is ironic to note that it was around the same year I move to Linux operating sytem, and I still use it as my main computer – Sony Vaio laptop. However, I am happy to type this response on a netbook running on Windows XP.