Custom Information Services

Migrate to Windows 7 and Take Your Windows XP Applications with You

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By: Brian Davis, Custom Information Services

As a technician at Custom Information Services we were quickly tasked to evaluate the Microsoft Windows 7 new desktop operating system which was released in October of 2009. It is the replacement Operating System for Windows Vista. Windows Vista was supposed to be the great successor to the reigning OS (Operating System) champion, Windows XP. Unfortunately, it suffered a late first round knockout due to application incompatibilities and system performance issues. The final upper cut was a lack of usable solutions to close the gap between incompatible Windows XP applications on Windows Vista. Windows 7 was quickly regarded as the next challenger.

Windows 7 was eagerly awaited by our team, customers, and prospects based on the results from the beta testing.  Windows 7 is everything Windows Vista should have been and more. Performance is much better and compatibility options to allow Windows XP applications to run directly on Windows 7 were much improved. The final release of the new OS gave us Windows XP Mode –  a way to run an application in a Windows XP virtual machine without ever knowing it is running from a virtual machine.

As with all new features there are some system requirements that need to be met. First of all, Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate are the only OS versions to support Windows XP Mode. The business versions of the OS include virtualization integration features, whereas the Home versions do not. 

At least 2GB RAM is required and up to 15GB of free disk space, depending on the VM (Virtual Machine) disk usage. VMs use dedicated RAM. If you assign 1GB RAM to the VM, 1GB is reserved on the host machine for the VM to use exclusively. You want to make sure that you have adequate memory on your desktop to run both the VM and your other applications.

Using a 32-bit version of Windows 7 allows a maximum 4GB of RAM with usable RAM of about 3.5GB. The difference is system reserved and not accessible. The 64-bit version allows more than 4GB of usable RAM up to 192GB of RAM. Obviously more RAM is helpful in a virtual environment, but there are trade-offs. Keep in mind that you want to migrate your Windows XP applications to your Windows 7 computer eventually. You need to know if it is or will be compatible with a 64-bit OS before using a 64-bit OS as the host platform. Careful planning here will avoid additional work and re-work of computers in the future.  

Moving along in the system requirements It is best to have a processor capable of hardware virtualization, although, with a recent update from Microsoft, that is no longer required. There are benefits from using the hardware virtualization as Windows XP Mode will more than likely have a smaller impact on your system with hardware virtualization enabled. The bottom line in system requirements means having a system that is no older than around mid to late 2006. If your machine is older than this time frame I would recommend considering a newer machine to take full advantage of Windows XP Mode.

Windows XP Mode is simple to install. A couple of downloads is all that is required. Microsoft has these updates available from here http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx. Select your Operating System and language and then download the files listed. The Hardware Virtualization update is only required if your processor cannot utilize hardware virtualization. Make sure you have a good size Internet pipe as the Windows XP image is at least 500MB. Follow the instructions listed on the download page to complete the process.

After the install is completed locate the Windows XP Mode under Windows Virtual PC in your start menu and launch it. A fully functional Windows XP Professional virtual machine will be initialized and launched. You can install an application from an ISO, CD, Network Drive, or USB drive. Yes, a USB drive. The new Virtual PC for Windows 7 allows access to USB drives on the host computer. Once the application is installed, it is available from the Windows XP Mode start menu folder. You can launch the application directly from your Windows 7 start menu and never have to deal directly with the Windows XP virtual machine that runs in the background. The application shortcut can be moved to anywhere else in the Start Menu to let end users feel more comfortable with the look and feel of launching the application. The first launch of a Windows XP Mode application can take a few seconds longer than if it was installed locally, but subsequent launches are much faster. This is due to the launching of the VM in background.

If the application requires network authentication, the Windows XP VM may be required to join the domain to allow for proper network authentication. This depends entirely on the application. Some testing on your part may be required to ensure the application can function properly in Windows XP Mode with regard to network access and feature accessibility. Additionally, you can build your own customized Windows XP Mode VHD file to distribute across your organization.

There are some caveats to using Windows XP Mode. This is a full use Operating System in a virtual machine. It is susceptible to viruses and other types of malware. The computer needs to be secured and managed appropriately as if it were a physical computer on the network. Make sure you add this computer to your normal security and patching measures. Additionally, contrary to what some may think, Windows XP will not be around forever. Microsoft has to move on as well. This should be used as an opportunity to get your company moving forward to Windows 7 and then focus on working with your vendors to upgrade the Windows XP applications to Windows 7. If your vendor cannot make the move in the next couple of years you should seriously consider another solution.

In summary, Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 is the answer needed to address support for Windows XP applications while migration to desktop technology moves forward. There are additional compatibility features built into Windows 7 for legacy type applications, but when those do not work, Windows XP Mode can fit the bill. It requires some higher level system requirements, but will allow a computer to migrate to Windows 7 to take advantage of the new security and usage features found in Windows 7. Windows 7 has been out for almost one year and has had rave reviews from end users and IT pros alike. There is something everyone enjoys in Windows 7 that they currently do not have in Windows XP or Windows Vista. If Windows XP applications are holding you back from migrating to Windows 7, Windows XP Mode is the answer you have been waiting for.

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One question

  1. Dave says:

    Great Post Nancy!

    [Reply]

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